Best Actress 2021: Is This Viola’s To Lose?

It’s that time of year. A good time for Oscar predictions. Because we’re in December, which is pretty much the October of this awards season due to AMPAS extending the eligibility period to the end of February in the wake of the CO-VID 19 pandemic, it’s time to make some predictions. For this post, we’ll be taking a look at the Best Actress category. One where we do have a firm frontrunner with some formidable competition.

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” (Netflix)

Current Predicted Five:

As far as the Best Actress race currently stands, I have Viola Davis as our current frontrunner to win for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Partially based on the impact of the performance itself and also due to the various boxes that Davis checks off. Besides starring in another adaptation of an August Wilson play after winning her first Oscar for Fences, Davis has a biopic role which is like catnip for Oscar voters. Especially roles that involve physical transformations like Davis’ as she gained weight and wore a fat suit to transform into famed blues singer Ma Rainey. If you ask our last Best Actress winner, you’ll know that voters are partial to rewarding such performances.

In addition, should she win, she’d be the second Black woman in history, and second woman of color, to win Best Actress after Halle Berry won for Monster’s Ball back in 2001. The potential handicap she may face is grumblings that she’s in the wrong category since she’s in the 94-minute picture for about 28% of it (Credit to Matthew Stewart for the stats). But, she does play the title character and as previously mentioned, her impact along with her transformative work could be enough to propel her to victory.

Plus, her strongest competitors don’t appear to have much of a winning narrative. There is previous two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand who carries Best Picture contender Nomadland on her shoulders, giving a slightly against-type performance as a holistic nomad traveling her way across the American West. Yet, it’s still a performance that’s the antithesis of what the acting branch usually gravitates towards: Subtle, naturalistic, and seamless. A contrast to the more demonstrative nature of Davis’ performance. Plus, while Davis may have recently won her first, McDormand is coming off her second for Three Billboards back in 2017. McDormand achieving a third career win is certainly feasible. But this year, a nomination is as far as she’ll likely go.

Carey Mulligan as Cassandra Thomas in “Promising Young Woman.” (Focus Features)

Next is someone who’s in the Oscar club but has yet to receive a statue. Carey Mulligan has been making good on the early promise she showed in her Best Actress-nominated performance in An Education and Promising Young Woman may be her ticket to a second bid. Especially after her strong output of great work since An Education in films like Mudbound, Wildlife, and Shame. As a woman seeking justice for a traumatizing event from her past, Mulligan is given plenty of tragicomic acting notes to play with in a picture that taps heavily into our #MeToo climate. While Promising Young Woman may have ignited divisive critical responses, and deals with difficult subject matter, if Isabelle Huppert can get nominated for a film like Elle, there’s little reason Mulligan can’t get nominated for this.

Then there’s fellow British thespian Vanessa Kirby who stars in a similarly polarizing picture. In Pieces of a Woman, Kirby gives a draining yet effective portrait of a woman reeling from the miscarriage of her baby. A bold performance that earned her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Kirby is still in the hunt for a nomination, yet as far as I’m concerned, it’s the furthest she may go due to her recent loss of critical momentum and with the controversies surrounding co-star Shia LaBeouf including sexual abuse allegations against him by FKA Twigs, Netflix may make the film less of a campaign priority.

In the Best Actress category, there’s usually a “discovery” slot that goes to someone that comes out of nowhere, whether they’re a relative unknown or a non-professional performer, to give a stunning breakthrough performance. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace. Next, we could add Sidney Flanigan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always to the list. Flanagan has picked up vital critical hardware, having been awarded Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics. Given how the indie pic boasts a lack of star power and came out back in March right before the government shutdown, those critic wins keep Flanigan in the conversation in a big way. Besides her unknown status, the only obstacles she may face are the film’s early release and distributor Focus Features putting most of their eggs in the “Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman” basket.

On The Fringe:

  • Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit

Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Please?!:

  • Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth

What do you think about the Best Actress category? Do you agree that Viola Davis is our frontrunner? Please share your thoughts!

I tend to write Oscar ramblings.