In years past, especially recent years, the Academy has often struggled to find five women worthy of a nomination for Best Actress, and it is quite rare for there to be a year where there is a bounty of fine performances given by leading actresses. This year however is different, and the Best Actress category is by far the most competitive in years and could be the single most exciting category of the year. There are at this writing, ten potential performances that could be among the five nominees, and with just three major performances left to be seen, we can start to figure out who might be nominated, who might win.
Certainly the films seen at Venice and now TIFF have altered the race, and it will be further altered in New York at their festival when 20th Century Women, with Annette Bening screens for the press. Along with Bening, never a winner and still to come are Viola Davis in Fences — for which she is all but a nominee — and Jessica Chastain, good in everything she does, dominating the film Miss Sloane and said to be Oscar bound.
Personally, I cannot imagine another performance being stronger than Natalie Portman in Jackie, which is frankly, the best work of her career, far surpassing her Oscar winning turn in Black Swan (2010) and a performance for the ages. They will be discussing Portman and her stunning performance in thirty years, a staggering accomplishment for the young actress. While it is not uncommon for actresses to win just a few years after they won their first, it is not a regular happening. Most recently, Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for The Accused (1988) and took home a second three years later for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) while Hilary Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and won five years later again for Million Dollar Baby (2004). Portman’s performance is one of the finest performances, male or female I have seen in the last thirty years, and I just cannot imagine her losing to anyone. This foolishness of spreading the wealth of not giving an Oscar to someone too soon after they have won is garbage, she deserves it she should win it, and likely will.
Amy Adams is a certain nominee for her haunting performance as the gifted linguist in Arrival, along with the charismatic Emma Stone in the delightful La La Land. In the dictionary under the word movie star is says Emma Stone, she is terrific in the film and without a doubt will be among the most popular nominees of the year. Ruth Negga is a likely nominee for Loving, though she could be bumped by one of the performances not yet seen, or one of the ones from earlier in the year. Meryl Streep will be going for her twentieth nomination in Florence Foster Jenkins and if they go for a sentimental nominee this year Sally Field could slip in for Hello! MY Name is Doris, a lovely reminder of what a talented actress Field is. French actress Isabelle Huppert could land a nomination for her work in the harrowing film Elle, though it might be too dark for the Academy.
Unseen but likely to be among the considered nominees are Viola Davis reprising her Tony Award winning performance in Fences, the remarkable Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane and the often nominated never won Annette Bening in 20th Century Women. If I were to predict right now who the final five will be I would have to say Portman, Chastain, Davis, Streep and Stone. If Streep were to be left out this year, Negga or Bening could slip into the race.
The Academy wants to give Davis an Oscar, they know she should have won for The Help (2011) but instead they gave it to Meryl Streep because they owed her for many performances. What they did was wrong, and stupid, and now they are in the position of having to honor Davis, perhaps in a year we have a performance that will be discussed and celebrated for years to come, from Portman.
Why not just give it to the best performance? Well, the answer to that question we are still searching for.