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, fresh off Oscar nominations, we reassess Best Actress.
Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We’re back to type about the event that everyone is talking about this week: The return of “Succession” on March 26, a date you called months ago. Wait, I’m sorry, actually we’re still typing about the Oscars! Phase 2 has arrived and, at least at this moment, we’ve got a lot of races to untangle. In fact, it’s possible only Best Supporting Actor is locked down: It would be an upset of epic and unheard of proportions were Key Huy Quan to lose on Oscar night. So let’s start with everyone’s favorite category, Best Actress. While much of the conversation in the wake of Tuesday’s nominations announcement has remained focused on Andrea Riseborough’s shock inclusion for “To Leslie,” presumably in place of Danielle Deadwyler or Viola Davis, let’s pivot toward who might actually win on March 12. Logic and precursor precedent has this one down to Cate Blanchett versus Michelle Yeoh. Those two industry favorites are neck and neck on the Metacritic scoreboard (Yeoh has a slight edge) and it feels like a race that could come down to the slimmest of margins. To me, Blanchett has felt undeniable for months — she’s just operating on another level in “TÁR,” and it’s arguable the movie simply wouldn’t even exist without her towering performance. The academy clearly loved this one too: It over-performed, landing not just in the expected Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay races (a nice trifecta for Todd Field in a year of trifectas for auteurs) alongside Best Actress, but also Best Cinematography and Best Editing. They’ve got “TÁR” fever! It’s an extravaganzTÁR? What in TÁRnation? I don’t know. But anyway, with the way “TÁR” performed, it would seem like Blanchett is the obvious choice — except for the fact that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” over-performed too and is clearly the academy’s favorite. That huge windfall of support — 11 nominations! — plus Yeoh’s enticing narrative as an underappreciated legend finally getting the recognition she has long deserved makes it feel like she actually has the edge here. To quote the great Meryl, I have such doubts! I don’t know what to do right now, but I’ve got Blanchett lightly penciled in for the win because it feels like the obvious place to recognize “TÁR” (not that the academy has shown a great interest in “everyone gets a trophy”) and because her work is really that good. Joyce, what do you make of Best Actress thus far?
joyceeng: Oscar voters obviously worship at the alTÁR of Lydia Tár. And who can blame them? As I said on Tuesday, during the first cluster of nominations, I thought Yeoh was winning after “Everything Everywhere” nabbed costume and double music noms. But “TÁR” said, “Hold my cucumber salad,” and popped up in cinematography and editing in the second bundle. Spare a thought for the doubters way back in the fall who thought “TÁR” — now streaming on Peacock! — would be too cold and remote for voters to get, like “The Power of the Dog,” a notion I never believed because “TÁR” is very entertaining and straightforward in its plot. Like Tom, I am heartened to see that the industry is very much here for our favorite maestro. That’s a long way of saying I still have Blanchett slightly out in front. While there’s no membership crossover with the Critics Choice Awards, a group that prides itself on being the “best Oscar predictor,” it was notable that Blanchett prevailed there as “Everything Everywhere” dominated with five wins. To me, Yeoh should’ve been able to win that, like how Brendan Fraser won Best Actor. Don’t get me wrong — a Critics Choice win does not guarantee a Cate Blanchett Oscar victory, but it continues to fortify her singular strength after she swept the Big Three critics prizes for the second time in her career, and like you said, it seems like Best Actress is the place to acknowledge “TÁR.” Yeoh has the rootability factor and the stronger movie overall, but she can easily be another Michael Keaton or Sally Hawkins, who can’t quite cross the finish line alongside her film. If they split SAG (Yeoh) and BAFTA (Blanchett) the way everyone thinks they will, it could be a nail-biter until the end, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if one of them won the rest. You’ve been toying with Blanchett taking SAG as well — entirely possible. She’s no Viola Davis when it comes to SAG supremacy, but she managed a nomination last year for “Nightmare Alley,” which we all knew was not translating to the Oscars.
SEE Experts slugfest: 2023 Oscar nominations recap — Andrea Riseborough, ‘Top Gun’s’ big snub and more
Christopher Rosen: We haven’t been shy about discussing the mainstream tastes of SAG Awards voters, so it does feel reasonable to have Yeoh winning there this year. “Everything Everywhere” is a huge hit, and despite its twisty plot and reputation in some circles as being “too polarizing,” it has proven to be anything but avant-garde or truly divisive. (Not that such a statement should be a surprise: “Everything Everywhere” definitely lives in the same area code as “The Matrix,” “Avengers: Endgame” and “Ratatouille,” among some of the most mainstream movies ever.) But here’s why I think Blanchett could still win at SAG — although let me clear my throat before diving in. I was definitely one of those who bailed on “TÁR” back after it flopped upon theatrical release. My anecdotal evidence suggested that it was more polarizing than the elitist reviews initially suggested (Richard Brody notwithstanding). But! That was wrong and I quickly corrected my stance. Besides, it didn’t matter that “TÁR” underperformed at the box office because so many other prestige movies did too and the only one people really held poor financials against was “She Said.” (I will never forget and never forgive.) So for the purposes of this conversation, I think you’re right: “TÁR” is pretty fun! Blanchett is doing the comedy by the time “TÁR” gets to its third act and the whole thing is way more entertaining than its logline might suggest. I don’t think this is a case of “TÁR” being vegetables for mainstream SAG-AFTRA voters who just want to watch a good movie. So I do think she’s in competition for SAG and, as you said, feels like the choice at BAFTA. But even if Blanchett were to win both of those, I still wouldn’t be surprised if Yeoh ended up victorious on Oscar night. This really does feel like a race that will come down to the wire and a coin flip. But before we jet off, let’s talk about the other nominees briefly. I don’t think either of us expects Ana de Armas or Michelle Williams to emerge as a third option here, but what about Riseborough? Part of me thinks the nomination is the reward. The “grassroots” campaign kind of ended like “The Graduate” or that scene in “The Dark Knight,” in which Heath Ledger talks about being a dog chasing cars, right? The sentiment seems to be “now what?” So maybe it will be tough to reengage the academy in an actionable fashion to push Riseborough to the win. But “To Leslie,” by all accounts, is also really strong and her performance is formidable. Is there a world where Blanchett and Yeoh split the vote and Riseborough winds up with the most unexpected and unbelievable win in Oscars history?
joyceeng: There’s a whole lot more to unpack with the rogue Riseborough campaign than there is time to type on this Friday. But I’ll just reiterate for now that it’s funny to me that people think that asking famous friends to boost her on social media — something lots of celebs do on their own anyway for their faves — is more shady than studios spending millions of dollars every year to shill their contenders, buy ads, and throw events, screenings and Q&As, which they ask famous people to host as a cosign. It would be absolutely wild if Riseborough won (I can already see the think pieces), but I think the goal of the campaign was the nomination, not necessarily the win. The whole membership votes for all the winners, and if you’re in the acting branch, you might also vote differently in Phase 2 since it’s a plurality vote. You can be strategic in Phase 1 voting. Let’s say Yeoh is your actual favorite, but you love Riseborough too and want her to be nominated, so you ranked Riseborough in first and Yeoh in second, knowing that Yeoh has lots of support and would be pulling in tons of top placements already. But now for the winner, you can only pick one, so you’ll vote for your real No. 1, Yeoh. As for de Armas and Williams, I don’t see them happening, but we know there’s passion for the former (who probably has Colin Farrell’s vote), and the idea of a long-shot Williams upset tickles me because of the supporting brouhaha and she cannot win anything else until the Oscars. But she’s in the stronger film than Riseborough and de Armas, and this is the second time the academy has nominated her after SAG and BAFTA snubs. Imagine the chaos if the non-Will Smith presenter opens the envelope and goes, “And the Oscar goes to… Michelle… Williams.”
SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Michelle Williams in supporting? Our last-minute burning questions
Christopher Rosen: Wait, Will Smith can’t go to the Oscars? I kid! Williams would be a legit shock — I still think about how the season would’ve played out were she a frontrunner for supporting actress right now and if that would’ve helped “The Fabelmans” as a Best Picture bet — but I’m here for any and all chaos in this race. But I’ll end here by once again invoking Michael Keaton, the beloved lead of a beloved Best Picture juggernaut… who lost to a Focus Features contender. It just feels like we might be going down that road again, especially because Blanchett is such a force in “TÁR.” Joyce, one last thing, I guess: What if they tie — a move that that the best Oscar predictors somehow avoided this year? Would that Cady Heron ending be the best finale of all?
joyceeng: Remember when we floated the idea of a tie in the wacky Best Actress race two years ago? Good times. But that was fetch. This is too, probably. But the only time there’s been a tie in this category was when first-time champ Barbra Streisand was a co-winner with Katharine Hepburn… who scored her third Oscar. Blanchett has already won an Oscar for playing Great Kate, so why not mimic the path to No. 3 as well and share the honor with someone she clearly loves and admires? And everyone will be happy? (LOL, they won’t be.)
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