Oscar Experts Typing: Overanalyzing Best Actress one final time

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, on Oscars weekend (finally), we, like everyone, still can’t stop talking about Best Actress.

Christopher Rosen: Joyce, we’ve made it to the finish line of an awards season like no other before. Earlier this week, we made our final Oscar predictions with a giant asterisk and while I stand by all that we discussed during that lively discussion, I think we both feel things remain — shall we say — unsettled in the Best Actress race. We both have Andra Day winning in what we’ve both said will be a nailbiter to the finish. The 2021 Best Actress winner is likely to have maybe 20 percent of the vote, with academy members split between four incredibly viable contenders: Day, Viola Davis, Carey Mulligan, and Frances McDormand. But with the Oscars 48 hours away, are you still sold on Lady Day winning for “The United States of Billie Holiday”? I’ll admit to teetering, a statement which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this column or watched our videos. I’ve flip-flopped more than a pair of Rainbow sandals in this race. I have absolutely had all four contenders at the top of my predictions and could make a passionate case for each actress. That’s part of the reason why I’m hoping for a tie: not just for maximum chaos, but because it would mean at least 40 percent of the category will be represented with an Oscar win. So, where is your head at right now? I’m keeping Day right now, but if I switch to Mulligan (fresh off a Best Actress win at the Spirit Awards that has Film Twitter buzzing about her chances on Sunday) or Davis by the end of this conversation, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

joyceeng: I mean, look, I don’t think anyone ought to be contractually bound to their Best Actress prediction until the Oscar ceremony starts on Sunday night. As I mentioned last week and earlier this week, I vowed not to think about this category until Saturday, so yes, right now, I still have Day, to whom I switched after the SAG Awards, but I cannot guarantee I will still have her on Sunday evening. There are valid reasons for predicting all four (hell, all five) of them and valid reasons for not predicting each of them. I half-jokingly called this category a “Choose Your Own Adventure” a few weeks ago and, you know, it really is. I know Carey supporters and “Promising Young Woman” stans are encouraged by the Spirit Award win, but I never doubted that she wouldn’t win that, so that doesn’t change anything in my mind. However, had Davis or McDormand won, I would’ve been more like 🤔. What’s your take on that result that came close to midnight because for some reason they started at the ungodly hour of 10 p.m. ET?

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

Christopher Rosen: To be honest, neither of the lead acting winners at the Spirit Awards surprised me — and while there is some historical precedent to be found in past Spirit winners, I’m not sure the stats necessarily matter as much this year. (If anything, the Riz Ahmed win further buttresses my notion that Ahmed and Anthony Hopkins will cancel each other out as Chadwick Boseman wins Best Actor.) But for Mulligan, it was a good moment — she actually finally won something that wasn’t a Critics Choice Award! — and I could easily see that result replicating itself at the Oscars. She topped both McDormand and Davis on Thursday night and, again, I wonder if those two actresses will actually cancel each other out in the final calculus: both former Oscar winners, both angling for a historic win, both well-liked and respected within the industry. For every person who puts Davis on top, there might be another similar-minded voter who goes for McDormand. That’s why I think it’s between Davis and Mulligan — both of whom would be first-time winners and who kind of best exemplify the changing tastes of the academy. For Day, as we’ve noted, her performance is a throwback to the classic Best Actress winners of yore; for Mulligan, her role is more edgy and modern — the kind of performance that meets the moment. Or maybe not. As you noted this week, Davis is now the predicted choice among the Gold Derby experts and it feels like a lot of the ostensible Smartest People in the Room™ have her winning. (In his final predictions, New York Times columnist Kyle Buchanan picked Davis and didn’t even mention the possibility of Day taking Best Actress, yikes.) What do you think? Am I just overthinking this and is Davis the obvious winner?

joyceeng: I don’t know if she’s the obvious winner — if she wins, then everyone will be saying that it was obviously gonna be her all along, just like we were suggesting two weeks ago — but she is arguably the safest choice for all those reasons you just mentioned on top of the SAG triumph. And voters don’t dissect stats as granularly as we do. They do not know that no non-Best Picture nominee has won both lead acting Oscars before or that “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” could pull a “Matrix” with four wins — and even if they did, I don’t think anyone would be like, “F—, I can’t vote for Viola now because ‘Ma Rainey’ doesn’t have a Best Picture nomination.” This is stuff crazies like us log down and keep tabs on to try to inform future predictions, but sometimes it’s just pure coincidence. And a lot of stats have been defied in recent years — we’ve gotten more Best Picture champs without a directing nomination in the last eight years than in the previous 80 years. On the note of Ahmed’s win at the Spirits, which I also expected and was not surprised by, I will just say that the Spirits have crowned the Oscar frontrunner when nominated over the “cooler” pick/Film Twitter fave in recent years (most notably Allison Janney over Laurie Metcalf), so you could argue that Boseman should’ve won that and Ahmed should’ve split votes with, like, Steven Yeun. And if that’s enough to make you predict Hopkins at the Oscars, you can hedge and predict Davis so that the non-Best Picture nominee/double lead stat remains intact. All that being said, being in a Best Picture nominee is a huge advantage, so is this more of Mulligan vs. McDormand than Mulligan vs. Davis?

SEE Oscar Experts slugfest: Our final predictions in every category, but can anything be final in Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: You know I love me some Frances McDormand. In a vacuum, I feel like she would absolutely steamroll in this category: she is arguably the entire reason “Nomadland” is as successful as it is, and she elevates the film’s variety of non-actors to almost mythic status. (Would anyone really care about Swankie‘s performance if she didn’t have McDormand to play opposite?) If she were to win on Sunday, it would be well-deserved. But this race has too many X-factors going for it — dueling narratives on top of dueling narratives, conflicted precursors. It is chaos theory as an Oscar category. That’s why I keep coming back to Day: her performance and role are textbook Oscar bait, but she’s also a first-time actor up against a murderer’s row of competition starring in a movie few people liked and perhaps fewer even watched. It’s no wonder some pundits are counting her out completely. But in a season like this, picking against conventional wisdom feels right. So, Day. That’s it. I’m sticking with her. (Until tomorrow when I change my mind again.) What do you anticipate landing on?

joyceeng: I don’t know! Right now, I’m comfortable with Day, but I might not be in 24 hours when I start overthinking this. As I’ve said before, I defaulted to her because of the traditional baitiness of the role and because I chose to side with the lack of data on her rather than the conflicting data on everyone else to rest my brain for a second. I’ve made last-minute changes before that have panned out and some that have not, but in this case, regardless if I switch or not, I’m prepared to be wrong. I’m also prepared to hear Vanessa Kirby’s name because that’s the left-field ending this race deserves. Look at us, talking in circles again and getting nowhere on Best Actress. <insert paulrudd.gif> The only thing I can assure you right now is that I will not be abandoning “Husavik” in Best Original Song and I know you won’t either.

Oscar predictions for Best Actress
Precursors have gone to different women

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