Oscar Experts Typing: Who are Jessica Chastain’s biggest threats?

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 the BAFTAs and Critics Choice Awards on deck, we circle back on Best Actress.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! It’s Friday and we’re back at it after spending all week predicting the Critics Choice Awards and BAFTA Awards with our keyboards point again at the Best Actress race. Not much has happened here since we last typed about the chaos here, but I’ve started to really come around to the idea that there is a clear frontrunner. Jessica Chastain won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and that victory feels like the moment when a lot of pundits and awards observers simply decided she was the winner here. Her win was like a communal exhale, an allowance that this unpredictable race might end up with a pretty safe and predictable outcome. Chastain’s performance in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” has been hailed for months and the film is also likely to win an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling in the contentious pre-show. It all adds up to an “Iron Lady”-like result. Or does it? I can see a world where Chastain is the consensus pick — her performance is absolutely the most mainstream here, and I’d argue that her film is absolutely the most broadly watchable. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is the kind of picture you’d recommend to someone if they were on a plane or scrolling through the streaming apps on a Saturday afternoon. What I mean is that it’s not challenging in the way that something like “The Lost Daughter” is, nor is it as polarizing as “Being the Ricardos” or “Spencer.” It’s just a nice movie. But as I’ve rambled on about before, I don’t know if there’s a lot of passion for the movie or Chastain. She also might not win this weekend at the Critics Choice Awards, where we expect Kristen Stewart to prevail. So barring a tie there (knowing the group, that’s not an unlikely scenario), is Chastain going to win at the Oscars with just a SAG Award win? Joyce, help me figure this out.

joyceeng: Well, lucky for you, someone has won Best Actress with just SAG before: Halle Berry. That was 20 years ago when Denzel Washington and Will Smith faced off for the first time, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench were nominated, and a pair of actresses (Dench and Kate Winslet) were up for playing old and young versions of the same character. A sign of things to come? I have no idea what’s happening in Best Actress, and I love it. I also have Chastain in first, but that’s mostly by default since she won a major industry award from a group with some membership crossover with AMPAS. (Side note: Can we talk about how the frontrunner has gone from Kristen Stewart to Nicole Kidman to Jessica Chastain in a span of eight weeks? More of this, please.) The good news for Chastain is that there is passion for her performance — we’ve talked ad nauseam about how she transcends the film — she is one of two nominees who has not won yet and is on her third nomination (as opposed to a maiden bid for KStew), and regardless of what happens at Critics Choice, none of her Oscar competition can get a leg up on her at BAFTA, the other major industry precursor with membership overlap. She obviously can’t benefit from BAFTA either, so does that mean she remains in the ostensible pole position? The key, I suppose, is to figure out where the Brit bloc vote is going to go when they cast their Oscar ballots. Chastain’s turn and “Tammy Faye” are more mainstream, but I’d say that that helps her more at a populist place like SAG than with the academy, which leans highbrow, especially in recent years after aggressively expanding its membership and inviting international filmmakers. They rebuffed broader mainstream fare like “House of Gucci” and PGA nominees “Being the Ricardos” and “Tick, Tick… Boom!” for “Drive My Car,” a three-hour Japanese slow burn. “The Worst Person in the World” bested Aaron Sorkin for a screenplay slot. And while “The Lost Daughter” is more challenging for the public at large, it scored a surprise nomination for Jessie Buckley. With two acting nominations and a screenplay bid — Maggie Gyllenhaal’s had a very good week — “The Lost Daughter” was arguably the closest to a Best Picture nomination of the five Best Actress films. So, advantage Colman? Maybe? Plus, with Anthony Hopkins confirmed to present, the father could give an Oscar to his lost daughter.

