2019 Oscars Look: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the nominees are:

  • Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
  • Glenn Close, “The Wife”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

This year’s Lead Actress category is one of the most exciting. There were easily seven actresses vying for a place among the chosen five, and every nominee deserves her place here. Regardless of who wins, there will be plenty to celebrate. As the precursors reveal, there is strong support for three contenders in particular, but that doesn’t mean anyone should be counted out. Let’s take a closer look at each of the nominees.

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”

Nominee: Yalitza Aparicio
Oscar Scene: Cleo and family on the beach

We’ve all heard the story of Yalitza Aparicio, an indigenous woman from Mexico who was studying to be a preschool teacher when she landed a starring role in Alfonso Cuarón’s new film. Who could have ever dreamed then that she would join an incredibly small club. She is the second Mexican-born actress ever nominated in the category. And she is the second indigenous woman every nominated. And she is the first indigenous woman from the Americas to be nominated. Aparicio is making the most of her time on the awards circuit this year, and has proven to be just as lovely off screen as she is on.

In “Roma,” Aparicio’s Cleo is a young woman whose station in life doesn’t lend itself to dreaming or hoping for the future. She is both part of the family that employs her and also on the outside of it. No one ever asks how she feels about her life, because it never occurs to anyone to do that. And so, when this truly emotional moment occurs near the end of the film, Aparicio gets the chance to prove that she is truly a gift to cinema.

Aparicio hasn’t won much in terms of precursors, but she has been a frequent nominee. And with ten overall Oscar nominations, “Roma” could surprise with a win for its lead actress, too.

Glenn Close, “The Wife”

Nominee: Glenn Close
Oscar Scene: Joan and Joe argue in the hotel

When it comes to choosing an Oscar Scene for Glenn Close this year, a case could be made for every time she appears onscreen. Even in the opening moments, when she says nothing, she says everything with perfect nonverbal reactions. This performance is emotionally vibrant and deep, and particularly resonant to every woman who has ever set aside her own interests and successes for love.

Close is nominated for the seventh time this year. It is unthinkable that she has never won an Oscar. Some would argue that her so-called “overdue factor” is the only reason she was nominated for “The Wife.” Perhaps that’s true, but only in the sense that being overdue gave necessary attention to a fantastic performance that might have gone criminally overlooked.

Close has done very well in the precursors. She shared the prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards, and won the Golden Globe for Drama and the Screen Actor’s Guild Award. She may not be leading overall, but she has won at most of the major televised events, giving the pitch perfect speeches that Oscar voters can’t help but love. This may finally be Glenn Close’s year.

Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”

Nominee: Olivia Colman
Oscar Scene: Queen Anne explains the rabbits

There have been many films and series about royal families through the ages. One story that has rarely been told is that of Queen Anne, brought to life by the exceptional Olivia Colman. Colman expertly portrays the queen’s many mental and physical illnesses in a way that elicits both empathy and awkward laughs. The role is vulnerable in many ways, but it is in the scene where she introduces Abigail to her rabbits that the Queen becomes something more than a basket of problems. It is a rare moment when she chooses to be vulnerable, adding a new dimension to a woman who has, in many ways, been relegated to the background of her own story.

Colman has been a favorite among critics’ groups this awards season. She also won the Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical. She also received a huge boost when she won the BAFTA for Lead Actress, and gave an acceptance speech that took Twitter by storm. Olivia Colman may be the biggest threat to Glenn Close, and they are both so great, it seems unfair to choose just one.

Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”

Nominee: Lady Gaga
Oscar Scene: Ally and Bobby talk about Jackson

Lady Gaga‘s best moments in “A Star Is Born” come when she has a microphone in her hand. This version of the film places more of the point of view on the aging star than the rising ingenue. But Gaga lights up when she takes up the mantle of songwriter and rising star. Because it’s a role that is so ripe with musical numbers, choosing an acting scene is slightly tricky. Her work early in the film is appropriately timid and understated. As Ally develops more into herself, so Gaga also grows with her. Near the end of the film, Ally has her most emotional scene, one she shares with co-star Sam Elliott. Even with little dialogue, her heartache is real and palpable.

Lady Gaga will almost certainly be going home with at least one Oscar this year, for her original song, “Shallow.” Compared with other performances in this category, she doesn’t seem the likely winner for Lead Actress. Her surprise tie with Glenn Close at the Critics’ Choice Awards thrust her into the spotlight anew. She also picked up a few regional critics’ prizes, and recognition from the National Board of Review. She may not be the most obvious Lead Actress winner, but she very well might go home with two statuettes.

Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Nominee: Melissa McCarthy
Oscar Scene: Lee lets Jack in on her secret

Up until now, Melissa McCarthy has been known and rewarded for her comedy brilliance. This move toward drama came at the right time for the star of “Spy” and “Ghostbusters.” In this true story of Lee Israel, McCarthy uses her perfect timing to breathe life into a character that is abrasive and prickly. But the actress softens that just enough to bring a degree of sympathy to someone who is so impossible to reach. The only cracks in her wall come when Lee shares intimate conversations with a bookshop owner, and when she allows Jack into her isolated and lonely world. Lee’s friendship with Jack is the only truly positive thing in her life, and McCarthy’s natural charm makes this relationship believable and real.

McCarthy earned her first Oscar nomination for her supporting role in “Bridesmaids” in 2011. Some have considered a second nomination inevitable, while others have seen her as little more than the very funny star of all those Paul Feig movies. She has won a few critics’ group prizes, and, much like her fellow nominees, has earned nominations in just about every category she needed to be. She is the least likely winner of these five, but she is every bit as worthy as anyone here.

Predicted winner: Glenn Close, “The Wife”

Who do you think will win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role? And who should win? Comment below and share your thoughts!

Be sure to visit our Official Oscar Predictions Page to see the current rankings of all the nominees.