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After the Riseborough flap, who will win the lead actress Oscar?

A woman in a sparkling dress poses for photographers.
The lead actress race might have been the most crowded category at this year’s Oscars and was always going to be fiercely contested. Could Andrea Riseborough actually win?
(Vianney Le Caer / Invision / Associated Press)
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An hour after film academy CEO Bill Kramer issued a statement saying Andrea Riseborough would be allowed to keep her lead actress nomination for “To Leslie” following an academy investigation that found her team did not violate any Oscar campaign rules, a voter called me to vent. And to tell me she had just finished watching “To Leslie.”

“Her team did nothing wrong,” the academy member said, “other than run an unconventional campaign that circumvented the Oscar machinery. She absolutely deserved the nomination, and I’ve heard from a lot of friends who have watched the movie since this whole stupid thing erupted, and they all agree. And you know what? I think she could win!”

The voter requested anonymity, in light of Kramer’s letter to members, asking them to “refrain from publicly discussing your voting preferences or attempting to persuade others to vote similarly.” That missive also noted that the academy would be reviewing its rules as “it is apparent that components of the regulations must be clarified to help create a better framework for respectful, inclusive, and unbiased campaigning.”

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I look forward to how “unbiased campaigning” is parsed and defined. Because that’s a curious combination of words!

In the meantime, I wonder if that academy member is onto something: Could Riseborough pull a Ben Affleck and go on to win an Oscar for a movie that, up until a couple of weeks ago, had been seen by only a handful of people outside the 310 area code?

You may remember what happened a decade ago when Oscar nominations came out and Affleck’s crowd-pleasing thriller “Argo” earned seven nominations, including best picture, but Affleck himself was overlooked for directing. Poor Affleck had to go to the Critics Choice Awards that night, a dismal obligation even under the best of circumstances, walk the red carpet, force a smile and, in his words, “pretend that you’re OK, pretend it didn’t bother you, because, God forbid, something bothered you.”

But that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day produced an outpouring of sympathy for Affleck, catapulting him to Golden Globe and Directors Guild honors and, shortly afterward, a triumphant moment at the Oscars when “Argo” won best picture. Would “Argo” have won without the hysteria surrounding Affleck’s scandalous “snub”? Well ... the publicity sure didn’t hurt its cause.

Now, unlike Riseborough’s “To Leslie,” nobody had to google “Ben Affleck” or “Argo” when Oscar nominations went down that year. So, there’s a steep hill for Riseborough to climb, not to mention some formidable competition. The lead actress race might have been the most crowded category at this year’s Oscars and was always going to be fiercely contested. Could Riseborough actually win? Let’s look at the nominees — in order of least to most likely to win— to see where we stand.

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A woman with short, platinum blond hair wears a pink dress and holds a vinyl record in a scene from "Blonde."
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”
(2022 © Netflix/Netflix)
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Ana de Armas

“Blonde”

At the Oscars: This is her first Oscar nomination

In her favor: She has Pedro Almodóvar’s vote, so that’s something. And she has pretty much been the best thing about every American movie she’s made, including the last Bond flick, “No Time to Die,” which she stole right out from under her “Knives Out” co-star Daniel Craig. As for “Blonde,” every time we wanted to look away from the hateful way filmmaker Andrew Dominik was depicting Marilyn Monroe, De Armas pulled us back in with her empathy and understanding. Her nomination is a testament to her work — along with actors branch voters’ inability to resist portrayals of famous people.

Reasons for concern: Dominik’s ghoulish emphasis on making Monroe a victim did not sit well with many.

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Chances of winning: Not good. But she should be back someday.


A woman sits close with her young son, both smiling in a scene from "The Fabelmans."
Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord and Michelle Williams star in “The Fabelmans.”
(Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)
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Michelle Williams

“The Fabelmans”

At the Oscars: Nominated five times, including two other lead turns for “Blue Valentine” (2011) and “My Week With Marilyn” (2012) and twice for supporting, “Brokeback Mountain” (2006) and “Manchester by the Sea” (2017)

In her favor: It’s her fifth nomination. She’s entering Amy Adams territory! And Williams’ soulful work in “The Fabelmans” displays remarkable range. It’s an emotionally intense performance that often feels like the tornado her character chases in the film’s opening half hour.

Reasons for concern: No one has won the lead actress Oscar without earning a SAG Awards nomination.

Chances of winning: Well ... there’s always a first!


A woman holding a cigarette leans on a bar counter, empty beer glass in front of her in a scene from "To Leslie."
Andrea Riseborough stars in “To Leslie.”
(Momentum Pictures / Associated Press)

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Andrea Riseborough

“To Leslie”

At the Oscars: This is her first nomination

In her favor: “To Leslie” will be fresh in voters’ minds, as most of them will have (hopefully) watched it for the first time just as balloting begins. Riseborough’s dynamic performance as an addict reckoning with her choices and looking to make a fresh start is the kind of big turn that, more often than not, wins acting Oscars.

Reasons for concern: The academy’s investigation into Riseborough’s nomination put unwanted attention on the business of campaigning for Oscars, and, for some voters, there may be a desire to avoid the further scrutiny that a Riseborough win would bring. And, though many academy members are catching up with the movie, viewership of her performance lags far behind that of Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett.

Chances of winning: Slight. But that’s what we thought about the nomination, too!


A woman holds her husband and adult daughter behind her protectively in a scene from "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Michelle Yeoh, center, stars in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” with Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan.
(A24)
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Michelle Yeoh

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

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At the Oscars: This is her first Oscar nomination

In her favor: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” provided Yeoh with a long-overdue showcase, allowing her to dip a toe into a sumptuous Wong Kar-wai romance and play a frazzled mom trying to transcend the mundane — not to mention a hilarious hibachi chef possessing a faulty memory of the Pixar classic “Ratatouille.” Voters love the film, giving it a leading 11 nominations, and she could be swept to the podium by that wave of support. Also, on the whole, people love Michelle Yeoh!

Reasons for concern: Yeoh’s co-star, Ke Huy Quan, is the overwhelming favorite to win the supporting actor Oscar, and some might think that’s sufficient reward for the film.

Chances of winning: Pretty good. Pre-tay, pre-taaaaaaay good, especially if she wins the Screen Actors Guild Awards prize on Feb. 26.


A woman smiles while conducting an orchestra in a scene from "Tar."
Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in “Tár.”
(Focus Features)
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Cate Blanchett

“Tár”

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At the Oscars: Blanchett won the lead actress Oscar for “Blue Jasmine” (2014) and the supporting actress Oscar for “The Aviator” (2005). She has been nominated three other times for lead turns — “Elizabeth” (1999), “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2008) and “Carol” (2016) — as well as for supporting roles in “Notes on a Scandal” (2007) and “I’m Not There” (2008)

In her favor: “Tár” picked up every Oscar nomination it was expected to earn — and more, nabbing picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography and film editing mentions, in addition to Blanchett’s nod. For all the talk of it being a chilly movie, voters clearly admire it. Do they love it? I don’t think Lydia Tár wants their love — just respect. And, OK, maybe worship.

Reasons for concern: Blanchett already owns two Oscars. Are voters ready to put her in the company of Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and Frances McDormand? (It’s mostly a redundant question, but it might give someone pause.)

Chances of winning: After “Tár” premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 1, many said this Oscar belonged to Blanchett. And it still probably does.

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