Even in this strange pandemic year, there could be a swath of performers vying for the Best Actress Oscar. Already such indie Oscar hopefuls as “Swallow” (IFC) starring neurotic housewife Haley Bennett, “Lost Girls” (Netflix), starring fierce mom Amy Ryan, and “The Assistant” (Bleecker), starring sexually-harassed secretary Julia Garner, are on view at the Academy viewing portal.
These indies are less likely to go the distance than starry titles debuting later in the year. But more than usual, with folks watching more at home, theater dates uncertain, and more than 9000 slightly younger and more diverse Oscar voters, right now nobody knows anything. And remember, at this stage distributors and talent agents haven’t yet decided on which categories they want to push, so expect changes.
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And as the fall film festivals play a lesser role in the usual talent vetting, critics will be more important than ever. Top of the list at Metacritic for 2020 is Eliza Hittman’s Sundance and Berlin prize-winner “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” which stars musician discovery Sidney Flanigan as a teenager seeking an abortion in New York, which will most likely factor in the Gothams and Indie Spirits. Anya Taylor-Joy carries Autumn de Wilde’s assured Jane Austen romance “Emma” (Focus Features), opposite love interest Johnny Flynn. Always nabbing rave reviews is never-nominated Elisabeth Moss, who is more likely to land a supporting nod for Taika Waititi’s “Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight) than her superb performances in dark Shirley Jackson biopic “Shirley” (Neon) or Universal horror reboot “The Invisible Man.”
Another newbie who might make the list is Rashida Jones, who stars as a young mother who connects with her larger-than-life father (Bill Murray) in New York in Sofia Coppola’s “On The Rocks” (A24), as well as Rachel Brosnahan, who moves from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” to Julia Hart’s relationship drama “I’m Your Woman” (Amazon Studios), and Rachel Zegler, star of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” musical remake (December 18, Fox/Disney).
And long-overdue Oscar perennial Amy Adams, after six nominations, is also likelier to have a shot for Ron Howard’s film adaptation of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” (Netflix) than long-delayed Joe Wright thriller “Woman in the Window” (Fox 2000/Disney). Her “Hillbilly” costar Glenn Close (seven nominations) will also be vying for a win, likely in the supporting category.
Other stars looking to come back to the Oscar race are Frances McDormand as a woman in a van in Chloe Zhao’s road movie “Nomadland” (Searchlight), Carey Mulligan in Sundance hit “Promising Young Woman” (Focus), Cate Blanchett as a con artist in Guillermo del Toro’s still-unfinished “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight), Kate Winslet (lead) and Saoirse Ronan (supporting) as lovers in Francis Lee’s period romance “Ammonite” (Neon), which is expected to hit the fall festivals, Viola Davis in George C. Wolfe’s film adaptation of August Wilson’s hit play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix), three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer in Paris drama “French Exit” (Sony Pictures Classics), and cancer victim Lesley Manville in romantic drama “Ordinary Love” (February 14, Bleecker), costarring Liam Neeson.
Taking on real women are Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) as Aretha Franklin in “Respect” (December 25, MGM), Andra Day in Lee Daniels’ “United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Paramount), and Jessica Chastain in the title role in “The Big Sick” director Michael Showalter’s “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Lionsgate), costarring Andrew Garfield as her husband, televangelist Jim Bakker.
Contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner until I’ve seen it.
Sidney Flanigan (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”)
Lesley Manville (“Ordinary Love”)
Elisabeth Moss (“Shirley”)
Amy Ryan (“Lost Girls”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma”)
Amy Adams (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
Haley Bennett (“Swallow”)
Cate Blanchett (“Nightmare Alley”)
Rachel Brosnahan (“I’m Your Woman”)
Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes Of Tammy Faye”)
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Andra Day (“United States vs. Billie Holiday”)
Jodie Foster (“Prisoner 760”)
Julia Garner (“The Assistant”)
Jennifer Hudson (“Respect”)
Rashida Jones (“On The Rocks”)
Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)
Elisabeth Moss (“The Invisible Man”)
Elisabeth Moss (“Shirley”)
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)
Michelle Pfeiffer (“French Exit”)
Kate Winslet (“Ammonite”)
Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”)
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