The State of the Best Actress Race So Far

Last week, Oscar pundits had to make a massive adjustment to their Best Actress predictions when it was revealed that Searchlight’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and released on Hulu this June – would be eligible for Oscar consideration after all, despite the fact that the Academy had returned to its pre-COVID-19 pandemic rules that a film must have a theatrical release of at least seven days before it debuts on a steaming service, which would’ve disqualified the Hulu exclusive. However, Searchlight argued that they made their distribution decision based on said pre-pandemic rules when they acquired Good Luck to You, Leo Grande in January, and the rules only reverted back to their original state this May. Thus, the Academy approved it for awards consideration, as did BAFTA, SAG, PGA and CCA.

Before this news, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande would’ve had to compete at next year’s Emmys in the Outstanding Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie categories, but it was going to be at a considerable disadvantage, given that it debuted so close to the start of the Emmys’ eligibility window, which runs from June 1st, 2022 to May 31, 2023. But with so much adoration and acclaim from critics and crowds (a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 78 on Metacritic), the quality of the film was never in question – it just needed a better release date. Now that it’s eligible for Oscar consideration though, Emma Thompson has stormed the Best Actress race, and she will surely be in the hunt for one of the final five spots.

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

The five-time Oscar nominee (for her performances in Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day, In the Name of the Father, and Sense and Sensibility, and her screenplay for Sense and Sensibility) and two-time winner (for her performance in Howard’s End and her screenplay for Sense and Sensibility) is no stranger to the Academy, but she hasn’t been back since 1995, despite coming close in 2013 with a Best Actress bid for Saving Mr. Banks. However, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande has been hailed as one of her best performances in years – and maybe ever. Should Searchlight give her a proper push this year, she absolutely has what it takes to compete with other heavyweight contenders in the category, and she’s one of the first out of the gate. But who else does Searchlight have in their roster? And who else will Thompson have to fend off?

Well, for one, Searchlight’s biggest Oscar bet this year is Sam Mendes’ romantic drama Empire of Light, which features Oscar winner (and three-time nominee) Olivia Colman giving another supposedly sensational performance if early word is to be believed, as a schizophrenic employee at an English coastal cinema falling in love with a new recruit she’s showing the ropes to. Now, this doesn’t mean Searchlight can’t get two contenders into the final line-up (Netflix did it just two years ago, with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s Viola Davis and Pieces of a Woman‘s Vanessa Kirby), but one would guess that they might push Colman harder on account of her being in the bigger contender overall. Still, Searchlight will fight for Thompson in some capacity – they wouldn’t have campaigned for her consideration if they didn’t have any intention to push her – so what matters more is who else she’ll be up against.

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Thus far, the name on everybody’s mind when you bring up the Best Actress race has been Michelle Yeoh. And how could it not be? Everything Everywhere All at Once is the smash hit indie sensation of the year, crushing it critically (a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes with an 8.6/10 average rating, an 81 on Metacritic) and commercially ($70 million domestic and $100 million worldwide), and Michelle Yeoh is a huge reason the film has hit as hard as it has. Sure, the Daniels’ delirious direction and subversively stirring screenplay are equally exceptional, but the narrative for Everything Everywhere to be “Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar Moment” has been in effect since the film’s premiere at SXSW. It’s the richest role of her career so far, allowing her to show off her action skills and flex her dramatic muscles simultaneously, and it’s just about damn time Michelle Yeoh become an Oscar nominated actress, after years of note-perfect (yet passed over) parts in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians.

Beyond Thompson and Yeoh though, there don’t seem to be many other big Best Actress players that we’ve seen yet, even when taking unreleased films that premiered at festivals into account. However, it likely won’t stay that way for long. Recently, we’ve received our first looks at TÁR and Till, which gave us our first glances at sure-to-be powerhouse performances from Cate Blanchett and Danielle Deadwyler, respectively (with the former playing an accomplished conductor and the latter playing Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till), and while we’re still waiting on specific category placements for Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, the first trailer for She Said – the adaptation of the book of the same name by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about how they broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct allegations – promised big things from the two acting titans.

Cate Blanchett in TÁR, Danielle Deadwyler in Till, and Carey Mulligan in She Said

Two top-tier contenders that remain unseen in any form – in film or promotional materials – are Babylon‘s Margot Robbie (assumed to be the frontrunner by many pundits this far out based on early word from test screenings and those with knowledge of the film’s script) and I Wanna Dance With Somebody‘s Naomi Ackie. Robbie is a two-time nominee who will be starring in one of the (likely) Best Picture heavyweights, which elevates her status on top of whatever acting excellence she already offers, while Ackie will benefit from giving a “transformative” performance (an Oscar Bait™ buzzword) in her Whitney Houston biopic – which also has a killer Christmas release date.

There are others to account for as well – will Netflix push Ana de Armas in Blonde, or will Regina King’s Shirley Chisholm biopic Shirley release this year and make her their main priority? – but thus far, this is the state of the Best Actress race, and Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh have already set the bar pretty damn high, and it’s up to the next batch of contenders to prove that they’ve got what it takes to join them.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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