What the BAFTAs mean for the lawless Best Actress Oscar race

Another week, another awards show to muddle up the Best Actress Oscar race even more. Frances McDormand won the BAFTA for Best Actress on Sunday for “Nomadland” — one of two trophies she snagged — and now all of our televised precursor chess pieces are in place, with each one going to a different person. To answer Maximus Decimus Meridius, we are definitely entertained.

McDormand’s win was predicted, especially with three of her Oscar rivals — Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom“), Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) — MIA at BAFTA thanks to the new jury system. But perhaps what was more telling about this unruly race is what happened in some other categories. There is still no frontrunner, but who isn’t going full Charlie Day here at this point? So how, if at all, does BAFTA shake up the race?

SEE Full list of BAFTA winners

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
“Ma Rainey” and “Ma Rainey” fans sure had a roller coaster 24 hours over the weekend. On Saturday, the first day of the BAFTA Awards, the Netflix film won two awards, costume design and makeup and hairstyling, cementing it as the Oscar favorite in both categories. With Best Actor still pending and widely expected to go to Chadwick Boseman, it seemed like “Ma Rainey” was going to go 3 for 3, and you’d be lying if you said the thought of “Ma Rainey” winning four of its five Oscar categories without a Best Picture nomination didn’t cross your mind. But then on Sunday, Boseman’s sweep came to a screeching halt when the Brits crowned Anthony Hopkins Best Actor for “The Father.” Why am I bringing up Best Actor in a story about Best Actress? Boseman’s loss is confirmation that “Ma Rainey” is weak and might not be able to carry two lead acting Oscar wins. We knew “Ma Rainey” was weak when the Oscars snubbed it in Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, but its dominance in the two aforementioned craft categories and Davis’ Screen Actors Guild Awards win last week forced us to ponder, “What if it had just missed Best Picture in ninth?” Now we know it wasn’t even strong enough to win one acting category — the one category of its three noms people assumed it had in the bag — at the BAFTAs, where the film performed similarly in nominations as it did at the Oscars, minus bids for Davis and production design. Boseman is likely still safe for the Oscar, but Davis was never safe in the first place. “Ma Rainey” was already trying to become the first film ever to win two lead acting Oscars without a Best Picture nomination, so this was not a hit it could afford to take. Plus, going from winning both lead SAG Awards to zero at BAFTA to both at the Oscars would be pretty crazy, but then again, this race is cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”)
Live shot of Day:


Day is the one who’s arguably the least negatively affected by the BAFTA results since she’s the wild card here. She has the Golden Globe and the baitiest performance, but she missed two big precursors and is the only nomination for her misbegotten film. As I said last week, she could easily be in first or easily be in fifth. In any other year, she might be too weak to make a stand, but the way this race has shaken out with no frontrunner is perfect for someone like her to seize. And she pulled a Regina King this weekend: presenting at the BAFTAs while being a BAFTA snubbee with Oscar voting days away.

SEE Making sense of the refreshingly messy Best Actress Oscar race

Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Nothing is certain in the Best Actress race, but the closest thing is that Kirby is probably fifth here. One of two women to hit every precursor besides McDormand, Kirby is now the only one of the five who hasn’t won anything. With Mulligan snubbed, she had sole “hometown advantage” at BAFTA but couldn’t take down McDormand. But we would never count her out completely, and if she somehow does win on April 25, Marcia Gay Harden will have some company.

Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
McDormand’s BAFTA haul went from one to three in a span of, like, nine minutes on Sunday as she took Best Actress and Best Picture as a producer on “Nomadland.” The argument for McDormand winning — despite her chasing a third Best Actress Oscar and just three years after her second — is that “Nomadland,” the Best Picture frontrunner, is strong enough to buttress her toward a victory in a severely divided field. That’s not wrong, but we’ve also seen that she hasn’t been able to defeat all of her Oscar competition — or even more than one — head to head yet. She bagged the BAFTA in the absence of three other nominees, all of whom had won something. Was she a default pick? Maybe. It would not be unlike how Kate Winslet won the supporting actress Globe and BAFTA for “Steve Jobs” (2015) when Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) was placed in lead at those places, but she couldn’t beat her head on at the Critics Choice Awards, SAGs and the Oscars.

Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
It’s always dangerous to do hypothetical awards math, but what else are we gonna do for the next two weeks? “Promising Young Woman” didn’t over-perform in terms of BAFTA wins — it won the two most people expected, Best Original Screenplay and Best British Film. But the circumstances around the latter victory are notable. “The Father” did over-perform at the BAFTAs, scoring Best Adapted Screenplay (not entirely surprising) and Best Actor (very surprising). However, despite being able to win Best Actor over a heavy favorite, “The Father” could not beat “Promising Young Woman” for Best British Film. That suggests Emerald Fennell‘s pastel-colored dark comedy was stronger at BAFTA than “The Father” and [breaks out abacus] reinforces the idea that Mulligan would’ve probably won the Best Actress BAFTA had a group of seven to 12 people not blocked her from a nomination. But phantom BAFTAs don’t count and the reality is that Mulligan only has Critics Choice to her name, which has zero membership crossover with the academy. Still, we know that her film at least is stronger than “Ma Rainey” with international voters. If she doesn’t win for “Promising Young Woman,” let’s start the campaign now for “Lesbian Period Drama.”

Oscar predictions for Best Actress
Precursors have gone to different women

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