Trio of strong per­form­ers leads the field of lead ac­tress con­tenders for the Os­car

Olivia Col­man, Lady Gaga, Melissa Mccarthy seem to be ahead in a field packed with tal­ent and pos­si­bil­ity

Variety - - Contents - Kristo­pher Tap­ley In Con­tention

At this point in the Os­car race, all of the se­ri­ous con­tenders for lead ac­tress have been seen. So how is this year’s field stack­ing up? Three per­for­mances feel like shoo-ins for nom­i­na­tions: Olivia Col­man’s mad Queen Anne in “The Favourite,” a con­tro­ver­sial cat­e­gory place­ment de­ci­sion for a role some ar­gue is sup­port­ing (though the film re­ally fea­tures triple leads); Lady Gaga’s por­trayal of a work­ing-class di­a­mond in the rough in “A Star Is Born,” which could be one of two or even three bids in the pic­ture for the record­ing su­per­star, in­clud­ing orig­i­nal song recog­ni­tion; and Melissa Mccarthy’s best work yet, as au­thor-cat lady Lee Is­rael in “Can You Ever For­give Me?,” which should make her a re­turn con­tender af­ter her first nom­i­na­tion seven years ago for “Brides­maids.”

The bat­tle for the gold likely lurks among that trio, but it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the fi­nal two slots fill out; there’s fierce com­pe­ti­tion for them.

Glenn Close (six nom­i­na­tions with­out a win) has the vet­eran card on her side with “The Wife,” a Sony Clas­sics re­lease that has per­formed well in the spe­cialty mar­ket. Felic­ity Jones gets to dab­ble with the zeit­geist as Ruth Bader Gins­burg in “On the Ba­sis of Sex,” a crowd-pleas­ing drama that plays to the au­di­ence. Vi­ola Davis is in the thick of it as a griev­ing woman on a mis­sion in “Wid­ows,” a genre film that sat­is­fy­ingly strad­dles the line be­tween pres­tige and com­mer­cial cin­ema. Emily Blunt, mean­while, boasts song-and- dance tal­ent in “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” sure to be a hol­i­day hit for Dis­ney.

A true dark-horse con­tender is first-time ac­tress Yal­itza Apari­cio for her stir­ring, emo­tional per­for­mance as a sur­ro­gate for di­rec­tor Al­fonso Cuarón’s real-life nanny in his lat­est, “Roma.” The cat­e­gory has of­ten been re­cep­tive to new­com­ers — from Qu­ven­zhané Wal­lis (“Beasts of the South­ern Wild”) and Gabourey Sidibe (“Pre­cious”) to Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”) and Keisha Cas­tle-hughes (“Whale Rider”) — and Apari­cio has trav­eled with the film all over the world. She’s for­mi­da­ble.

As al­ways, how­ever, out­side the gen­eral con­sen­sus there are trea­sures that de­serve to be in the con­ver­sa­tion. So let’s make sure they’re there.

Kiki Layne, for in­stance, is qui­etly fan­tas­tic in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” though like Apari­cio, she’s new on the scene and there won’t likely be room for both in the cat­e­gory. In “Wildlife,” Carey Mul­li­gan de­liv­ers her ca­reer-best work as a wife and mother fol­low­ing her own path; in “A Pri­vate War,” Rosamund Pike hasn’t re­ceived the proper at­ten­tion for her gruff em­bod­i­ment of late war cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin; and in the mod­est but ef­fec­tive “Ben Is Back,” Ju­lia Roberts hasn’t been bet­ter since the last time she was nom­i­nated, for 2013’s “Au­gust: Osage County.”

Yet, a plea to this year’s Academy elec­torate: Please spare some con­sid­er­a­tion for Toni Col­lette in Ari Aster’s im­pec­ca­ble if grue­some “Hered­i­tary.” The hor­ror genre has his­tor­i­cally strug­gled to find a foothold at the Os­cars, even if Col­lette’s only other nom­i­na­tion to date came for M. Night Shya­malan’s “The Sixth Sense” (ad­mit­tedly a land­mark re­lease com­pared with “Hered­i­tary”), and “Get Out” per­formed well just last year. It may take a ma­jor critics group to take the plunge on her be­fore she and her colos­sal per­for­mance get a fair shake from vot­ers, but if you’re ask­ing this colum­nist, Col­lette de­serves the Os­car.

Other ac­tresses who have their cham­pi­ons in­clude Keira Knight­ley (“Co­lette”), Jo - anna Kulig (“Cold War”), Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”), Ni­cole Kid­man (“De­stroyer”), Saoirse Ro­nan (“Mary Queen of Scots”) and Amandla Sten­berg (“The Hate U Give”).

It’s be­come old hat to note that the lead ac­tress race is a heated one. Ev­ery year it seems the ladies out­pace the gen­tle­men in de­liv­er­ing the more nail-bit­ing af­fair, and this year is no ex­cep­tion. Good luck to vot­ers in set­tling on a fi­nal quin­tet.

Olivia Col­man, “The Favourite” Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born” Melissa Mccarthy, “Can You Ever For­give Me?”

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