Oscar Experts Typing: Are we overestimating Carey Mulligan and underestimating Frances McDormand?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race the same way you’ve been communicating with your coworkers for the past year: via Slack. This week, post-Producer Guild of America Awards, we take a closer look at the Best Actress contest.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce, and happy Friday. It feels like a brief calm before the storm: over the next few weeks, some major precursors will hand out acting hardware at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and BAFTA Awards. That’s why I want to expand on a conversation we started in our slugfest this week: What is going on in Best Actress and is Carey Mulligan a lock to win? My take is no, this despite the fact that Mulligan is a runaway leader in our Gold Derby odds (she places well ahead of Frances McDormand and Andra Day). Blame the calendar for my reticence: Mulligan’s buzz seemingly crested in early January, with the “Promising Young Woman” take economy at its peak and a strong case to be made that she would win at the Golden Globes. Then she didn’t: Day was a surprise winner at that long-forgotten ceremony. And while Mulligan did take home Best Actress at the Critics Choice Awards, that show made even less of a dent in the conversation than the Golden Globes. What I’m saying is that Mulligan need a high profile win — one she might very well get at the Screen Actors Guild Awards next week. But what if we’ve just been sleeping on a favorite this whole time: McDormand’s odds have stayed relatively consistent for literal months — she didn’t dip in the race like Viola Davis seemingly has but was merely surpassed by an ascendant candidate in Mulligan. Now that the heat has died down, isn’t it possible the strong support “Nomadland” has received this season extends down the ballot to the film’s star and its heart. If you loved “Nomadland,” a large credit for that goes to McDormand herself. It’s still a race and what I’m suggesting would qualify as a true upset (Mulligan is locked in among the odds like Daniel Kaluuya and Chadwick Boseman), but even if McDormand were to lose at the SAG Awards next week, I think she remains a serious threat to win Best Actress. What do you think?

joyceeng: Ah, yes, one of our few unsettled races. McDormand is for sure in play. Even if she doesn’t win SAG, she could very well take BAFTA, where Vanessa Kirby is the only other Oscar nominee who survived the new jury vote. “Nomadland” has also proven to be very strong and Teflon-esque so you could say it could carry her to the podium. I think everyone agrees that had McDormand not won just three years ago for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” she’d be sweeping right now. She’s a producer on “Nomadland,” so she’d get a third statuette anyway, but third acting Oscars are usually tougher and take longer to come by unless your name is Walter Brennan. I mean, she’d break Daniel Day-Lewis’ five-year span between his second and third wins. It’s also such a subtle turn that almost feels like anti-bait. I agree that Mulligan’s buzz feels like it peaked a while ago when the film was coming out, but “Promising Young Woman” has been quietly crushing it, pulling the key nominations everywhere that on paper it’s No. 2 for Best Picture, save for the BAFTA snub for Mulligan. But with how well “Promising Young Woman” did at BAFTA in the non-jury categories, you can safely assume Mulligan would’ve otherwise been nominated and would win. That’s the same argument a lot of us have made about Day and SAG: If her film (and screeners) weren’t late, she would’ve made SAG and would be winning it. Her performance is pure bait and she won the most high-profile precursor (which, yes, feels like 297 years ago). Oliver Stone is a stan. Is she gonna be the 13th woman to win Best Actress as her film’s only nomination?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Best Picture is still ‘Nomadland’s’ to lose, but who can beat it?

Christopher Rosen: Let’s talk about Day. Her performance is really excellent in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” so much so that she is able to effortlessly overcome what is a pretty below average movie around her. She’s absolutely as good as Renee Zellweger was in “Judy,” and the movie is, if not better, at least more interesting (Lee Daniels has never made a boring movie; even when he misses, at least it’s worth the watch). She won at the Golden Globes and her reaction is one of the few moments that seems to have stuck in the collective consciousness of that night (if only she was also wearing the Jason Sudeikis hoodie). Might there be a world where McDormand and Mulligan bounce each other out, splitting their vote and allowing Day to take the stage for her big Oscars moment? I could see that happen, kind of like how Olivia Colman won two years ago for “The Favourite.” As for McDormand, I understand your point about the difficulty of landing three acting Oscars — especially in the lead category. Only Katharine Hepburn and Daniel Day-Lewis have three or more lead acting awards (Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson and Ingrid Bergman snuck in a supporting trophy among their three respective awards; Brennan received all three of his Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category). But, at the risk of blasphemy, is there any reason McDormand shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as those legends? Moreover, and this is just anecdotally speaking, I get the sense this current iteration of the academy is often less concerned about historical precedent and more focused on rewarding the deserved champion, history be damned. Joyce, I’ve done such a good job trying to convince you of McDormand, I’m about to go switch my pick to her in our experts predictions. So before we head off into the weekend, help convince me to keep Mulligan or reconsider Day.

joyceeng: Lol, is that a threat? I don’t think they care about historical precedence either or even backlash, and they do not know these stats and figures like we do nor do I think they all go, “Hmm, let’s see how many Oscars X has before I vote.” And I’m definitely not suggesting McDormand is not worthy of a third acting Oscar — she’s iconic for reasons beyond acting and this is her fifth straight decade with an Oscar nomination. Legendary behavior, as the kids say. It’s just that the circumstances — from her type of performance to her precursor run so far that, again, could change next week — are without precedence, which, let’s face it, is what we have to work off of here. Day’s performance is what they usually go for that checks a lot of boxes: transformation, tragic biopic, own singing! It’s the kind that wows easily, which helps since the entire membership votes for winners. I don’t think Mulligan is as far ahead, let alone locked, as the odds suggest — I think a lot of people also want her to win — but “Promising Young Woman” has exceeded expectations. As we discussed last week, on paper, the film reads as polarizing. But is it really? There’s passion for it, and it’s been embraced by every precursor, the major guilds and now the academy, whose aggressive push to diversify its membership likely has something to do with it. “Promising Young Woman” is (probably) not winning Best Picture, but it’s strong enough to snag a win for Mulligan, whose turn would also make for an atypical win, just like how “Nomadland” could for McDormand. Here’s the thing though: No matter who pulls it out, they would all make sense and be explainable in hindsight, even seemingly also-rans Davis and Kirby.

Christopher Rosen: So what you’re saying is that maybe I should stick with Mulligan until at least next week, lol.

Oscar predictions for Best Actress
Precursors have gone to different women so far

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