Uh-oh, Katharine Hepburn: Frances McDormand is coming for that record 4th Oscar

One of the biggest surprises of last year’s Oscar nominations was LaKeith Stanfield  (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) making it into the supporting actor line-up. He had been campaigned in the lead category all season by Warner Bros. However, the academy is actually allowed to overrule the preferences of the studios if they believe a contender has been wrongly categorised. Other examples include Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) and Kate Winslet (“The Reader”), who were both switched from supporting to lead.

This category switcheroo could play out again this year with a particular favorite of the Oscars. Three-time Best Actress champ Frances McDormand has been positioned in the lead actress category for her performance in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” But her role as Lady Macbeth clocks in at just 22 minutes and 6 seconds (21.03% of the film’s runtime).

It wouldn’t be unjustified for voters in the actors branch to switch McDormand to supporting. Such a move increases her chances of a nomination exponentially. This is because the supporting actress category is far less locked up than lead actress. And while there might be more contenders vying for the final two slots in supporting, each of the contenders have weaknesses. They’re the potential second nominee from the same film (Rita Moreno, Judi Dench); they’re potentially the only acting nomination for their film (Ruth Negga, Cate Blanchett); they’ve stumbled in some way at the precursors (Meryl Streep, Aunjanue Ellis). These on-the-bubble contenders all have weak points and McDormand’s potential placement in the category could expose them.

It’s highly likely she would be the second acting nomination for her film; 26 of our 28 experts predict Washington will be nominated in lead actor for his performance in the title role. Additionally, with her screen-time and beloved reputation within the academy, McDormand would be the prime candidate for “The Tragedy of Macbeth” over co-star Kathryn Hunter. Hunter also delivers a powerhouse supporting performance as the Witches in the film, but her slight 7 minute screen-time gives McDormand the edge. And McDormand has a pivotal “Oscar scene” in which she delivers a spine-chilling interpretation of the iconic Lady Macbeth “Damned Spot” soliloquy. This memorable moment will stick in voters’ minds.

Furthermore, McDormand is academy royalty with three Best Actress Oscars from six nominations. She won last year for her deeply internalised, mesmerizingly humane portrayal of Fern in Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland”. McDormand’s name will be extremely familiar to voters and her reputation among her peers will make her an easy “name-check” for the AMPAS acting branch.

The academy also love the Coen brothers. They surprised with a nomination out of nowhere in adapted screenplay for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in 2019. Joel Coen (7th in our combined odds) could do the same this year with “Macbeth,” The film  is likely to land bids in cinematography (3rd in our combined odds), production design (5th in our combined odds) and, as mentioned earlier, lead actor (4th in our combined odds).

Thus, we know “Macbeth” does have broad academy support and its availability on Apple TV+ gives the film a wide visibility for voters. If the actors branch did make the warranted category switch, “something wicked this way [may come]” in the form of a nomination for McDormand in supporting actress.

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