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The Case for All Five Nominees in Best Actress

How about this Best Actress race? No other category is as up in the air as this one. Furthermore, Actress is setting itself up to be one of the most thrilling categories in some time. It all begs the question that I asked last week: who the hell is winning Best Actress? Whomever wins among Viola Davis, Andra Day, Vanessa Kirby, Frances McDormand, and Carey Mulligan will do so with some major precursor misses. No one has a perfect path, and even if they did, none of them were without hiccups this season. The end result is a situation that presents an opportunity for a major upset. Frankly, anything is possible with Best Actress this year, so why not consider all of the possibilities?

Initially, it did seem like Mulligan was in the pole position. She did very well during the early stages, scoring critics group win after critics group win. Then, the televised award shows started, and Day pulled that first upset. Mulligan course-corrected at the next, but then at the biggest one, Davis beat her. Throw in BAFTA only having Kirby and McDormand in their lineup (with the latter winning), and it truly feels like anything is possible.

So, with such a wide-open field, what are we to do? Well, I’m still deciding, but today I’ll be showcasing what the cases for all five women in the category are. Below you’ll see how Davis, Day, Kirby, McDormand, and Mulligan can win. Remember though, these cases are all somewhat flimsy, so any outcome is still more or less on the table.

Vanessa Kirby is the only long shot remaining. While her turn in Pieces of a Woman was pegged as a potential winner on the festival circuit, the precursors haven’t helped her out. So, she’s the only nominee entering Oscar night without a notable win under her belt. So, how does she win? Vote-splitting and a sense that it’s her turn, that’s how. Is it likely? No. Is it impossible? Given this season. No, it’s not an impossibility for Kirby, unlikely as it may be. Hope springs eternal.

For Andra Day, it’s all about that passion vote. It’s possible that as much as her Golden Globe win for The United States vs Billie Holiday got her nominated, it also occurred too early to help here. Still, while a Day win would be surprising, it wouldn’t be a full on long shot. Especially if Kirby is banking on a major vote split, Day would be even more so of a beneficiary there. If Academy members truly can’t make up their mind, Day could slip on by for the big win.

Frances McDormand could be peaking at the right time. After a very good showing during the critics section, scoring the second most precursor wins, she hadn’t had a win during this part of the year until BAFTA last weekend. With the Nomadland star, it comes down to how much you value that victory. If she only won because Davis and Mulligan (as well as Day) weren’t nominated, that should give you pause. If you think it’s the flick’s genuine enthusiasm shining through, then she could be in line for Oscar number three. The Academy is likely embracing her movie, so it’s hardly a stretch to think that they’ll for McDormand at the end of the day.

Perhaps Viola Davis winning at the Screen Actors Guild is truly what matters? On the one hand, Davis is beloved by SAG, so anytime she wins it can’t be a shock. On the other hand, this group does usually cross over three out of four with Oscar (which is a double-edged sword, obviously). Despite not being in Best Picture, there’s a world where Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has the most Academy Award wins at the end of the day. If that’s the case, watch out for Davis. For her, it comes down to if SAG is showing us the way or just showing their affection for Davis.

Finally, Carey Mulligan presents arguably the most interesting case. She hasn’t been able to close the deal all season, even as Promising Young Woman has elevated itself to a Best Picture and Best Director nominee, alongside the presumed winner in Best Original Screenplay. Mulligan led the way during the critics prizes, but her only other win has been with the Critics Choice Association. Normally, that should give you pause, since it’s not a group with Oscar crossover. However, Mulligan’s presumed second place finishes at the Golden Globes and SAG mean that if you’re discounting Day/Davis at all, she should benefit. With her, it’s just a gut feeling at this point.

There aren’t any awards left but the Oscar. Whichever narrative speaks most to you, that’s probably who you should predict. I’m still ever so slightly on the Mulligan train, but Davis and McDormand have just as compelling cases to make. Honestly, I’m this close to moving Davis to the number one position. We’ll see what happens at the Academy Awards in about a week and a half. Sit tight, ladies and gentlemen…

Stay tuned to see who wins Best Actress!


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[…] it comes down to who wins Best Actress (detailed here and here), if an upset is brewing in Best Adapted Screenplay, and how the below the line categories […]



Written by Joey Magidson

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