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2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Actress

Anne Thompson’s assessment of the Oscar race includes Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Carey Mulligan and more. Updated 10/18/17.

"The Shape of Water"

“The Shape of Water”

It’s a crowded category this year, like last, when even Annette Bening and Amy Adams didn’t make the cut. Again, there will be tears before bedtime. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Paul McGuigan’s Telluride and TIFF gala “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” starring Bening as Hollywood star Gloria Grahame, who in 1978 plunged into an affair with a younger lover (Jamie Bell). Oscar voters now get a chance to make up for leaving Bening out last year.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

“Blue Jasmine” Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins gives two heartbreaking performances this year: the first as real-life arthritic painter Maud Lewis in “Maudie” (Sony Pictures Classics, June 16) will feed her second, the luminous mute performance in Guillermo del Toro’s fall festival hit “The Shape of Water” (December 8, Fox Searchlight). Also breaking out at the fall festivals is “Brooklyn” and “Atonement” nominee Saoirse Ronan, who stars as a rebellious high school senior in rookie director Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.”

READ MORE: 2018 Oscar Predictions

"Lady Bird"

“Lady Bird”

TIFF

At Sundance,”An Education” nominee Carey Mulligan earned raves as a southern farmer in “Mudbound.” Cannes 2017 revealed more clues, as Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”) won a special award for her four films there, including her resilient schoolmistress in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” She could earn a fifth Oscar nomination following her Emmy win for “Big Little Lies.” Deaf discovery Millicent Simmonds broke out in the silent half of Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck.” And Diane Kruger took home Best Actress for Fatih Akin’s intense revenge thriller “In the Fade” (Magnolia Pictures), the German submission for the Oscar.

And the ceiling-smashing $103-million opening of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” pushed Israeli star Gal Gadot — who had already scored in “Batman v. Superman”– into global stardom. She earned raves for the winning warmth she brought to superhero Wonder Woman and human-scale Diana Prince, and could earn a nomination, even though comic-book spectacles don’t tend to extend to acting nods.

Kate Winslet in “Wonder Wheel”

Kate Winslet also has dual roles, in survival drama “The Mountain Between Us” opposite Idris Elba (October 6, Fox) and Woody Allen’s New York Film Festival closer “Wonder Wheel” (December 1, Amazon Studios), which could reveal whether Winslet could enjoy the same kind of awards season run that Cate Blanchett had in the lead-up to her “Blue Jasmine” win. Also with two strong roles is Jessica Chastain, who plays real women in both World War II indie hit “Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus Features) and Aaron Sorkin’s poker wrangler in TIFF hit “Molly’s Game” (December 25, STX). Also breaking out at TIFF was Margot Robbie in the colorfully athletic title role in “I, Tonya,” a portrait of tough-as-nails figure skater Tonya Harding.

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY'S GAME

“Molly’s Game”

Courtesy of STXfilms

Stephen Frears directs the magnificent Dame Judi Dench as an aged Queen of England in “Victoria and Abdul” (September 22, Focus Features). Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo”) is back in the Oscar hunt as a single mother whose grief over her raped and murdered daughter turns to anger in Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (November 10, Fox Searchlight). And the combo of Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg with Watergate drama “The Post” (Fox, December 22) could yield Oscar gold.

With so many robust competitors, actresses in stronger movies may wind up in better shape than worthy competitors in weaker movies.

Judi Dench victoria and abdul

“Victoria and Abdul”

Screenshot/Focus Features

A list of (alphabetical) possibilities is below. None will be considered for Frontrunner until I see them.

Frontrunners

Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”)
Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”)
Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”)
Kate Winslet (“Wonder Wheel”)

Contenders

Annette Bening (“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool”)
Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”)
Carey Mulligan (“Mudbound”)
Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”)
Meryl Streep (“The Post”)

Long Shots:

Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”)
Salma Hayak (“Beatriz at Dinner”)
Nicole Kidman (“The Beguiled”)
Diane Kruger (“In the Fade”)
Millicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”)
Emma Stone (“Battle of The Sexes”)
Daniela Vega (“A Fantastic Woman”)

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