Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, with Oscar nominations days away, we circle back on, of course, Best Actress.
Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We’ve made it to the end of Phase One, which means it’s time for Jane Campion to smirk like Thanos and for this year’s Oscars race to come into full focus. Voting for Oscar nominations closed earlier this week and we’ve already made our picks in all 23 categories. So while it’s mostly all over but the shouting until more shouting commences on Tuesday morning, what better time than the present to take one last look at our favorite race, Best Actress. This one remains a knotted mess, with so many potential nominees that it hardly feels like anyone is safe. But in the wake of this week’s BAFTA Award nominations, I’m all but certain one actress will absolutely stand tall on Tuesday: Stefani Germanotta, the divine Lady Gaga herself. The “House of Gucci” star has inarguably dominated the awards season headlines thanks to her commitment to the performance both onscreen and off. She’s a regular Jeremy Strong over here, and everyone from the highfalutin New York Film Critics Circle to the Screen Actors Guild to the BAFTA Awards has fallen in line behind the erstwhile Patrizia Reggiani. I don’t just have Lady Gaga predicted among my five nominees, I now have her winning the entire thing. But that’s for another conversation, Joyce. For now, let’s talk nominees. My five are Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman for “Being the Ricardos,” Olivia Colman for “The Lost Daughter,” and then two BAFTA picks who I think will convert over to the Oscars: Alana Haim for “Licorice Pizza” and Renate Reinsve for “The Worst Person in the World.” That’s the hill I’m going to die on — not to be confused with Jude Hill, the “Belfast” kid actor who was once considered a dark horse Best Actor possibility when Kenneth Branagh‘s film first screened at Telluride. What about you?
joyceeng: So what you’re saying is Jane Campion is inevitable? I concur. As for Best Actress, I am a hot mess. I am thisclose to changing it again, so maybe disregard what I said in our “final” predictions. I have four of your five with Jessica Chastain in lieu of Reinsve, but I’m considering dropping Jess for Penelope Cruz. Yes, Penelope Cruz, whom I re-added just seven days ago and dropped again yesterday to slot Haim back in. Cruz’s ledger is empty when it comes to the major precursors — not even making the BAFTA longlist is rough — but she did win two of the Big Three critics awards, and “Parallel Mothers” is far more acclaimed than “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and was a late-breaker that arrived right when voting was starting. The late release could also explain her longlist miss, and it’s safe to say Cruz has more international support than Chastain, who was snubbed by BAFTA (which many of us expected) and by Australia’s AACTA Awards, where Cruz was nominated and so was Jennifer Hudson. So that’s where I am right now. What should I do? Am I cruising up the wrong lane?
SEE BAFTA nominations reactions: Is Best Actress Lady Gaga’s to lose now? Experts on snubs, surprises
Christopher Rosen: It’s clearly recency bias for me, but I have Reinsve in that last spot if for no other reason than during the last days of voting, no actress seemed to have noisier supporters. Twitter doesn’t mean anything, of course, but I think Neon kind of played “The Worst Person in the World” perfectly in its rollout. Reinsve has deep critical support too — there were rumblings she came close to beating Lady Gaga at the New York Film Critics Circle and she was runner-up to your pal Cruz at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Then there was this week’s BAFTA nomination, which comes with a ton of caveats (was she a jury save?) but still speaks to something! Yet even before those plaudits, Reinsve was a Best Actress winner at Cannes — and while who can remember that far back, I do think it kind of speaks to the international support she has been building for months. Cruz, by contrast, got a later start and that’s the difference in my calculus. We’ve come this far and neither of us has mentioned former frontrunner Kristen Stewart. Her campaign’s failure to launch is one of the most shocking twists of this awards season. Still, I won’t totally count her out, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if she landed a nomination next week. Where are you on Stewart at this point? Does she have any shot?
joyceeng: I think Reinsve was for sure a jury pick. It was always obvious to me the jury would save her — you know, back when we all thought Olivia Colman would be top two and we got trolled not just by the jury but also the acting branch this time. Cruz, who has Sony Pictures Classics and its preferred AMPAS-targeted campaigning behind her, may have gotten a later start, but she also has a Best Actress festival win under her belt, taking the Volpi Cup at Venice when nearly everyone expected Stewart to prevail. In retrospect, that was the first sign that Stewart was not the runaway favorite so many people had pegged — and really, hopedicted — her as. She still has a shot at that fifth spot (imagine telling someone that a month ago) — especially in a category this anarchic — and I also would not be surprised if she makes the cut. Even though “Spencer” is super polarizing, she still has her pocket of supporters who’d rank her in first. I would feel better about her chances if her film hadn’t completely flatlined with the industry. That’s the other thing: “Spencer” has been in freefall while Cruz’s and Reinsve’s films have been on the upswing. We’ve both felt all season that Stewart was not the done deal as she appeared to be and was beatable, but all of her challengers seemed to show weaknesses, so the mood was, “She’s winning. There are no strong alternatives.” But what if Gaga was the stealth frontrunner all along and there are no strong alternatives to her? She is the only one who has hit everything and has that NYFCC win as well, and “House of Gucci” was a rare box office success for an adult drama. While you ponder that, can you see any of these other fringe contenders surprising on Tuesday?
SEE Oscar Experts slugfest: Our final predictions in all 23 categories
Christopher Rosen: I’ll give you two possibilities. The first is Jennifer Hudson, who has been in the race for six months and keeps lingering for a performance a lot of people really enjoyed. She got in at the SAG Awards, and I think if push comes to shove among the biopic contenders, there’s an argument to be made that she’s ahead of Jessica Chastain and Stewart. That alone could get her into the fifth spot. The other person I just simply refuse to give up on is Rachel Zegler. We’ve been disappointed with how the industry has responded to “West Side Story,” and I’m not nearly as bullish on it as I was back in December. But sometimes, I hope, the strength of the movie has to wins out — and “West Side Story” unabashedly rules. So if “West Side Story” over-performs on Tuesday — if Steven Spielberg sticks in the Best Director field, if Tony Kushner makes it in adapted screenplay, if Mike 👏 Faist 👏 lands among the supporting actor contenders — I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zegler highlighted as well. For good and bad, she’s been as visible as Lady Gaga in the last couple of months — but beyond her prolific social media presence is a wonderful debut performance that truly recontextualizes what audiences think of Maria. Maybe it’s a hopediction, but I feel pretty… good about her ability to surprise.
joyceeng: Somewhere, there’s a place for JHud and Zegler in this lineup, but I’m not sure it’s here anymore. Hudson’s SAG coup was great, but I think she has a better shot at a nomination in Best Original Song. At some point in December, I considered both Zegler and Haim making it in for their fantastic film debuts, but it feels like there’s only room for one “a star is born” (no pun intended) newbie now. Part of that is because of, as you alluded to, “West Side Story’s” rocky road to get here. We’ve talked at length about its uneven campaign — coulda, woulda, shoulda sent those SAG screeners out earlier — and I don’t know if, or rather how much, it’s been hampered by musical bias and remake bias, but it’s a film that deserves more love than it’s gotten. Ariana DeBose is the only aspect of it that’s been unscathed so far. Even though I know our fave Mike Faist was a jury pick at BAFTA, the fact that he made it in with zero visible industry support shows that people are responding to the performances when they see the film, so maybe there’s hope for them yet. Zegler’s in a tougher category that’s volatile in a different way, but for the second year in a row, Best Actress is serving maximum chaos and you know there’s still another twist or two or seven coming.
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