Elisabeth Moss has racked up 12 Emmy, four Golden Globe and 15 Screen Actors Guild Awards bids to date — all for her TV work. Now, she can could reap her first Oscar nomination and has not one but two movies in contention, Universal’s “The Invisible Man” and Neon’s “Shirley.” She’ll be submitted in the Best Actress category for both of these. Below, I lay out why I hope to see voters cite her for the former.
Based loosely on H. G. Well‘s 1897 novel of the same name, “The Invisible Man” opens with Moss’ Cecilia Kass breaking free from her violent relationship with her diabolical boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wicked optics engineer and businessman. Even after she is taken in by a friend who is on the police force, she continues to wrestle with the deleterious effects of the abuse, including a ceaseless fear that Adrian will find her. That is until she learns that he’s committed — or so it seems.
Her road to recovery is quickly cut off when an invisible phenomenon with eerie verisimilitude — which she believes to be Adrian — begins to torment her. Even though the people around her initially don’t buy into her suspicion, it turns out that Adrian staged his own death and used a high-tech suit that causes him to become invisible to make his girlfriend’s life a living hell.
Despite the film being one of numerous adaptations of Well’s novel, it avoids reinventing the wheel by contemporizing the source material and finding a new focal point in Cecilia. Unlike the novel, which primarily explores how Adrian mastered rending himself invisible and watches as he descends into criminality after he’s unable reverse his transformation, the 2020 film uses the iconic character’s invention as an allegory of the violence and gaslighting victims of abuse experience. The success of this repacking rests largely on Moss’ shoulders, but the actress proves that she’s very much up to the task.
Since the film kicks off with Cecilia’s actual escape, it’s up to Moss to fill in the blanks left by the absence of a backstory. And she does so instantly and effortlessly with her body language, which points to many years ruled by submission and cosmic fear. As a viewer, you’re well aware that Cecilia’s untethering from Adrian is only the beginning of new agony — in part due to the source material’s thematic as well as the fact that abuse nestles in your mind and can leave lifelong marks. Accordingly, Moss efficaciously makes even a walk to the mailbox look emotionally taxing, because the feeling of being kept on a tight leash never quite wanes.
When an invisible Adrian begins to drive Cecilia crazy, Moss competently captures the slow but raw unravelling that follows, as well as the feeling of desperation that results from the people around Cecilia trifling with her foreboding and proving to be dubious of her innocence when things begin to spiral out of control — which accords with the incredulity and blame victims of abuse face from both their abuser and the general public. Cecilia comes completely undone after Adrian alienates her friends and family members — going as far as to slitting her sister’s throat in front of her and framing her for it — and she learns that she’s pregnant.
It takes Adrian’s suit to malfunction for Cecilia’s story to finally be believed — but there’s a catch: the police ultimately finds not Adrian but his brother Tom (Michael Dorman) dead under the suit. Convinced the brothers shared it and Adrian knowingly sent Tom to his death, Cecilia confronts Adrian and manipulates him into a confession, before putting on a spare invisibility suit herself and slitting his throat for it to look like a suicide on camera. And so, Moss convincingly completes her portrait of an abuse victim who at long last frees herself from her abuser’s reign by using the techniques with which he once upheld his control over her.
For “The Invisible Man,” Moss currently sits in 13th place in our racetrack odds for the Oscar — she’s in 11th place for “Shirley.” Even though “The Invisible Man” was released in theaters on February 28 and will have thus come out over a year ago by the time the Oscars roll around in April, it can benefit from being one of few 2020-released films to have had a (limited) theatrical run. Conversely, “Shirley” was forced to skip its run in the U.S. and, after being acquired by Neon, has instead been available on Hulu since June 5. So, although Moss risks splitting her vote between the two movies, widespread visibility for “The Invisible Man” — which is also available on HBO Max — could tip the scale in her favor for that film.
The biggest hurdle she will have to overcome is the academy’s apathy toward the horror genre, with “Us'” Lupita Nyong’o being the latest actor to fall victim to it earlier this year, even after sweeping the critics’ awards and snagging Critics’ Choice Award and SAG noms. Ironically, Jordan Peele‘s forerunner to “Us,” 2017’s “Get Out,” is the latest movie within the horror genre to actually enjoy Oscar success, reaping a total of four bids, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya. Like “Get Out,” “The Invisible Man” is embedded in social commentary and not a straight-up horror film, which could help send it on a similar trajectory to its companion.
A working actress since she was eight years old, Moss is at a point in her career where collective goodwill could finally spill over and lead to a career-first Oscar citation. It’s not only the one-two punch of transformative turns in “Shirley” — in which she plays famous novelist Shirley Jackson — and “The Invisible Man” that could help tip her over the edge, but also her continued work on TV, most recently on Hulu’s ongoing hit series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
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