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Crowded Best Actress Race Makes Space for ‘Till’ and ‘She Said’

After premiering at the New York Film Festival, "She Said" and "Till" shook up the Oscar race for Best Actress.

She Said, Carey Mulligan

“She Said”

screenshot/Universal Pictures

This article contains IndieWire’s preliminary Best Actress predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

Nominations voting is from January 12-17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced January 24, 2023. Final voting is March 2-7, 2023. And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT. We update predictions through awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks.

See our initial thoughts for what to expect at the 95th Academy Awards here.

The State of the Race

The 60th-annual New York Film Festival had two world premieres that brought impact to the Best Actress race. First, in “Till,” rising star Danielle Deadwyler (“Station Eleven”) delivers a strong performance as grieving mother turned activist Mamie Till-Mobley, though reviews and word of mouth are mixed on the hard-hitting drama.

Next, recent “Promising Young Woman” nominee Carey Mulligan and would-be Oscar first-timer Zoe Kazan star as hard-driving New York Times muckrakers in #MeToo drama “She Said.” In a weaker year, there would be a clear path for both women to be nominated in the same category, but the Best Actress race is just too tight this year. Mulligan likely has the edge, both as someone who has been nominated for Best Actress twice (her first nomination was for “An Education” in 2010), and because her scenes as Megan Twohey better showcase the emotional toll that reporting on sexual misconduct took on the journalists.

Actors will likely appreciate Zoe Kazan’s performance as Jodi Kantor, where she is a prime scene partner to some very affecting supporting performances, but most shots are of her actively listening to her source’s stories, rather than being the focal point of the conversation.

However, this year’s Best Actress race still leans toward spectacle. “TÁR” had a strong opening weekend in limited release, indicating that the stylistic film showcasing Cate Blanchett as a musical genius in decline could catch on with more than just the arthouse crowd. At this stage of the race, Blanchett is positioned to win her third Oscar.

Ana de Armas has curried favor for her captivating, surreal version of icon Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s controversial “Blonde.” Like Blanchett in “TÁR,” the up-and-comer proficiently commands viewers’ attention for nearly three hours, though the Netflix film has been lashed by harsher reviews and swiftly vanished from view from the streamer’s Top Ten. Still, the Academy sometimes enjoys a young breakout (think Vanessa Kirby’s recent Best Actress nomination for Netflix’s “Pieces of a Woman”), so de Armas could still be an Oscar contender even if “Blonde” is an also-ran.

Another movie losing luster since its festival runs is Sam Mendes’ 80s meditation on a crumbling seaside movie palace, “Empire of Light” (Searchlight): Its only possible nomination would mark British Oscar perennial Olivia Colman’s fourth in the span of five years.

All that said, this category has one frontrunner who has been gaining momentum since March. If the narrative around cinema in 2022 is focused on projects that remind us why we love this medium, the Best Actress contender who best fits that is Michelle Yeoh in the innovative multiversal action-comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which has been a surprise arthouse hit and generated much discussion about how underappreciated she has been in the years since her breakout role in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” In the wake of a tribute to her work at TIFF, expect buzz around Yeoh to keep building.

"The Fabelmans"

“The Fabelmans”

The category also grew more competitive recently with Michelle Williams gunning for a nomination for her turn as a supportive mother to a burgeoning auteur in Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” (Some thought she would be submitted for Best Supporting Actress, but Universal opted to pursue a more ambitious route.) Rounding out the movies-and-moviemaking trend, little is known about Damien Chazelle’s Old Hollywood-set “Babylon,” but its high-octane trailer indicates Margot Robbie’s performance could go far.

Swinging in a completely different direction, Viola Davis’s work in box-office winner “The Woman King” ($65 million worldwide), boasts broader appeal than most of her rivals. The “Fences” Oscar winner bulked up and transformed herself into the indomitable leader of an all-female group of African warriors. She not only delivers as an action hero, but supplies a deep emotional dimension, especially her scenes opposite talented newcomer Thuso Mbedu, that will be catnip for the actors branch.

That leaves little room left for quieter performances. While two-time Oscar nominee Rooney Mara is likely to get the Best Actress push she deserves for her soulful performance in Sarah Polley’s powerful ensemble drama “Women Talking,” arguably the best in her storied career, the category is again competitive. Netflix will push Sebastián Lelio’s elegantly bleak “The Wonder,” carried by a pitch-perfect Florence Pugh, but the religious period drama may not register with Oscar voters. Finally, micro-drama “Causeway” landed strong reviews out of TIFF and the London Film Festival for Jennifer Lawrence, but AppleTV+ will need to build awareness with stateside Academy members.

Contenders are listed in alphabetical order, below. No actor will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen the film.

Frontrunners:
Cate Blanchett (“TÁR”)
Viola Davis (“The Woman King”)
Carey Mulligan (“She Said”)
Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”)
Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Contenders:
Ana de Armas (“Blonde”)
Olivia Colman (“Empire of Light”)
Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”)
Zoe Kazan (“She Said”)
Vicky Krieps (“Corsage”)
Rooney Mara (“Women Talking”)
Margot Robbie (“Babylon”)

Longshots:
Naomi Ackie (“I Wanna Dance with Somebody”)
Jessica Chastain (“The Good Nurse”)
Anna Diop (“Nanny”)
Zar Amir Ebrahimi (“Holy Spider”)
Greta Gerwig (“White Noise”)
Sally Hawkins (“The Lost King”)
Dakota Johnson (“Cha Cha Real Smooth”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Causeway”)
Taylor Russell (“Bones and All”)
Keke Palmer (“Nope”)
Florence Pugh (“The Wonder”)
Zoe Saldana (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)
Lea Seydoux (“One Fine Morning”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Menu”)
Emma Thompson (“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”)
Tang Wei (“Decision to Leave”)

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