Best Actress Oscar Contenders 2016

Who's in and who's trying to make the cut

At this relatively early start of the season each major category can seem “competitive.”  There can appear to be a legitimate list of 10 to 12 potential nominees that have a chance of earning an Academy Award nomination in their respective field.  Let’s be blunt and speak the truth here: the emphasis in that statement should be “appear.”

In most cases, by the time Academy members fill out their ballots there are usually six to seven contenders that have a shot to make a five-nominee field.  Last year provided a rare jam-packed Best Actor race where you could easily argue nine to 10 different actors not only deserved to but could actually make the cut. So, as we take a look at this season’s Best Actress pool take a moment to come to terms with the fact that while 17 names are listed it’s honestly not that competitive.

The most important thing to remember at this stage of the game is that almost every performance has already screened for critics or Academy members.  In fact, there are only two that have remain unseen: Angelina Jolie in “By the Sea” and Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy.”  Both ladies are in the hunt because they are former winners, multiple nominees and their films qualify in one way or another as Oscar bait.  The rest of the field has been at least initially vetted and the chance of a last minute entry disrupting the race seems minuscule at best.

Moreover, there are also a couple of givens you can count on before defining the field.

*Cate Blanchett is going to get a nomination for either “Carol” or “Truth.”

*If Lawrence is just as good as she was in her last two pictures she’s earned enough industry love to get in.

*Charlize Theron’s work in “Mad Max” could be relegated to the Supporting Actress field where chances of a nomination are much more likely.

*Alicia Vikander could be a lock, but it depends how “The Danish Girl” plays to the industry and whether they acting branch would rather reward her in Supporting for “Ex Machina” (or not at all).

As for the rest, some quick and simply advice: campaign, campaign and campaign some more.

Here are my current rankings in alphabetical order in groupings based on the likelihood of landing a nomination.

Sept. 24, 2015


Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Faces still competition from Blanchett’s work in “Truth,” it would help if she fights for it.

Brie Larson, “Room”
If the film continues with the reception it’s received after Telluride and Toronto it’s hard to see her not making the cut.

Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
Earned back-to-back nominations including a win under the auspices of the same director. She’s in until she’s out.

Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
IFC Films needs to get screeners out early.

Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
The tearjerker performance of the field and as a former nominee she’s played this game before.


Cate Blanchett, “Truth”
Competing against herself, but will this movie play better with The Academy than “Carol”?

Carey Mulligan, “Suffragette”
She’s great, the movie is O.K.  Would need major box office or critics love to make the cut.

Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
The industry loves the flick, but will Theron campaign?  ABC is certainly hoping she makes it…

Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Once a lock, now really depends on The Academy’s reaction.  She’s had an amazing year, but does she have a better chance in Supporting with “Ex Machina”?


Emily Blunt, “Sicario”
If she can land a Globe or SAG nod she’s certainly got a shot.

Sandra Bullock, “Our Brand Is Crisis”
Bullock is actually pretty great in “Crisis,” but the movie would need to be a major hit for her to make the top five.  Could she beat Amy Schumer and win the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical?

Blythe Danner, “I’ll See You In My Dreams”
It was the first screener sent out this season, but in this competitive field it would be shocking if she earned a nod.

Angelina Jolie, “By the Sea”
We’ll know after “Sea” debuts the first week of November at AFI.

Helen Mirren, “Woman in Gold”
TWC wants to reward Mirren for giving them an art house hit this past spring, but how serious is Harvey about spending for a real campaign when he’s already fighting for the ladies in “Carol”?

Julianne Moore, “Freeheld”
Last February’s winner gives another impressive performance.  The movie is not good and will disappear from the awards scene rather quickly.

Maggie Smith, “The Lady In The Van”
Arguably Smith’s best performance since “Gosford Park.”  She won’t campaign so SPC better get this screener out as early as possible.

Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”
It’s been a great year for the former nominee.  If the movie continues to do well at the art house box office it’s certainly possible…

Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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