SEE Critics Choice Awards predictions: Will ‘CODA’ take down ‘The Power of the Dog’? Experts’ winner picks

Christopher Rosen: I agree with everything you’ve written about “The Lost Daughter” but I’ve started to really believe the embrace of that movie will come not in Best Actress, but Best Adapted Screenplay, where Maggie Gyllenhaal can win as the driving creative force behind its success. But I don’t think you’re off base to suggest that the academy’s cineaste tastes might prevent Chastain from being a slam dunk. So that’s why I keep gravitating back to Penelope Cruz. It would be a relative shocker, right? Cruz wasn’t nominated the SAG Awards or BAFTA Awards (she didn’t even make the longlist there, wut), but “Parallel Mothers” definitely had some academy support. The score is nominated and I’d argue with no proof that Pedro Almodovar came close to landing among the original screenplay nominees. Cruz has also been highly visible on the awards trail, whereas Colman has kept a customary low profile. You could argue Colman came close to winning Best Supporting Actress last year and obviously — in the wake of Frances McDormand — the academy doesn’t mind going back to the well with an actress in this category. But I kind of wonder if, when push comes to shove, is it Cruz who presents herself as the best alternate pick to Chastain — and if she gets enough international support, does she shock the world on March 27?

joyceeng: As you know, I’ve longed believed in Cruz for the nomination despite her empty precursor run, so it would absolutely delight me if she pulled off the win. On paper, it looks like an uphill battle, but to bring it back to another Sir Tony connection, I would not underestimate Sony Pictures Classics. SPC worked its magic last year for “The Father,” which, to be clear, was a lot stronger than “Parallel Mothers” (six noms and two wins at both BAFTA and the Oscars), but it was another late-breaking film that peaked at the right time. I would not say “Parallel Mothers” is publicly peaking in the same way — people were rapturously praising Hopkins once “The Father” was finally released — but who knows how voters are responding to it behind closed doors? BAFTA also nominated “Parallel Mothers” for Best Film Not in the English Language, so that’s a measure of support. Spain, of course, submitted her hubby Javier Bardem’s film “The Good Boss” to the Oscars instead and it was not nominated — would “Parallel Mothers” have been? We’ll never know. And we’ve discussed before how Colman and Cruz are alternatives for anyone who’s not into the triple biopic battle between Chastain, Kidman and Stewart. But what of Kidman and Stewart? Are they just also-rans now?

SEE BAFTA winner predictions: ‘Dune’ domination? Who will win Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: I can’t believe I’ve gone fully 180 degrees on Kidman, but such is life in the awards race. I was bullish on Kidman for months, but that was then and this is now. The industry has rallied around Chastain in terms of “transformative actress performance” and “Being the Ricardos” really did strike out with the academy. We’ve joked about how Denzel Washington is probably voting for Will Smith and I wonder if Kidman plans on doing something similar with Stewart — after all, her Actors on Actors interview with Stewart was a delight and Kidman seemed really infatuated with the “Spencer” star. So what of Stewart? I still think there’s a strong push for her to win this and she’s really seemed genuinely touched by the nomination. But people do not like “Spencer” — not just the lady who sat behind me when I saw it at Telluride months ago, but seemingly many academy members. Just this week, Kyle Buchanan at the New York Times noted how voters seem to outright hate that movie. But I still think she could win? This is such a close race, I could honestly see everyone winning? Joyce, make this make sense as we head into the weekend.

joyceeng: Kidman’s trajectory this season has had more twists than Leda’s orange peels. I feel like many have completely marooned her following her SAG loss, and I get it, but this category is so wild that you really can’t dismiss anyone fully. And if the race is as split as it appears to be, the winner might prevail by the slimmest of margins (or as Denzel put it when Kidman won, “by a nose”). As for Kidman’s “Panic Room” daughter of two weeks, I think Stewart is hurt by the intense distaste for “Spencer” when it’s the whole academy voting for winners and every non-acting branch spurned it (at least Kidman has two co-stars nominated). Is the admiration for her performance enough to overcome that? Stewart does seem genuinely grateful for the nomination and maybe sees that as the reward this go-round. She did say she’s totally cool watching “Olivia Colman accept her Oscar.” Princess Diana pulling for Queen Elizabeth, we’ve seen it all.

PREDICT the 2022 Oscar winners by March 27

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