The 95th Academy Awards Race: Best Actress

| March 8, 2023


The nominees are . . . . 
• Cate Blanchett in Tár 
• Ana de Armas in Blonde
• Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie
• Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans
• Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Right or wrong, the 2023 contest for Best Actress is as fascinating as it complicated.  Two overriding favorites Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler (for The Woman King and Till respectively) were left off of this year’s list of nominees for reasons that can and will be debated for years.  A stern eye turns quickly toward Andrea Riseborough and the controversy surrounding ethical practices in her campaign to get a nomination for To Leslie, a film that very few even knew existed.

Momentum Pictures, the film’s distributor, did not fund a traditional Oscar campaign for Riseborough, so the film’s director Michael Morris and his wife, actress Mary McCormack formulated an “off book” approach.  They contacted their friends in the industry and asked them to screen the film and pass it along if they liked what they saw.  A groundswell of support from an online campaign led by celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow and Kate Winslet bolster Riseborough into the top ranks of hopefuls just as the nominating ballots were going out.  Some hosted screenings of the film in order to get To Leslie seen by voters.  It worked and Riseborough got a nomination for Best Actress.

Many felt that this was in violation of the Academy’s rules regarding directly lobbying voters for any particular film or performance.  Tactics such as those administered by Morris and McCormack, many felt, were outside the campaign guidelines.  Additionally, there was evidence that these guidelines had been violated in the area of willfully trying to get voters to pick one actress over another – particularly a quote from Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper who noted that Riseborough’s work aped Cate Blanchett in Tár.  Never-the-less, the Academy did conduct and investigation an found that Riseborough did not violate the rules and her nomination would stay.

Such a controversy will remain in question.  Was it racially motivated?  Were the campaigning practices on the up and up?  Does Riseborough deserve to be here?  What can be said is that if Riseborough were to win (which would be an even bigger upset than her nomination) it would have been earned.  Her performance, as Leslie Rowland an alcoholic who has burned bridges and manipulated those around her until she has run out of luck is the best performance of the year no matter how she got the nomination.  It is a fearless performance, one in which she allows herself to be laid bare (emotionally) by the stain of her addiction.  In my review, I put it right up on the self with Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, Albert Finney in Under the Volcano, Jack Lemmon in The Days of Wine and Roses and Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, the most memorable performances by actors playing alcoholics.  She really is that good.

BUT at the current moment, she isn’t in line to win.  The Best Actress race runs down the middle between Cate Blanchett as a brilliant symphony conductor whose life comes apart when she find herself getting cancelled, and Michelle Yeoh as a mother experiencing varying versions of herself and her world in the multi-verse adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Blanchett has been the fixated frontrunner since the movie came out in early October, but when the award season kicked in, all of her pre-Oscar awards were voted on by people not involved in the Academy.  Yeoh now steps to the front of the class, having won the SAG award for Best Actress, an award voting on by the same folks to vote in this category.

The Winner: Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
The Dark Horse: Cate Blanchett in Tar


About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.