While it’s too early to be making concrete predictions, we can certainly start to conjecture who the contenders are for the 2017 Oscars. Best Actress is looking to be one of the most competitive acting categories this year.
Right now, at the top of the list, we have two-time nominee Viola Davis (Fences) who should have won for her role in The Help in 2012. Instead, she was passed over for Meryl Streep’s 3rd win. The ridiculous thing here is that the narrative behind Streep’s win had to do with the fact that she hadn’t won in 30 years. On the other hand, every one of her competitors hadn’t yet won an Oscar. Poor Glenn Close was on her sixth nomination. However, the majority of pundits thought it was a race between Streep and Davis.
Now, with her role in the Denzel Washington directed movie, which she won a Tony for in the play version, she is going to have some of the most Oscar-baity material of any actor in the last couple years. The question now is whether or not she will be submitted into lead. She won for lead when the play was revived in 2010, but Mary Alice (who played the role in the original production) won for the Tony equivalent for supporting. No matter the category, she is the one to beat.
However, she is going to have to contend (yet again) with Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins). Streep should be good for a nomination here. She has been nominated for worst. However, there definitely isn’t a path for a win. The movie isn’t going to be a major Oscar player and unlike her Iron Lady win she doesn’t have the narrative.
Davis’ real competition is going to come from Emma Stone (La La Land). After her first nomination for Birdman, she is coming back to play an easier role for the Academy to swallow. Not only that, she sings, she dances, and she plays a character that is going to be embraced by the Hollywood audience. What she doesn’t have is a strong narrative like Davis. While she has been around for a long time in relation to her age, she hasn’t had as many impactful dramatic performances, perhaps her closest time to Oscar being with The Help (which she ironically co-starred with Davis in).
Another strong contender is going to be Ruth Ann Negga (Loving). Her quiet performance in the Jeff Nichols’ drama about the couple whose Supreme Court case made interracial marriage legal has been lauded consistently since it premiered at Cannes. However, it isn’t a typical Oscar performance. She doesn’t scream or cry or yell, she is restrained. That’s going to be her biggest hurdle. However, Loving is set to be a major contender across categories, which will give her some much-needed momentum.
Natalie Portman (Jackie) is a role that seems tailor-made for the Oscars. She’s playing a real-life person that deals with nearly every emotion imaginable with her role as Jackie Kennedy. She has the advantage of having the film be solely focused on her. However, the film at this point isn’t going to be a contender in any other categories, which will severely limit its reach. However, her reviews have been so strong and consistent across that board that I can’t see her missing.
Then we have a tight cluster of actresses vying for a spot. There’s Amy Adams who has two movies she’s contending for, but the more likely Oscar vehicle is Arrival. After its premiere at Venice, the movie was launched into the Oscar conversation after months of speculation. The question was whether or not the short story, “Story of Your Life,” could be expanded successfully into a feature. The answer was a resounding yes with praise in tow for Adams. In any other year, she would have finally gotten her Oscar, but this year is so competitive that she’s not even assured a nomination. However, if she does get in, she has a pretty strong “it’s time” narrative on her side.
I think these are the most likely contenders at this point. Of course, there are many other actresses that are in the conversation. There’s Annette Bening (20th Century Women) who is looking to finally get her Oscar after three nominations for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress, Isabelle Huppert (Elle) in a role that few actresses could pull off, Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train) who is looking for her first nomination, and perennial nominee Jennifer Lawrence (Passengers).
The incredible thing is that I can keep going and name more actresses. That’s how competitive this year is. All we know at this point is that this is the category to watch.