The tightest Oscars 2022 race: Here’s a look at the 5 lead actress nominees’ chances

Five oscar nominated actresses
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The only certainty when it comes to this year’s lead actress Oscar race is that there is no certainty. And there won’t be until the envelope is opened and the winner’s name is read at the ceremony on March 27.

None of the nominees appeared in a movie nominated for best picture. One, Kristen Stewart from “Spencer,” earned her film’s sole nomination. Three of the women — Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz and Nicole Kidman — already have an Oscar, though that was not an impediment last year when Frances McDormand won her third lead actress trophy (and second in four years) for “Nomadland.”

Voters and awards consultants call me nearly every day making an argument for their favorite nominee (or client, as the case may be). Could any one of the five women nominated for lead actress win? Judging from these conversations, yes. But this is Hollywood, a place where imagination is often divorced from reality. Let’s take a look and see.

Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”


At the Oscars: Nominated for supporting actress for “The Help” (2011) and lead actress for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

In her favor: It’s a transformative role! She sings! She brandishes a folksy Minnesota accent! And, most significantly, she makes us sort of like — or at least understand and recognize — televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. She digs deeper than offering just an impression or caricature. Also: If degree of difficulty is measured by time spent in the makeup chair (as it often is at the Oscars), Chastain will win.

Reasons for concern: Hair and makeup was the movie’s only other nomination — and all that mascara might overshadow Chastain’s affecting performance. The movie did not go over well with critics or audiences, and it might require some kind of divine intervention for the outcome to go any better at the Oscars.

Chances of winning: She won SAG. It could happen. If you’re a fan, remember the title of one of Tammy Faye’s favorite songs: “Don’t Give Up (On the Brink of a Miracle).”

Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”

At the Oscars: Won lead actress for “The Favourite” (2018) and earned a supporting actress nod for “The Father” (2020)

In her favor: Colman’s turn as a middle-aged professor sorting through her conflicted feelings about being a mother is yet another exemplary turn in an exceptional, late-blooming career. Remember the scene in which she tells a very pregnant woman on the beach that she’d rather not have a slice of cake and then reluctantly agrees to take a bit before parting with the (chef’s) kiss-off: “Children are a crushing responsibility. Happy birthday.” Could anyone else deliver that particular line with as much frosty, passive-aggressive relish? It’s a line that launched a thousand think pieces about the film, but it’s also delightfully funny, a neat trick that Colman has effortlessly pulled off in many of her best roles.

Reasons for concern: Oscar voters like their acting winners to show every bit of sweat and strain and suffering, so Colman’s work here might be a bit too cool in this field. (Or perhaps she’s the antidote to her hand-waving competitors.) She won an Oscar fairly recently and an Emmy just last year. Some might think that’s enough (for now, at least) and want to give someone else a moment.

Chances of winning: She denied Glenn Close her Oscar. Underestimate her at your peril.

Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”

At the Oscars: Won supporting actress for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008); nominated for lead actress for “Volver” (2006) and supporting actress for “Nine” (2009)

In her favor: Cruz was Pedro Almodóvar’s muse years before Julia Fox inspired Josh Safdie to write “Unca Jaaaaaaaaaaaams.” They’ve made eight movies together, and in “Parallel Mothers,” Cruz navigates a plot full of secrets and surprises and anguish and elation with a grounded empathy. Two of the top three U.S. film critics groups — the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. — gave Cruz the lead actress award. (New York went with Lady Gaga. R.I.P.) And in the absence of in-person events, voters seem to be paying heed to critics a bit more this year.

Reasons for concern: A fair number of academy members still haven’t checked out “Parallel Mothers.” It may have arrived a bit late for Cruz to establish a real foothold in the race.

Chances of winning: If all those international members the academy has added the past few years vote in a unified bloc, then maaaaybe? She’s long overdue to win for one of her collaborations with Almodóvar.

Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”

At the Oscars: Won lead actress for “The Hours” (2002); nominated for lead actress for “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), lead actress for “Rabbit Hole” (2010) and supporting actress for “Lion” (2016)

In her favor: Kidman’s casting as Lucille Ball didn’t sit well with many on social media when it was announced. But once people actually saw the movie (always a good idea), the complaints subsided. (Mostly.) In a film dominated by writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s voice, Kidman manages to wrestle control and deliver a razor-sharp take on Ball’s perfectionism, insecurities and genius. Plus, it affords her the too-rare opportunity to be funny. And she’s good at it!

Reasons for concern: “Being the Ricardos” didn’t pick up any Oscar nominations outside of its three acting nods, indicating that academy support for the film doesn’t run particularly deep.

Chances of winning: Kidman has enjoyed some highs and lows in the two decades since she won for “The Hours.” Oscar victories are often a question of timing, and voters might decide that this is a nice spot to reward her again.

Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

At the Oscars: This is Stewart’s first nomination.

In her favor: After failing to earn a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination, many presumed that Stewart’s bold, subversive turn as Princess Diana would be forgotten by Oscar voters. But the academy issued a corrective and a reprieve. And in doing so, it may well have given Stewart a rebound narrative that will propel her to victory. Who doesn’t love a snubs-to-riches story?

Reasons for concern: No one has won the lead actress Oscar without earning a SAG Awards nomination. Stewart was also (absurdly) the only person the academy recognized from “Spencer,” a movie that doesn’t fit traditional notions of what a movie about the royals should be. (And is the better for it.)

Chances of winning: Some might feel it’s a bit early yet to hand her the crown.