Admit it, you saw this coming. Even if you didn’t read last week how Eric and I only allow ourselves to take so many risks during Slant’s 24-day Oscar-prediction cycle, you probably noticed how long it was taking us to get around to this category. And this call we’re making is certainly a risk: After all, Allison Janney—like Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, and Sam Rockwell—will arrive at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday with a Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA award under her belt (or attached to the bird on her shoulder). But don’t call it wishful thinking, as the tea leaves tell us that this is a more unpredictable Oscar race than most people are perhaps willing to admit.
It’s no news—even to many in Hollywood—that an actor’s Oscar win is as much about the performance as it is about the publicity campaign launched on his or her behalf. In a typically perceptive conversation with Mark Harris last week over at The Vulture, Kyle Buchanan wrote this about Janney:
The I, Tonya actress has had an invincible awards season, picking up every major statuette she’s been nominated for and turning up at any gala she’s asked to attend. Janney is funny and widely liked, and when I see her, I’m reminded that the fashion bloggers at Tom & Lorenzo often say that a crucial part of the “Oscar pole dance” is dressing like the Academy Award itself. Janney, all glowed up and loving it, has followed their advice to a T.
No objection. Janney gives a great, purposefully arch performance in Craig Gillespie’s film, and she’s undoubtedly an amiable interviewee (in fact, this 2012 interview is among the best we’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting), but Buchanan’s words also reinforced for us the sense that hers has felt like the most over-compensating Oscar campaign of the season, and that there’s an almost obligatory nature to her frontrunner status.
There was a point, now seemingly moons ago, when the thought of “Oscar winners Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, and Laurie Metcalf” didn’t sound too good to be true. And there are concrete, verifiable reasons why those actors traded off their early frontrunners statuses. Oldman, who was arguably always the frontrunner to win best actor and who gloriously makes hay of many long speeches in the very dull Darkest Hour, is “due”—and it only helps him that his film is nominated, almost unbelievably, for six Oscars. As for McDormand and Rockwell, to quote Buchanan again: “McDormand, Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson are so good in Three Billboards that I think a lot of voters have totally forgotten the less successful aspects of the movie.” And for a while, it seemed as if the spectacularly complicated gale force that is Rockwell’s performance in Martin McDonagh’s film was something that Dafoe could withstand—until the Oscar nominations were announced and The Florida Project received as many nods as The Boss Baby.
As for Janney, well, I, Tonya wasn’t nominated for best picture, which is certainly a point in Metcalf’s favor. Janney is, yes, a beloved industry veteran, but so is Metcalf, who won a Tony last year and was nominated for three Emmy awards in 2016 (remember, too, that she has three Emmys for her work on Roseanne). SAG and BAFTA may have made it clear who’s their favorite, but what happens when you consider that many members of SAG’s TV branch aren’t AMPAS members and factor in the votes of every Oscar voter who isn’t an actor? And what about all those new, young, diverse AMPAS members who probably swung last year’s best picture race in Moonlight’s favor? At least according to the 14 of them that The Vulture spoke to, their favorites in the acting categories are clear: Oldman, McDormand, Rockwell, and Metcalf.
There’s also the matter of Lady Bird having enjoyed a longer so-called water-cooler moment than I, Tonya and, well, what’s up on the screen. For me, the difference between Janney and Mecalf’s performances is the difference between the same great note played a few times and many beautiful notes played simultaneously and repeatedly. Yes, I am given pause by the fact that those new Oscar voters interviewed by The Vulture also have a thing for Lesley Manville’s sublime performance in Phantom Thread, so it’s worth mulling over that Janney could benefit from the possibility of the new cool kids on the AMPAS block splitting their votes between Metcalf and Manville. But then, there’s also the possibility that many of the Academy’s old guard followed Jennifer Lawrence’s lead and stopped Paul Thomas Anderson’s film even before Manville appears on screen to give them the side eye.
Will Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Could Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Should Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird