Oscar Experts Typing: Is Best Actress a three-way race?

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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 discuss Best Actress, which feels competitive between the top three.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We spent last week’s column trying to find a realistic alternative to “Oppenheimer” in the Best Picture race and coming up a little short. We shouldn’t have any such problems this week, however, with Best Actress. As has usually been the case when we’ve typed about Oscars over the last few cycles, this category is highly competitive and could go down to the wire. Among the experts, Emma Stone holds a slight edge over Lily Gladstone — a result we both think will hold firm through Oscar night. To recap: Stone grabbed this race with both hands after “Poor Things” blew the doors off the Venice Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival back in the summer — and not even Gladstone’s shift to the Best Actress field seemed to slow Stone’s momentum. But then “Killers of the Flower Moon” hit, and Gladstone won several top critics awards — and at every stop along the way, it seemed like “people in the room” really wanted her to bring home the Oscar. (I’m guilty of this thinking, of course, since she was far and away the biggest crowd favorite at the Gotham Awards.) Now that we’re in February, however, it just seems like we’re back to Stone in the pole position — or maybe more accurately, Stone was there all along. As we’ve discussed, she’s actually the only person here who could pull off a sweep — Gladstone missed Best Actress at the BAFTA Awards, a shocking snub considering their convoluted jury process, and dark horse contender Sandra Hüller failed to secure a nomination at the SAG Awards. It’s really easy to imagine Stone winning at both SAG and BAFTA and carrying those victories all the way through. “Poor Things” had 11 Oscar nominations to 10 for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is maybe negligible in the overall calculus of which movie performed better with academy voters. But “Poor Things” is better positioned to win other awards on Oscar night beyond Best Actress (costumes, production design, and makeup and hair are all in play) while the “Flower Moon” hopes presumably rest solely on Gladstone. Basically, what I’m saying is that I think Stone will prevail here — unless she loses SAG, Hüller wins BAFTA and then I throw my hands up. Joyce, how do you see this race playing out, and could Hüller pull off a shocking upset win if the Stones knock each other out?

joyceeng: It’s the Stone Age and we’re just living in it. She hasn’t missed a beat yet, currently undefeated at the televised precursors, and she can take both upcoming industry awards as well, unlike her main rivals. As you know, I love a good ol’ split race, but right now, on Groundhog Day, it’s probably more likely that Stone will do a clean sweep, which she didn’t even achieve for “La La Land.” Besides its nomination haul, “Poor Things” is also doing well at the box office and is not alienating audiences the way one might think. It kind of reminds me of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” There was consternation it would be too weird for people and stodgy older Oscar voters — and sure, some didn’t like it, but that’s par for the course for every film — but a majority of people did like it and it dominated. I am not saying “Poor Things” will win seven Oscars, but “Poor Things” is clearing a lot of ostensible hurdles with ease so far. And I’ve always said that I don’t think Stone’s previous Oscar win is a demerit. To paraphrase a two-time Best Actress winner who bagged her second statuette in a shorter timeframe than Stone would, if they like you, they really like you, and they DGAF if you’ve won before or not. That’s what she said, right? Plus, the “people in the room” love Emma Stone a whole lot, too, if you go by the enthusiastic standing Os at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, which were stuffed with way more industry folks than the Gothams (no offense to the Gothams). As for Gladstone and Hüller, needless to say, they need to win the remaining award they’re each nominated for to stay within sniffing distance. The other layer to this is that their films appear to be on opposite trajectories. “Killers” missed two major nominations and its support feels like it’s plateaued at best and waning at worst, while there is considerable passion for “Anatomy of a Fall” (pause here for you to invoke the IndieWire poll), it hit key noms, and it has the potential to be “discovered” even more in Phase 2. We both expected Hüller’s SAG snub, but it’s ironic because “Anatomy” definitely feels like it would play better to the mainstream SAG-AFTRA body as a whole than “Killers” would. But, again, at this point, I wouldn’t put either ahead of Stone, and I’m not sure I would even if Stone only takes one of BAFTA and SAG. But we can cross that bridge when we get to it. Everyone keeps talking about this trio and who wasn’t nominated, but what about the other two nominees? Most people have Annette Bening in fifth as “Nyad” is the weakest film in this field and the only non-Best Picture nominee, but I have her in fourth, above Carey Mulligan, because I think she plays to a different demo than the other four and her contingent of supporters that carried her to the nomination will be there for her for the win.

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Christopher Rosen: It feels like “Nyad” has remained underestimated because people don’t like the movie. But Bening got into this field, perhaps pretty easily, because she is the apple in a bag of oranges: the oldest nominee in the race playing a character who was dismissed and undervalued because of her age. In hindsight, her nomination is a no-brainer, and that she would ultimately have more support in the final voting than Mulligan feels right. (Mulligan, by contrast, is this year’s Michelle Williams: happy to be nominated, little chance of winning, will probably win eventually because everyone just wants her to win one. When Mulligan is back with a movie the academy loves, we’ll remember this nomination — for a movie they, at best, liked just fine — as a data point in her favor to go all the way.) “Anatomy” is surging, which seems like good news for Hüller, but I think that just materializes in the Best Original Screenplay race, where Justine Triet and Arthur Harari feel destined to prevail. Back to Stone: you compared her to Michelle Yeoh, which is funny because earlier in the season I’m sure most thought she was Cate Blanchett. You mentioned how even if Stone lost at either SAG or BAFTA, you might not put anyone ahead of her. Let’s say she lost both: Gladstone wins SAG, Hüller takes BAFTA. Do you still have Stone prevailing on Oscar night? Or would that give Hüller the edge over both?

joyceeng: We briefly discussed this the other day, and as insane as it sounds, I don’t think Stone is out of it in that scenario. You could argue that even though it didn’t manifest in hardware, she still got nominated at both places (and would probably be runner-up), and Gladstone and Hüller did not. Sure, Gladstone likely would be a BAFTA nominee without the jury system, but her absence tells us she wasn’t top three in the popular vote. Gladstone and Hüller would also be winning these awards without facing each other, so it could be a whole other ballgame at the Oscars when they have to defeat Stone and the other person. In this situation, I think most people would go with Gladstone since SAG will be the final precursor, the guild translated all four of its acting winners at the Oscars last year, and no one has won the Best Actress Oscar without a SAG nomination yet. But this has happened in other categories, so it’s not like it’s impossible, and we’ve seen lots of stats fall in recent years, including PGA and Best Picture matching 10/10 for the first time this year. Would Hüller be the one to break this SAG curse? She’s also a double nominee at BAFTA, in supporting for “The Zone of Interest,” though I don’t think she’ll offer much resistance against Da’Vine Joy Randolph. If Stone were to win just one of the two awards, which one would you put money on?

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Christopher Rosen: This is maybe unwise, but I actually think she has the best shot of winning at the SAG Awards. We know they love a narrative at SAG. (Is the text coming from inside the house? How have I not become a SAG voter yet?) But Gladstone doesn’t give the kind of performance that SAG usually goes for in Best Actress. Quite literally, I’d say, just based on the past winners. With the exception of Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” no recent Best Actress winner at SAG was arguably a borderline lead — and Davis had the advantages of being Mrs. SAG and coming into the race with the baitiest performance and role. Gladstone’s internalized work usually goes right over this group’s head. So I’ll end up putting Stone in at SAG and then perhaps Hüller at BAFTA. But I’ll leave you with the final word here: How would you answer that same question?

joyceeng: I think I would say the same. Hüller feels like tougher competition for Stone at BAFTA than Gladstone does at SAG for the reasons you mentioned. You could even make the case that Gladstone might also be below Bening, Mulligan and Margot Robbie there in terms of performance baitiness and just overall popularity of her film. I don’t think she is that low and I definitely think she can win, but should she not prevail and the accountants reveal she wasn’t even second, I would be like, “Makes sense.”

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