Oscar Experts Typing: The battle for that last Best Actress spot

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, after Critics Choice nominations and Oscar shortlists, we chat about the seemingly open fifth slot in the Best Actress race.

Christopher Rosen: OK, Joyce, here we are again. One week after we traveled to Appalachia to put Mamaw in the driver’s seat for the Best Supporting Actress race, we’re back in the land of “Hillbilly Elegy” to discuss Best Actress. For purposes of our typing, there are four written-in-stone future 2021 Best Actress nominees in our midst — Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” Frances McDormand for “Nomadland” and Vanessa Kirby for “Pieces of a Woman.” That leaves a stacked field competing for the ostensible fifth spot, among them Amy Adams. The six-time nominee was last among the Best Actress contenders for “American Hustle” in 2014 — her only Best Actress nomination thus far. Thanks to the Screen Actor Guild Awards, plus her appearance on the BAFTA longlist, Adams could possibly find herself with a slim advantage in the Oscars race after being left on the outside following the scathing “Hillbilly Elegy” reviews in November. But is that right? Do you think Adams has the momentum here to best the field of worthy contenders, or does the “Hillbilly Elegy” redemption tour start and end with Glenn Close?

joyceeng: I am truly honored to travel to Middletown, Ohio, with you again. Let’s find a way to keep this up. Oh, Amy. I just kinda love the possibility of her getting nominated for “Hillbilly Elegy” after getting snubbed for “Arrival” in one of the most competitive Best Actress races in recent years then. This year’s contest is, uh… well, we have four strong contenders and a wide-open fifth slot! Adams is for sure in the mix, which I’m sure chafes at some “Hillbilly” haters’ sides, but you can’t ignore how all of these ostensible options for the last spot — Adams, Andra Day, Zendaya, Sophia Loren, Kate Winslet — have hit and missed precursors in various permutations in the past two weeks. Adams getting in at SAG is a nice feather in her cap, but at the same time, quite a few of us saw that coming — you and I both predicted her — and her Bev is a very SAG-friendly performance. It has the makings of being a SAG-only thing as I don’t really think she’ll make the BAFTA six, even though they nominated her for “Big Eyes.” But imagine if she does make the Oscars. Does that basically seal the deal for Close? And if so, when Close finally gets her golden guy, she’ll pass the torch of “most nominated living actress without a win” to her onscreen daughter. You just can’t write this stuff.

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Is Glenn Close closing in on a nomination and — gasp! — a win?

Christopher Rosen: You really can’t. But since this isn’t yet a column solely devoted to “Hillbilly Elegy,” let’s focus on some of the other contenders. For weeks, I’ve thought Zendaya would snag that fifth spot. My thinking: she’s got a lot of growing momentum as an actress since her Emmys win for “Euphoria” and (whispers) she’s actually legitimately great in “Malcolm & Marie,” which is a good movie. But in updating my predictions this week, I decided to zag: out went Zendaya and in went “Minari” star Yeri Han. “Minari” is trending way up after its strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics Choice Awards — and while Han has precious few precursors that indicate potential Oscars support, she is also the only remaining Best Actress contender from a presumed Best Picture nominee. Given the lack of consensus around the fifth position, isn’t it possible Han coasts in, not just on the sails of her impeccable performance (she’s really extraordinary in the film) but also broad love for “Minari” itself? Or am I just throwing a hail Mary in the first quarter and we should just assume Andra Day or Sophia Loren gets the nomination many expect?

joyceeng: Wow, look who’s being a leader instead of a follower. A Han prediction is inspired and I’ve thought about it a lot the past week. She has been paid dust so far, save for an Independent Spirit Award nom (in supporting), and I really do not get it. You mention that she’s the only remaining contender in a probable Best Picture nominee and I think that is key. This race sort of reminds me of Best Actress two years ago, which had fewer No. 5 contenders. We had a locked top four — Close, Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga and Melissa McCarthy — and one spot for the taking. Emily Blunt was the popular choice, but Yalitza Aparicio got it. I switched to Aparicio the day before noms because 1) “Mary Poppins Returns” was hardly the smash Disney thought it c/would be and Blunt missed on her home turf at BAFTA (after getting in for “The Girl on the Train”), and 2) “Roma” was a top two film that had passionate supporters. I would not say “Minari” is top two right now, but it definitely has passionate fans, so I can see Han surprising. I say all this, but I am — for now — hedging with Day because, to bury this football metaphor into the ground, we’re not even at halftime yet. That role is also classic Oscar bait, but how concerned should we be about her absence from the BAFTA longlist, which Zendaya made?

SEE What the Oscar shortlists might tell us about Jared Leto and Amy Adams

Christopher Rosen: Not to pin everything on this week’s Oscars shortlists but to pin everything on this week’s Oscars shortlists: that Day and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” failed to appear once — not for Day’s original song contender nor makeup and hairstyling — feels troublesome. Those branches don’t nominate actors, but it would have been nice to see Lee Daniels‘ film on those shortlists to give it an additional boost of urgency. Or maybe that’s backward thinking anyway: Day certainly has a better claim to that fifth spot than Han, Zendaya, or Adams. She’s a nominee at both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards, and her presence on the campaign trail has been strong and engaging thus far (her interview with Gold Derby was a winner). Plus, as you mentioned, it’s a role almost predesigned to generate an Oscar nomination — in another, less competitive year, she could even win. So, maybe I’ve just talked myself into picking Day for the fifth spot, a follower once more. But before I go stare at my predictions and consider switching them again, I’ll leave you with the last word: Is it Day ahead of the pack or is there another actress we haven’t even mentioned who could ultimately grab the nomination from her peers?

joyceeng: Here we were thinking Day could make it four years in a row of a woman getting acting and songwriting nominations in the same year, but alas, it looks like Leslie Odom Jr. will be the first dude to score the double. Anyway, unmentioned dark horses. A cool nominee would be Sidney Flanigan for “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” but I feel like her film is probably too small and under-seen. But who knows? The longer season might prompt some voters to check out an extra screener or two they otherwise would not have in a regular year. She does have passion, though, and it feels like a lot of the common names do not or do not have a lot of it at least — the other way of looking at it is: how many of these people are going to be ranked first on ballots? Despite “Billie Holiday’s” underperformance so far, Day is arguably the safest “default” pick, so to speak, if you have no idea WTF to do with that last spot. Now watch, like, Blunt come out of nowhere and avenge her snubs with “Wild Mountain Thyme” after the Globes neutered its awards buzz. No pun intended.

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

Oscar predictions for Best Actress
Precursors have gone to different women

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