Oscar Beat: Best Actress Predictions – Is Olivia Colman the Favorite?

It’s that time of year again, folks. While I’ve been covering the early days of the 2019 Oscar race here with Oscar Beat since September, it’s now time to put up or shut up—predictions time has arrived. All this week I’ll be unveiling my early predictions in four main categories, with a new category going up each day. Today we kick things off with what’s consistently one of the most exciting races: Best Actress.

This year’s Best Actress category may be filled out by a diverse mix of first-timers, Oscar veterans, and possibly even someone who’s never even acted before. And in a year as rich with great performances as 2018, there are also some exciting contenders waiting just outside the wings for a little push to make them fully-fledged Oscar nominees. So let’s dig in, shall we?

Image via Fox Searchlight

The frontrunner for Best Actress is pretty unanimous, and it was settled as soon as Fox Searchlight figured out who would be submitted for what category in Yorgos Lanthimos’ critically acclaimed comedy/drama The Favourite. BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning actress Olivia Colman delivers a powerhouse performance as Anne, Queen of Great Britain in Lanthimos’ riotous film, and while there was some discussion as to whether she’d be submitted for Lead or Supporting, Fox Searchlight ultimately decided to put Colman in Best Actress and her co-stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in Supporting—both of whom are also now frontrunners in that category.

But frontrunner is merely a state of mind at this stage—Colman’s status as “the favorite” won’t necessarily be solidified until the critics awards start rolling in and the actress has some stats to back that up. For now, however, she’s the presumed frontrunner, and by my count there’s only one other actress who has a serious shot at winning the Oscar over Colman: Lady Gaga.

Indeed, A Star Is Born is the overall Oscar frontrunner right now. It’s a box office and critical smash that’s captured the zeitgeist in a serious way, and it’s expected to pull in a lot of nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards. One such nomination that’s expected is Best Actress, with Lady Gaga turning in a truly stellar performance as the titular star—an up-and-coming songwriter who becomes a pop superstar under the mentorship of an aging musician (played by Bradley Cooper).

Image via Warner Bros.

Gaga’s work is stunning, and her performance has been drawing raves ever since the film was unveiled on the festival circuit back in September. At this stage it’s a bit too early to start calling winners in the Oscar categories—there’s a lot of “narrative” left to be told over the next few months, and early frontrunners can often fall in that crucial final phase (see: The Social Network, The Revenant, Boyhood, etc.). But Colman and Gaga are undoubtedly at the top of this list.

Beyond these two, there are a number of exciting possibilities to fill out the Best Actress category. Melissa McCarthy delivers the best performance of her career in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which I have a feeling may be a bit of a surprise Oscar hit this year. It’s a melancholic, impeccably acted true-story drama and those who love it really love it. There’s also Glenn Close in The Wife, a film that actually debuted at TIFF 2017, but Sony Pictures Classics pushed it to 2018 to better position Close in the Best Actress race.

And of course there’s newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, whose phenomenal performance in Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA is the emotional centerpiece of the critically acclaimed Spanish-language film. ROMA is positioned as a major Oscar contender, especially in Best Picture and Best Director, and almost every major Oscar contender needs at least one acting nomination. I expect this is where the film will deservedly get it.

Beyond that, there are a number of uncertainties. Toni Collette was the year’s first Best Actress contender with her head-spinning work in Hereditary, but the horror film’s reputation as a rough watch may simply mean not enough voters get around to watching it (although they absolutely should). Oscar winner Viola Davis is terrific in Widows, but 12 Years a Slave filmmaker Steve McQueen’s take on a blockbuster movie failed to bring out audiences on opening weekend and has had a frustratingly muted—if still positive—reaction from critics. Though this is the kind of film that could get a second wind from the SAG Awards thanks to its terrific ensemble cast, so I think Davis remains in contention.

Image via IFC Films

Past nominee Rosamund Pike is in the mix for her excellent turn in A Private War, which faces a bit of an uphill battle in that it doesn’t hail from a major distributor (therefore doesn’t have Fox Searchlight-like Oscar campaign money). Nicole Kidman drew strong notices for her antihero turn in Destroyer, although the film itself has mixed reviews. Ditto Julia Roberts in the nice but forgettable Ben Is Back. And Carey Mulligan delivers the best performance of her career in Wildlife, and I have a feeling she could easily sneak in if IFC Films puts the necessary money behind a campaign for her performance.

If the Oscars really want to surprise, young actress Elsie Fisher’s turn in Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age dramedy Eighth Grade is a solid contender, and Kiki Layne’s performance in Barry JenkinsIf Beale Street Could Talk could be in the mix if that film hits big with Oscar voters. I’d also contend that Kathryn Hahn‘s work in Private Life is one of the best performances of the year, and Netflix would do well to push her in this category.

All eyes were on the Ruth Bader Ginsberg drama On the Basis of Sex and the period drama Mary, Queen of Scots to see if Felicity Jones and Saoirse Ronan, respectively, had the goods, but both films skipped the fall film festival season and drew mixed reviews out of their recent AFI Fest debuts, so neither actress feels like a major threat this year. And there’s one big unknown still to come: Mary Poppins Returns. The film was finally unveiled to Academy and Guild members this past weekend and reportedly went over like gangbusters, so you can’t count out Emily Blunt as a possibility. And if you’re wondering why Blunt isn’t here for another film, Paramount Pictures has submitted the entire A Quiet Place cast in the Supporting categories.

So that about covers it. Obviously it’s early and the race will shift in the coming weeks, but as of right now here are my Best Actress predictions in order of likelihood to be nominated. Check back tomorrow for Best Actor.