With Oscar season in full force, it's time to take a look at who the leading contenders for Best Actress are this year. In recent weeks, the race is starting to take shape and there's a bit of clarity as cinephiles debate amongst themselves which titles are the best. So far, we've heard from the National Board of Review, American Film Institute, and Golden Globes (among others), which have helped raise the prospect of some films, while sinking the chances of others. At this stage, there are no clear frontrunners yet, but people have a better idea of who's realistically in the running.
One key category film fans like to follow is Best Actress, and as always there is no shortage of worthy performances in contention. It's shaping up to be an exciting competition filled with plenty of big names that left a sizable impression with their work this year. Here are our Best Actress predictions as things start to heat up some more.
Glenn Close - The Wife
The veteran actress has been nominated six times in her career (most recently for 2011's Albert Nobbs) and has never won. That's an extraordinary statistic and definitely gives Close the classic "overdue" narrative to play up on the campaign. Historically, whenever an Academy favorite stacks up this many nods and keeps coming up short, it's only a matter a matter of time before that changes. A recent example of this is Leonardo DiCaprio, who won his elusive first Best Actor trophy back in 2015 for The Revenant. DiCaprio had been nominated in the acting categories four times prior in his illustrious career, and it was his time.
After passing Close over a near-record number of times, the Academy may be finally ready to reward her for her excellent work in The Wife. She earned strong reviews and is doing fairly well in the precursors, picking up a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actress - Drama category and earning other nods from the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Gotham Awards. The Wife is fairly small in comparison to other films in the Oscar race, and isn't expected to be much of a player across the board. But Close is too good in the movie to ignore, and she may finally get her shot to walk on the Oscar stage.
Lady Gaga - A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star is Born is the juggernaut of the Oscar season, and Gaga's performance as rising pop star Ally is a main reason why. Gaga proved to be a perfect fit for the role, shedding her extravagant and elaborate stage image to portray a humble, down-to-Earth aspiring artist yearning for her big break. Her chemistry with Cooper felt very natural and grounded, and she of course handled the numerous musical set pieces with all the expected skill fans expected. All in all, it's a very well-rounded performance that proves Gaga has a future in acting if she chooses. Yes, the role felt tailor-made for her, but she still knocked it out of the park.
Oscar prognosticators can feel confident penciling Gaga in as one of the five for Best Actress. She already has a Golden Globe nod under her belt, and she took home Best Actress from NBR. But it remains to be seen if she has enough support to clinch the win. Gaga obviously doesn't have the same overdue narrative as Close, and she's all but assured to win Best Original Song this year (standout track "Shallow" is poised to blitz through the competition). If there's anything working in Gaga's favor right now, it's that sometimes Best Actress can go to the hot industry star who's riding waves of buzz (see: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook). It'll be interesting to see how things play out.
Emily Blunt - Mary Poppins Returns
Julie Andrews won Best Actress back in 1964 for her performance as the Practically Perfect Nanny in the original Mary Poppins, and Blunt could very well follow suit in the very belated sequel. Disney's Mary Poppins Returns is a late arrival that's starting to make a splash on the awards circuit, being recognized as one of the best films of the year by the NBR and AFI. It also, unsurprisingly, did very well at the Golden Globes, with Blunt earning a nomination for Best Actress - Musical or Comedy. The film is currently enjoying highly positive reactions, with many feeling Blunt's turn is a delightful and worthy successor to Andrews. Blunt may not have watched the first film in preparation, but things seem to have turned out just fine.
Blunt's had herself a big year, as she also earned acclaim for her role as Evelyn Abbott in A Quiet Place (which itself has earned some key notices this season). She's never been nominated for an Oscar before, but after stringing together several strong performances in well-received films and hitting a home run as Mary Poppins in what should be one of the biggest hits of the holidays, Blunt may finally break through and find herself in the running. If she lands a Screen Actors Guild nomination, she's likely going to the Oscars.
Olivia Colman - The Favourite
Director Yorgos Lanthimos is an acquired taste that's definitely not for everyone, but awards voters are loving his period costume drama. The Favourite is one of the top films of the season, in large part because of the trio of excellent performances at its center. Colman stars as the frail Queen Anne, who relies heavily on her close friend Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to run the country. When Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives to the palace in search of work, the two younger women find themselves in a competition for Anne's affections. Critics praised it for its unique approach on a classic genre, and it's doing well with the precursors.
Colman's multi-layered performance was recognized in the Globes' Best Actress - Musical or Comedy category, and she's picked up a handful of other awards and nominations from film critics circles and the Gotham Awards. She's another contender in search of her first Oscar nomination, after having secured a multitude of accolades (including many for her work in television) over the past several years. With The Favourite looking more and more like one of the Oscar locks (at least, in terms of nominations), support for the film should bring Colman along for the ride.
Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
With her typical comedy schtick falling short in critical and commercial disappointments Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders, it became clear McCarthy needed a change-of-pace to get her career back on track. Fortunately for her, such a project came out at the end of 2018 in the form of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, in which McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, an author who falls into a get-rich-quick scheme by forging letters she claims to be from famous people. The film received a lot of love during its tour of the fall festivals, with McCarthy and co-star Richard E. Grant ranking as the highlights.
Comedic actors and actresses making the leap to more dramatic fare is a tried and true Hollywood tradition that's worked out well before (Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, for instance). McCarthy, who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Bridesmaids in 2011 could be in the running for Lead Actress this time around. The film allows McCarthy to tap into her humorous sensibilities, but there's also a lot of depth and nuance for her to explore, and she more than rises to the occasion. McCarthy is already armed with a Golden Globes nomination for her efforts, and while Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s status as a Best Picture long shot may preclude her from winning, she's likely to earn another Oscar nod.