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Rotten Tomatoes' Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions: Best Actress

Lupita Nyong'o, Saoirse Ronan, Scarlett Johansson, Awkwafina, Alfred Woodard, and more lead early buzz for this year's awards season.

by | July 26, 2019 | Comments

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. With so many big Awards-y movies released in the fall, it seems slightly comical to predict the Oscar nominees in July. But the “Oscar movie” calendar gets started earlier and earlier, the very notion of an “Oscar movie” is changing, and the entire awards season is getting shorter (this year the window from Oscar nominations to the ceremony was shortened two weeks). Films like Black Panther and Get Out, which both premiered in the month of February, proved that Oscar-worthy films could walk home with a top prize no matter when they premiered during the year. So yeah, we’re pretty much prepped to talk about awards-worthy movies all year round.

It helps that a number of the films likely to be in the conversation in the fall have already screened at festivals, that many have Tomatometer scores, and that pundits are already singling out performances and scripts that critics have seen but audiences will not see for some months. Whether we like it or not, the campaigns are quietly underway and the conversation has started – and we’re now ready to join it. Of course, if history tells us anything, it is that some of these names won’t make it to Oscar night, but we’re pretty confident a few of them will be right up there in awards chatter. So read on as we break down our ridiculously early picks for 2020 Best Actress contenders – supporting and lead.

Don’t agree with our picks? Have at us in the comments.


Lupita Nyong’o, Us (2019) 93%

Us
(Photo by © Universal Pictures)

In our piece from earlier this year, RT contributor April Wolfe outlined the case for Lupita Nyong’o, and horror performances in general, for end-of-year-honors. Despite a huge amount of critical acclaim, Nyong’o’s dual performance as Adelaide Wilson/Red in Jordan Peele’s Us is a long shot (remember the buzz for Toni Collette in Hereditary?). But Peele and Jason Blum were able to get nominations and wins for Get Out and BlacKkKlansman – their and Universal’s proven track record for smart and effective campaigns is hard to bet against. When we chatted with Blum last year on the awards circuit for BlacKkklansman, he was tight-lipped about their plans but made it clear that he, Peele, and the folks at Universal were going to put serious resources behind the 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther actress. In a year with fewer buzzy female performances, an off-the-map turn could go all the way.


Alfre Woodard, Clemency (2019) 100%

(Photo by Neon Pictures)

After 40 years and over 120 credits, Alfre Woodard is finally frontrunner – albeit a ridiculously early one – for a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The buzz is for her work in Clemency, a quiet thriller about a death row warden who struggles with emotional and psychological trauma inflicted upon her from years presiding over executions. It’s still very early, but her name has been on just about every early Oscars list since Sundance. This may be another Glenn Close situation, where a veteran actress goes deep but falls short of the ultimate prize. But unlike Close, who was nominated for The Wife, Woodard’s film is at one of the hottest distributors of the season, Neon. With a handful of compelling docs (Honeyland, Biggest Little Farm, Apollo 11, Amazing Grace), Sundance standouts (Luce, Clemency), and a pair of Cannes award winners (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Parasite), Neon will have a full slate to promote this fall at the various award ceremonies. They also have a proven track record: remember when the fresh-on-the-scene Neon managed three nominations and one win for I, Tonya? Well, we haven’t forgotten.


Renée Zellweger, Judy (2019)

The first trailer for Judy calmed many fears about the upcoming Judy Garland biopic. Seeming to take place during the later part of the late actress’s career, Judy sees Renée Zellweger embody Garland in a spot-on impression – including belting out songs from the singer’s iconic catalog. A crooner in her own right (remember her Oscar-nominated Roxy from Chicago?), the Texas actress employed her musical chops to truly project the Wizard of Oz star. Garland fought drug addiction, money problems, and depression — such hardships provide an ample playground for actorly, awards-winning performances. (It worked for Rami Malek last year in Bohemian Rhapsody and countless others). It’s yet to be seen if this will be a Ray-type music biopic or something more like the critically panned and quickly forgotten The Runaways, but we fully expect acclaimed theater director Rupert Goold to milk a stellar performance from our very own Bridget Jones.


Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit (2019) and Marriage Story

ScarJo is in the enviable position of having two performances that could place her in contention. Netflix’s Marriage Story is not finished, but the word from those who have seen clips is that it’s very strong. The movie follows the trials of a bi-coastal divorce, and Johansson plays Nicole alongside co-star Adam Driver. With Netflix behind both actors, the movie is expected to enjoy the same no-holds-barred Oscar campaign we saw for Roma last year. The Endgame actress is also the female lead in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, a dramedy about a young boy in World War II Germany, his mother, and his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler. The film is one of only three major plays for Fox Searchlight this season – the same studio behind last year’s The Favorite and Can You Ever Forgive me? – and Johansson will reap the benefit of their focused efforts. It’s yet to be seen if her recent gaffes regarding authentic casting will tarnish her chances, but if she can keep quiet and play the game she might make it to Oscar night.


Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep, Little Women (2019)

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Adapting Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the eighth time was considered by some a slightly uninspired choice to follow up the critically acclaimed Lady Bird. But when Greta Gerwig can command a cast that includes Timothée  Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, Chris Cooper, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep, you can’t fault her for wanting to put her own spin on the story of the March ladies. Coming out on the 25th anniversary of the previous adaptation starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, this new version looks to garner similar accolades — namely three Oscar nominations, including one for Ronan, playing Jo March, the role for which Ryder was nominated. Streep as Aunt March is a tougher sell than Laura Dern’s as the family matriarch (Mrs. March), but it’s Meryl Streep, and if she can pull a nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, anything is possible. Luckily, both Streep and Dern have two bites at the awards apple: Streep has a much better shot in Laundromat, the dramatic re-telling of the Panama Papers scandal that rocked Great Britain’s most influential celebrities and politicians, as told by the journalists that broke the story; and the first whispers about Laura Dern’s performance in Marriage Story are nothing short of spectacular.


Also in contention: 

  • Awkwafina (The Farewell)
  • Cate Blanchett (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?)
  • Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
  • Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim)
  • Octavia Spencer (Luce)
  • Brie Larson (Just Mercy)
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn)
  • Emma Thompson (Late Night)
  • Annette Bening (The Report)

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