Oscar Experts Typing: Could Best Actress end in (gulp) a tie?

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, as Oscar voting is underway, we ponder a different type of outcome to the Best Actress race.

Christopher Rosen: Joyce, we’ve almost made it. Academy members are voting on the 2021 Oscars as we type, and perhaps owing to the arrival of this awards season’s final act, a lot of the races that seemed so concluded are anything but over. Best Actress continues to be a quagmire with so many possible outcomes I wouldn’t even be surprised if it ended in a tie. Best Actor, once so stable for the late Chadwick Boseman, has been thrown into a bit of disarray too: Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards and the buzz around his performance continues to pop — he’s even set to appear on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Monday night, a rare press appearance for the legendary star. Then there’s Best Picture, which by all accounts should be a runaway category for “Nomadland”… but for my sneaking suspicion that maybe it’s also vulnerable to an upset. As our own Daniel Montgomery laid out recently, both “Promising Young Woman” and “Minari” are well-positioned as alternative picks, and anecdotal evidence from anonymous Oscar voters and pundits suggests somewhat flagging support for “Nomadland” overall. All of which has left me scrambling — and while I’m not ready to bet against “Nomadland” just yet (despite making a case to do just that this week), I am prepared to move my Best Actress prediction. I’ve had Viola Davis at the top since the Screen Actors Guild Awards but after talking to various folks and finally listening to what you’ve been saying for weeks, I think this one is going to Andra Day. Please feel free to dunk on me for not coming to your side sooner!

joyceeng: Wow, you know, I would do my best Debbie Reynolds, but I can’t because anyone who says they are 100 percent confident in their Best Actress prediction is a big fat liar, so consider yourself lucky, Christopher. But I am pleased to see you are seeing the light on a big night for Day. Part of the reason I still have her is because I cannot lose sleep over this category until April 24 so I’m just defaulting to the baitest performance (for now). And there is so little data on her actual position in the race — she could be first or fifth here and both would make sense — that I’d rather take a gamble on that at the moment than Mulligan, who has under-performed at nearly every stop and also got screwed by a room of seven to 12 people. That being said, I have Mulligan in second and am not ruling out moving her to first in the next week. She has the strongest film here not named “Nomadland” and that could make the difference in such a messy race. Do you foresee a Carey comeback or do you smell a Viola victory if they avoid Andra?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: What if it has been Viola Davis all along in Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: I probably place a little too much stock in the momentum and visibility of the contender at this point, so that’s why I kept Davis in the No. 2 slot with Mulligan in third. Yes, Mulligan hosted “SNL,” but she’s hardly been a focal point of the conversation in the last week or so, whereas Davis has done numerous interviews (including Entertainment Weekly and Variety) and participated in some high-profile events (including the Netflix documentary on the life of her co-star, Chadwick Boseman). But it’s Day, to me, who has done a lot to buttress her candidacy: as you mentioned in one of our previous conversations, she presented at the BAFTA Awards despite not being nominated (a page out of the Regina King winning playbook), she sat down for interviews with Vanity Fair and The Cut, and even released a new song. She’s bordering on ubiquitous for the kind of performance that, at least historically, does really well in the Best Actress race. Songtresses are catnip for academy members, and Day is certainly as deserving a winner as Renee Zellweger was last year. Joyce, since you know everything there is to know about Oscars history, humor me for a second: not that the Academy Awards are the Critics Choice Awards, but are we not seriously talking enough about the possibility that Best Actress ends up in a tie? And if that happens, when was the last time it ever happened in an acting race?

joyceeng: If you mean I know a lot of useless facts, then, yes, I know all about “Oscar history.” The last time there was an acting tie was in this very category 52 years ago between Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter” and Barbra Streisand for “Funny Girl.” But wait, there’s more. The Great Kate took home her third Best Actress Oscar (like Frances McDormand would be doing) and Babs was a singer-turned-actress who won for her feature film debut (like Day would be doing). Is history going to repeat here? A tie would honestly be the perfect ending to this race that never once offered much clarity. And sure, it’s possible, however unlikely it might seem, especially if we think the vote will be as divided as it might be. The winner(s) might emerge by the slimmest of margins, which is why I’m also coming around to the idea of Davis being the sole acting prize for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” if Hopkins is able to parlay that BAFTA upset and surging love for “The Father” into a win. That’s certainly not a combo many of us would’ve considered just a week ago, and I know you still have Chad (as do I), but humor me here: Could Davis win without Boseman?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: It (probably) won’t happen, but who’s the most likely to pull off a Best Actor upset?

Christopher Rosen: I don’t even know! I guess so? But I have a hard time believing the Hopkins surge is really real: While he’ll be a strong No. 2 and possibly finish just short of Boseman, it remains hard for me to imagine Boseman can lose. For every voter who might decide to select him as Best Actor in tribute to his life and body of work (both what he left behind and the roles he never got to play), there is likely another voter who just simply thinks he was the best actor of the year. That remains where I stand: His performance is so passionate and raw that it just feels like a slam dunk, even if Hopkins has turned a lot of us into the distracted boyfriend meme over the last few weeks. But let’s go back to a question that I pondered with the “Ma Rainey” performers: Could the Best Actor and Actress winners come from a movie that didn’t even score a Best Picture nomination? In switching off Davis, I decided no. But I don’t think she’s out of contention and if that were to happen, another bit of Oscars history that could occur on April 25, I don’t even think I’d be all that surprised. What about you?

joyceeng: Chad/Tony is giving off major Glenn Close/Olivia Colman vibes: A lot of these anonymous voters think Boseman will win but said Hopkins gave their favorite performance, which was the same thing many of them said about Close and Colman, and in the end, the favo(u)rite performance from a Best Picture nominee topped the frontrunner with the narrative from a non-Best Picture nominee. Of course, Boseman’s narrative is more powerful (and sadder) than Close’s and “Ma Rainey” is a five-time nominee, unlike one-time nominee “The Wife.” After the SAGs, we had to seriously consider “Ma Rainey” making history as the first film to win both lead awards without a Best Picture nomination. But I think a lot of people have moved off that after the BAFTAs, though it also would not shock me at all if it were to happen. “Ma Rainey” is weak — no Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay noms — but its strength is in its parts, not necessarily its sum. It’s seemingly locked in Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, so his-and-hers Oscars for Boseman and Davis would bring its haul to four. No non-Best Picture nominee has won that many Oscars since “The Matrix” a whole-person-who-can-drink ago. But who hasn’t always said that “Ma Rainey” will be the next “Matrix”?

Oscar predictions for Best Actress
Precursors have gone to different women

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