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The Unusually Messy ‘Best Actress’ Oscars Race Gets Messier After BAFTAs

Best Actress Oscars
Best Actress Oscars

Every year, as the Oscars approach, some categories remain especially susceptible to upsets. But, in recent memory, Best Actor and Best Actress have been pretty clear by the time the ceremony rolls around. The BAFTAs this past weekend have added confusion to an unusually confusing category.

Last year, there was little shock in Joaquin Phoenix and Renée Zellweger’s wins. It seems like the previous awards ceremonies form a consensus around the acting categories pretty regularly. This year, in the “Best Actress” category, no such consensus has formed.  

The “Best Actor” category still looks solid for Chadwick Boseman, despite him losing out to Anthony Hopkins at the BAFTAs this weekend. But in the major awards this circuit, “Best Actress” has gone to a different actress each time. Let’s explore the major contenders for “Best Actress” and what chances each of them might have:

Frances McDormand

Before this weekend, Francis McDormand’s chances seemed impossibly low. She hadn’t won a major acting award all season. But she did take home the BAFTA for “Best Actress” this weekend, giving her some chance of taking the Oscar. Her chances are boosted by her profile and the profile of her film, “Nomadland,” which is the current frontrunner for the top prize. McDormand is a recognizable Oscar name. It doesn’t mean just because “Nomadland” is favored for “Best Picture” that means she would automatically take “Best Actress,” but could it be enough to edge out Mulligan? In a tight race like this one, the overall film may make a big difference. 

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Carey Mulligan

For most of the season, Carey Mulligan has been the frontrunner. But her overall awards run hasn’t been as strong as she might’ve hoped. The only one she’s seemed to get a hold of is the Critics’ Choice Award. She was favored to win both a Golden Globe and a SAG Award after being nominated for both but wasn’t able to secure either. Not to mention, she didn’t even gain a nomination for a BAFTA. To win a “Best Actress” Oscar without a Globe or SAG would be to defy history. But that may speak more to the split field than to Mulligan’s chances. Her film also has a lot of buzz, which should lift her chances. Is she still the frontrunner? Probably. But nobody is confident in this race.

Andra Day

Before the Globes, not many experts would’ve considered Andra Day to be a potential Oscar winner. But after surprising all by picking up a Golden Globe, she is very much in the Oscar race. However, her road is tougher. She only has a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice nomination, as she failed to secure noms for both SAG and BAFTAs. Not to mention she’s a lone nominee, meaning she is the only representative of her film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” in all the nominations. This is a tough place to be, since many Oscar voters may not even watch the film! Without taking more awards, her chances seem low, but she could easily surprise at the Oscars just like she did at the Globes. 

Viola Davis

Davis has a lot going for her, most notably her SAG Award win. 19 of the 26 SAG Award winners in this category have won the Oscar for it as well. She’s also Viola Davis, and that means a lot for Oscar voters. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is also a film that has gotten good buzz, and for a time seemed to be all the rave. However, there are also reasons Davis may fall short of the top acting prize.

For one, her winning the SAG may be a product of the fact that the SAG Awards love Viola Davis. Besides “Doubt” in 2008, Davis has won all of her nominations at the SAG Awards. “Ma Rainey’s” also fell short in Oscar noms, failing to grab either “Best Picture” or “Adapted Screenplay,” which may mean the Oscar voters weren’t as impressed with it. Not to mention that Chadwick Boseman is far and away the frontrunner for “Best Actor,” meaning if Davis wins as well the Oscars will have awarded the two top acting prizes to actors in a film that didn’t get a “Best Picture” nomination. 

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Vanessa Kirby

Perhaps the least likely to win by most accounts, Vanessa Kirby is also one of the most consistent performers in the awards circuit. Only her and McDormand have gained noms at all the big awards. But without pulling off a BAFTA this weekend, it means she will walk into the Oscars empty handed. That would be an incredible upset. She is also a lone nominee, with her film, “Pieces of a Woman” failing to get any other nominations. If she did win, however, it would make history as a different actress would take each of the big awards. Possible? Sure, anything is in this category. Exceedingly unlikely? Yeah.