We continue our 2020 Oscars predictions series, having offered our thoughts on the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
Now it's onto the Best Actress section and that is one impressive line-up. There's Renée Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron and Cynthia Erivo. Ronan is flying the flag for Ireland at the Oscars. It's her fourth nomination at the prestigious awards overall, but what are the chances of her taking home the gong this time?
Considering Theron first, it's notable that she's the only one here who has previously won an Oscar. That was in 2003 for her incredible performance as serial killer Aileen "Lee" Wuornos in 'Monster'. Her two subsequent nominations, for 'North Country' and now 'Bombshell', also see her play real-life women. For 'Bombshell', her physical transformation in regards to hair and makeup (another category the feature earned an Oscar nod in) as well as her adoption of the accent and intonations of real-life news anchor and journalist Megyn Kelly have been astounding. Still, Theron has won before, and that will likely work against her.
Cynthia Erivo meanwhile deserves much credit for having established herself as a talent to be reckoned with. Best-known for her stage work, she earned a Tony Award for playing Celie in 'The Colour Purple' revival. But for a long time, Erivo wasn't known outside the world of West End and Broadway. That all changed in the span of just two years when major roles in three features - 'Bad Times at the El Royale', 'Widows' and 'Harriet' - had Hollywood sitting up and paying attention. It was the latter performance which earned her the Academy award nomination, and while Erivo is extraordinary as the titular slave-turned-abolitionist heroine, it's early days in her career. Thus, if she doesn't win the award, no matter. Erivo is just beginning.
The case of Scarlett Johansson is a fascinating one too. Many may be surprised to hear that the actress has never been nominated for an Oscar before. This year, she's nominated in two categories - Best Lead Actress for 'Marriage Story' and Best Supporting Actress for 'Jojo Rabbit'. Johansson doesn't get much screen time in the latter, and the former is more centred on Adam Driver's character than hers, but she makes her presence felt in both, and as Nicole Farber, a loving but frustrated actress going through a divorce, your heart pours out for her. There are a couple of scenes in which she is especially extraordinary, one is below, the other involving Laura Dern.
As with Driver's Charlie Barber, Nicole is flawed and can be irritating. But she's real, deeply feeling and empathetic. Thus it's easy to see why 'Marriage Story' has earned so much Oscar attention, and it could very well win for Best Original Screenplay. But the competition Driver and Johansson face in their respective acting categories may simply prove too steep.
Then we come to Saoirse Ronan. Who at the age of 25 has an astounding four Academy Award nominations under her belt. And she got her first for 'Atonement' at age 13. She is in fact, after Jennifer Lawrence, the youngest performer, male or female, to ever receive four Oscar nominations. Having missed out for 'Atonement', 'Brooklyn' and 'Lady Bird', could her turn in 'Little Women' prove a winner?
Three of this year's best actress performances are based on real-life people, but Ronan didn't have an easy job either. Jo March is a literary icon and a character women have aspired to for generations. Jo has also been played by countless actresses in various adaptations. For her part, Ronan delivers a sharp, heartfelt, stellar performance as Jo grows from child to young woman. But her being part of an ensemble cast could work against her. After all, her co-star Florence Pugh, who plays Amy and get an Academy Award nod for Supporting Actress, is also compelling. And does is it a better performance (or movie) than 'Lady Bird'? Probably not, if we're honest.
Renée Zellweger, meanwhile, has long been lauded as the one to beat for Best Actress - and that is most definitely the case. For playing the powerhouse that was Judy Garland in biopic 'Judy', Zellweger has already won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award. Awards-friendly musicals are no stranger to the actress, who has previously been nominated for Best Lead Actress in 'Chicago'. She also earned a nod for what is likely her most famous and beloved film - 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. Thus it would seem the time is ripe for Zellweger to bring home that statuette. But that's not the only reason she'll (probably) win.
Zellweger deserves that Oscar for her turn as Judy. She not only looks the part - she lives it. There will never be another Judy Garland but Zellweger beguilingly captures the many sides to this complex actress-singer - she was a showstopper with a lot of baggage, alternating between deep anxiety and ecstatic joy, with a deep-felt love for her children trumping all. Is it a slightly OTT, hammy performance? Yes, and that's the point, as it is perfect keeping with the classical Hollywood style of acting. The Oscars have always looked favourably on movies that love movies and 'Judy' captures the darker side of Hollywood as it dehumanised and commodified its stars. Zellweger movingly captures the actress-singer phenomenon who at this point in her career, has given so much, is on the verge of falling to pieces, and yet she is compelled to "go on with the show."
Just to prove out point we've included not one but three clips. This should be the 2020 Best Actress Oscar winner.