Oscar Experts Typing: Is there a case for Penelope Cruz to win Best Actress?

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, we circle back, yet again, on Best Actress.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! If it’s a day that ends with the letter “Y,” you can be assured that our conversation will focus on the Best Actress race. We just typed about this last week with a focus on Kristen Stewart, but why not just run it back again for a race that seems to have no frontrunners? For me, Phase Two is all about visibility, and this week Vanity Fair provided us with… even more muddy waters. Three (3!) of the nominees graced the legacy publication’s annual Hollywood issue, with Nicole Kidman, Stewart and underdog upstart Penelope Cruz posing for glamorous photos alongside Best Actor nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Garfield, as well as shoulda-been-a-contender Idris Elba (never forget “The Harder They Fall”) and Gold*n Glo*e winner Michaela Jae Rodriguez. In a normal year, I might be inclined to give the Best Actress frontrunner a bump for making it onto the VF cover. But this is far from a normal year. If anything, I think the publicity will be the biggest boon for Cruz. I toyed with this in our column last week and discussed it briefly this week in our video before I had to go answer the doorbell. But what if Cruz is actually the stealth frontrunner, a nominee for the movie with the least amount of demerits, who is poised to peak at the right time thanks to Sony Pictures Classics’ slow rollout for “Parallel Mothers.” I’m starting to think this might happen — especially because she missed the BAFTA longlist. We once held that up as a sign of her failure to launch. Now that she’s a nominee, it seems more likely that the voters just hadn’t sat down with the movie. So, to push that to its conclusion: If BAFTA voters who are also Oscar voters now watch “Parallel Mothers,” won’t they fall for it like so many critics and film aficionados have previously? This is all rank speculation and dream-casting, but… I think it’s possible? Joyce, am I around the bend on this one, and is the true frontrunner perhaps the only nominee I failed to mention: Jessica Chastain, who could easily win at next weekend’s SAG Awards and throw this whole race into a new light?

joyceeng: First, I think you need to share with the class who was at the door. Don’t leave us hanging. Second, this is what I’ve been saying about Cruz and Sony Pictures Classics’ stealth ninja moves in the night. I do not have her winning (yet), but I think she’s being dismissed too easily by some just because she hit no major precursors, as evidenced by her being in fifth place in the odds. This category is pure bedlam and a nightmare for anyone with an undying allegiance to stats to help them predict. Nothing makes sense, but that’s why it’s fun! I am very much here for Penelope Cruz becoming the Marcia Gay Harden of Best Actress. As I said earlier this week, I don’t think “Parallel Mothers” has reached peak visibility yet among audiences and voters. It’s also an acclaimed and well-received film — I don’t know anyone who’s seen it and does not like it, which, to be fair, is, like, four people. Who knows, maybe with another week or two before voting, Pedro Almodovar would’ve been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a category he’s won. And while he was never truly in the discussion for Best Director for “Parallel Mothers,” he has also been nominated in that category before. I can see the writing and directing branches backing Cruz. At the very least, we know that Cate Blanchett is (probably) voting for her. The only contender here whose film has known writing support and probable directing support is the actual nominee you failed to mention: Olivia Colman. I will not stand for this erasure. Explain yourself. I suppose it was out of sight, out of mind for you since she’s the last person I’d ever expect to grace the cover of the Hollywood issue. She’s also proven that she does not need to lift a finger to win an Oscar or an Emmy. Queen behavior. I don’t think she’ll win SAG though and Chastain can for sure claim that. What will happen to the 355 if Cruz beats Chastain? Or vice versa?

