Imagine traveling back in time 12 years to tell people that the race for the Best Actress trophy at the 2022 Oscars is currently boiling down to the Twilight girl and the singer of “Just Dance” who wears all those weird costumes. They likely would not believe you, but then again, most Americans in 2009 didn’t even know of Olivia Colman, so you’d have quite a lot to explain to them about the state of the prestige actress stable.
But today in 2021, the reality is that after House of Gucci began screening for critics, it's looking very much like the film’s star Lady Gaga may be one of the top contenders for the nomination, along with Kristen Stewart for her work as Princess Diana in Spencer. Of course, it’s not simply a two-woman race, and a lot could change between now and next March, when the trophies are handed out, but it's looking like a very safe bet that both will be on that red carpet.
Buzz for Stewart began when Spencer debuted back in September at the Venice Film Festival. Even as some critics quibble at other aspects of director Pablo Larraín’s “twisted fairytale” take on one pivotal weekend in the People’s Princess’s life, praise for Stewart’s performance has been almost universal. “Stewart is brilliant. She looks, sounds and moves amazingly like the real Diana, but this is no impersonation,” said The Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz. “Instead it’s Stewart getting to the heart of the truth through her performance, her Diana a prisoner of the fame and adherence to tradition at all costs that trapped her.” In the months since Spencer’s premiere, and as other films have debuted, the buzz for Stewart has withstood and she’s emerged as a frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race.
Now, Gaga has entered the picture. While full reviews for House of Gucci remain under embargo, early critical buzz for the film paints Gaga’s turn as Patrizia Reggiani (formerly Patrizia Gucci) as the heart and soul of the film. “There’s a true standout performance here from Lady Gaga, funny and fearless and—crucially, in a movie prone to losing the thread—completely commanding,” wrote Vanity Fair’s David Canfield. “She centers, even grounds the movie while having a grand time doing so.” However, he also points out that the film’s second half cedes much of the narrative to Adam Driver’s character Maurizio Gucci, which could hamper Gaga’s chances at nabbing an award. And while most seem to find the film entertaining, some critics still question if the entire film comes together enough to be a true Oscar juggernaut.
Still, the Oscar prognosticators think Gaga’s chances for a nomination remain strong. Gaga also seems devoted to promoting the film, and thus her chances at a nod, but it’s proving difficult to find anyone who is willing to bet that she’s necessarily jumped ahead of Stewart in the race.
Besides, there are other actresses in the game, too.
Recent winners Olivia Colman and Frances McDormand are sure to re-enter in the picture this year. Colman stars in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novel. The film has been treated warmly on the festival circuit, even if it has maintained a lower profile than Stewart’s and Gaga’s projects (it won’t debut in American theaters until December 17). McDormand, of course, has her big turn as Lady Macbeth in Joel Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth opposite Denzel Washington. It’s a package that has “OSCARS!” written all over it and has received stellar reviews as well. Expect to hear more about it when it nears its Christmas Day release. Both actresses are very likely to be nominated again, though it remains to be seen if their performances will be strong enough to justify giving either the award so soon after their last one.
Jessica Chastain also remains firmly in the picture for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, even if that film is likely to get no other nominations. Penélope Cruz has maintained buzz for her latest Pedro Almodóvar collaboration, Parallel Mothers. And don’t rule out Jennifer Hudson in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, either.
Then, there are the dark horses in the race.
Alana Haim (yes, of the band Haim) has strong buzz for her surprising starring turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, even if it hasn’t screened for critics just yet. Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley also hasn’t screened anywhere (Rooney Mara is believed to be the female lead in this film, with Cate Blanchett possibly competing in the supporting actress category).
Finally, there’s the quixotic case of Nicole Kidman as comedy icon Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos. The world only got its first true look at Kidman in the role yesterday when the full-length trailer debuted. The internet still isn’t sure what to make of it, but it would serve us all to remember that Kidman is playing Lucille Ball, the woman, not Lucy Ricardo, the mishap-prone housewife character. Have you ever looked up any of Ball’s old interviews? She held herself quite seriously off screen, and would have considered herself an actress before she considered herself a comedian. That’s very much how Kidman plays her, too, if the Ricardos trailer is an indication.
Like Colman and McDormand, Kidman has also won before, but that was almost 20 years ago for The Hours. She certainly seems like the kind of actress whose career should have wrought multiple Oscars, and yet she still only has that one. Perhaps adding to the narrative: when she was cast in The Hours as the writer Virginia Woolf, the public initially thought she was completely wrong for the part and hours of late night TV jokes were devoted to the prosthetic nose she wore for the part.
History might repeat itself, but like the Lucy Ricardo character often did, we could be getting way ahead of ourselves and making too many assumptions there. That is just to say, there’s no way to 100 percent predict who, exactly, will wind up in the best actress race just yet.