2018 Oscar Circuit: Best Actress in a Leading Role

As we’ve written about frequently throughout the season, 2017 will go down in history as a pivotal year for women in Hollywood. While sexual harrassment exposed depressing truths about the state of women in the industry, it was also a banner year for female-led films. With a number of actress-driven films getting awards attention, voters had to make tough decisions to narrow down the field to 5. And by most accounts, their selected quintet represents some of the best of all the acting categories.

This year’s nominees are:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Early in the season, it seemed like Sally Hawkins could be the frontrunner for her moving work in “The Shape of Water” as a mute janitor who falls in love with an amphibian man. She topped the table with critics, thanks to wins from well-respected groups such as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. But as we are always reminded, critics and industry voters often have different tastes. Despite racking up virtually every major nomination available, Hawkins has come up short at every televised awards show thus far. With the strength of “The Shape of Water” in Best Picture, she is likely the firm 2nd place contender however. But it would take a major sea change in the consensus groupthink for her to pull off an upset on Oscar night.

That consensus pick is of course, Frances McDormand. For her phenomenal work in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” she has completely dominated awards season, winning the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA and SAG awards, among many others. All signs point towards an inevitable Oscar win, assured by the combination of the quality of performance, her beloved status in the industry and the cultural significance of the character. Indeed, the righteous fury displayed by her Mildred Hayes shares notably similar sentiments to the highly publicized #MeToo movement.

While McDormand is aiming for her 2nd Best Actress trophy, Margot Robbie is celebrating her first Oscar nomination for “I, Tonya.” In any other year, a beautiful ingenue going “ugly” in a transformative biopic would be the recipe for success. But Robbie will have to be satisfied with just the nomination this time around, with surely more nods to come in the future.

Indeed, Robbie’s next big chance could come as soon as this year, when she’ll co-star with another of this year’s nominees (Saoirse Ronan) in “Mary Queen of Scots”. With 3 nominations to her name at the tender age of 23, Ronan is one of the brightest stars of her generation. And with her outstanding performance in “Lady Bird“, she shows exactly why she has become such a favorite of cinephiles all over the world. Channelling the insecurities and enthusiasm of adolescence with depth and authenticity, she was a deserving winner of the Golden Globe, as well as numerous other critics prizes. Furthermore, she is easily one of the most likable actors in the industry. If we’re in for a surprise in this category, it may well be hers for the taking. Watch out for a potential win at the Independent Spirit Awards to clue us in to this possible outcome.

Last but certainly not least, we have the one and only Meryl Streep. Yes we know what you’re porbably thinking. “Her again?” But while this 21st Oscar nomination may reek of lazy voting, Streep’s performance in “The Post” is actually some of her best work yet. Delicately wrought yet impactful, she fully embodied the vulnerability and tenacity of a woman pushed to challenge status quo in a patriarchal society. While an early NBR win signaled this seemingly inevitable nomination, it’s highly unlikely that it will translate to a 4th Oscar for this acting legend. But something tells me this won’t be her last chance at Oscar glory.

Will Win:  Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Should Win: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Could Win: Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”