Oscars cliffhanger: Can Sandra Huller in ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ still win Best Actress?

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This is not what I’m predicting. It’s not what I’m expecting. And it’s certainly not something that I’m pushing. However, let me just say this. It is something that is very much possible. Here are five reasons why Sandra Hüller in “Anatomy of a Fall” could still rise as this year’s surprise Oscar winner for Best Actress.

1. Her performance has been met with widespread critical acclaim.
Overseas, she notably won the prestigious European Film Award for Best Actress. And on this side of the pond, she’s racked up an impressive collection of accolades. Best Lead Performance from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Best Actress from the National Society of Film Critics. Best Actress at the Gold Derby Awards. And countless others. True, she failed to break out of the pack at the Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. But she has been singled out for significant attention. The academy definitely has its eye on her.

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2. Watching her in “Anatomy of a Fall” is like witnessing a master class in acting.
Hüller portrays a German woman on trial in France for the murder of her husband. She’s not physically transformed or playing someone with a specific challenge, or anything else that might be considered classic awards bait. However, she does tackle a most fascinating and mysterious character with the utmost skill. She’s on a Meryl Streep level in terms of her nuance and attention to the tiniest of details. While most of her scenes are rather restrained, she does have a few moments in the film where she unleashes emotion of a colossal magnitude. Because they’re so rare, unforced and relatively brief, they generate an impact to Hüller’s acting that’s unlike any of this year’s contenders. That’s a hard thing for academy voters to ignore.

3. Vote-splitting can be an underdog’s best friend.
No, I’m not referring to Snoop, the canine companion that paw-fectly plays a key role in “Anatomy of a Fall.” The reason that most of us consider Huller a long shot is because we’re so focused on Lily Gladstone in “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Emma Stone in “Poor Things.” They both prevailed in their respective Best Actress categories at the Golden Globes. (Gladstone for Drama and Stone for Musical or Comedy). Stone then overcame Gladstone at the Critics Choice Awards, and also defeated Huller on her home continent at the BAFTAs (where Gladstone wasn’t even in the running). Stone was expected to seal the deal at the SAG Awards, only to have the rug pulled from under her when Gladstone was named the winner. Since all four SAG recipients repeated at the Oscars last year, Gladstone appears to have momentum on her side. But her BAFTA snub is hard to overlook. So which one has the edge? If the two “Stones” split the vote, that could put them both between a rock and the Oscar. And Huller could crush both of them with just the tiniest of votes.

SEE Oscar nominations: How did your favorite films fare?

4. She’s visible in two potent Best Picture nominees.
Her presence in “Anatomy of a Fall” alone makes her a force to be reckoned with. The film has over-performed this entire awards season. At the Oscars, it made not only the long list for Best Picture, but also the shorter lists for Best Director for Justine Triet plus Best Original Screenplay and Film Editing. Meanwhile, Huller also plays a smaller (but still pivotal) role in “The Zone of Interest.” The film has generated quite a bit of interest from the academy, as its Best Picture nod is complemented by a Best Director spot for Jonathan Glazer as well as bids for Best Adapted Screenplay, Sound and International Feature. If academy members base their decisions on body of work, nobody is going to top Huller.

5. Voters might be in the mood for a major upset.
I was going to make the academy’s increasingly international makeup my final argument. But that’s so obvious, I’ll opt for another one. With “Oppenheimer” looking so safe for Best Picture/Director plus Best Actor for Cillian Murphy (in all probability) and Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr., and nothing holding back Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “The Holdovers” from holding the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, there’s a dearth of suspense in the top contests. Except for Best Actress. Some voters may be tempted go off script here, and do something unexpected. And a Huller victory would provide the ceremony with the jolt that the show will be needing so close to the end of the night. So at the end of the day, don’t be all-too-shocked if the academy renders a shocking verdict in favor of Sandra Huller, as Best Actress of the year in “Anatomy of a Fall.”

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