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Christopher Rosen: According to a recent watch of “Marry Me” on Peacock, “The 355” is streaming soon! This is going to be the boost it needs!! When you side-chatted me (typing upon typing, y’all) about forgetting to include Colman in my opening salvo, I could only respond with “lmao.” What a fail, especially because according to our odds, she’s the actual frontrunner. Which is to say, I will not be surprised if Colman wins Best Actress at the Oscars and yet doesn’t win a single significant precursor award beforehand. She’s that good in the movie and on that strong of a run. She’s Teflon. Undefeated. The world champion of the world among actors. What I mean is that Colman is basically New Meryl. She probably came awfully close to winning her second Oscar last year for “The Father” and could definitely make it two Best Actress wins in four ceremonies next month. But if it’s between Colman and Cruz, I still think maybe Cruz has the edge? I have a harebrained notion that sometimes Oscar voters like “discovering” a performance, too. It’s perhaps part of the reason why Colman won Best Actress in 2019: While pundits were busy crowning Glenn Close or giving an ascendent Lady Gaga her flowers, Colman just quietly stormed through with a great performance in a great movie that flew relatively under the radar despite numerous nominations. This year, she’s a known quantity. Not to say Cruz is some newbie — she obviously already has her own Oscar. But it’s been 12 years since Cruz was an Academy Awards regular (three nominations in four years and one win), and I feel like you could argue this is a comeback performance that could double as a discovery. “Remember how much we loved Penelope Cruz? That wasn’t misplaced affection!” I’m rambling at this point, but I’m also all but ready to put Cruz in first. But before we jet off, what do you make of Kidman? Is she just in a holding pattern until we see how the SAG Awards shake out?

joyceeng: Wow, I have not gotten that ad on Peacock while watching the Olympics. Rude. I still have Kidman in first, mostly because I need someone in there. If she wins SAG, I wouldn’t say she’s a lock for the Oscar, but even if she loses SAG, I wouldn’t say she’s out of it. That’s how wild this year is. Chastain has the baitier performance and bigger transformation, but it’s clear that their fellow thespians are into “Being the Ricardos” and it probably just missed ensemble at SAG. Back to your point about “discovery,” I believe that to be true as well, whether it’s about a fresh-faced newcomer or unexpected turn from an old face. To that end, I’ll bring it back to our initial Best Actress favorite, Kristen Stewart. For anyone who has not followed her great performances in tiny indies in recent years, “Spencer” marks a different side of KStew that most people haven’t seen before. Just this morning, Paul Thomas Anderson called her performance “astonishing” and noted that “good sh– never wins.” While it still feels like “Spencer” is too polarizing (no other nominations), between this and Jane Campion’s praise last week, does she have two of our Best Director nominees’ votes on lock? What do you think? Are we a regular Coldplay here and going back to the start?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Kristen Stewart made it, but can she actually win Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: We’ve gone over the industry’s seeming distaste for “Spencer,” but here’s the thing: If Stewart had gotten a SAG nomination, I bet we’d both have her as the runaway frontrunner here based on the fact that she was the frontrunner for literal months. Does that mean her snub there is maybe not as meaningful as we thought? Anderson and Campion would have me thinking yes — and as you mentioned, Stewart has two narratives in play. Not just the “discovery” thing, but also the “nobody believes in us” sports trope. If you tell enough academy members they don’t like “Spencer,” does that create reflex contrarianism that materializes with Stewart over-performing? We already know she had enough fans to get into this race. Even as a lone nominee, maybe she ends up being the “Argo” of this race. Which places us back in the middle of Coldplay territory — with no clearer sense of where this might go. Joyce, I’m going to give my suspect board another pass, so you take the last word.

joyceeng: We’ve talked about this before, but the SAG Awards and the Oscars have become and will continue to be more misaligned over the years, thanks to their increasingly disparate membership makeups and different voting body sizes and voting methods. It did go 5/5 in Best Actor, but only went 2/5 in both supporting races for a total overlap of 12/20. Don’t get me wrong — I vastly prefer less overlap than an 18 or 19 or 20/20 snoozefest. And way back when everyone thought Stewart was getting in at SAG, we both felt that she could lose SAG, since “Spencer” is the opposite of SAG bait, but still win the Oscar. She and Cruz would have to defy the stat of “no Best Actress champ has won without a SAG nomination,” and I am not ruling anything out at this point. I agree that voters don’t like being told what to do or like (see: “Green Book”) — they really do just, generally, vote for their fave — but in this case, they were being told to like “Spencer”… and they didn’t (beyond Stewart). I’m just talking in circles now. Anyway, I look forward to next week when you’ll forget Colman is nominated at SAG.

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