The Oscar race for best actress outdid itself this year when it came to excitement, with five great performances — Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) — jockeying for the most enthralling award the Oscars has to offer. It makes best actor look like best supporting actor, and best supporting actor look like a scientific and technical Oscar. It’s the show we’re all here to see, and this season has been rad.
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Let’s start with the long shots. Streep played a syphilitic aristocratic atonal opera singer — essentially the Forrest Gump of song — and was presumably nominated for giving the most impressive monologue of the year. (Not in her movie or anything, but at the Golden Globes as the Academy members were voting on Oscar nominations. She had lots of sick burns.)
Negga — supported by a strong Oscar nomination campaign from the producers of “Loving” — secured a nom but, like Streep, has not racked up the kinds of awards that true contenders usually get. In the past 25 years, the eventual best actress winner has always won a Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award or the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award. The vast majority of the time, the eventual winner won two or more of them. Despite Negga’s win at the Satellite awards and Streep’s win at the Being-Meryl-Streep Awards, their momentum appears to be lost.
That brings us to the three main competitors. Huppert’s Oscar chances have remained essentially unchanged — low, but she’s still in the conversation — since her win in the drama category at the Golden Globes. Although the Globes in general aren’t highly regarded for their Oscar predictiveness, the winner of the Globe for lead actress in a drama has gone on to win the Oscar 17 of the past 25 times, which isn’t too shabby. That, at least, appeared to be enough to score Huppert a nomination, but her absence from the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nomination slates means she hasn’t had a chance to compete with her main rivals.
Which brings us to Portman and Stone. Portman has had a remarkably difficult award season, despite a stunning performance regarded as among the very best of the season by critics. She lost to Huppert at the Golden Globes, to Stone at the Screen Actors Guild and to Stone again at the BAFTAs. Portman hasn’t had a win at an award show we follow in our Oscars tracker since Dec. 15. That losing streak has been a major blow to her Oscar odds.
And Portman’s loss appears to be Stone’s gain. Stone has become the front-runner in this category and the face of “La La Land,” the Oscar juggernaut that pulled 14 nominations and is poised to win best picture. Her lead is far from certain — Stone hasn’t beaten Huppert in a head-to-head matchup this season, and Portman remains highly regarded in the race despite her string of losses — but Stone will enter the Academy Awards as the favorite in a three-way race.
Plus, if she does edge out Portman, that — combined with Ewan McGregor’s snub for “American Pastoral,” Liam Neeson’s snub for “Silence,” Keira Knightley’s miss on “Collateral Beauty” and Joel Edgerton’s snub for “Loving” — means the curse I had the woods witch place on the Star Wars prequel actors has finally come to total fruition.