The Importance of Being Venice

For those who don’t follow the Oscar game and film festivals like I do (which is understandably most of you), this post looks to be a helpful primer on why such festivals are so important when doing predictions.

The 2021 Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow and you can anticipate plenty of Oscar speculation chatter on the blog in the next several days. You may ask – why is this Italian extravaganza so key in determining how this year’s awards landscape may look?

Let’s look at just the past five years as prologue. Of the 43 features nominated for Best Picture from 2016-2020, 31 were originally screened at the various high-profile festivals. There were six from Sundance and four each premiered at Telluride, Toronto and Cannes (with one emanating from the New York Film Festival). Eleven had their start in Venice. That’s right. Essentially one in four. That means that, lately, the average year has seen two to three BP nominees coming from this one event.

Of the last five Best Picture winners, all of them kicked off at a festival. 1 from Telluride (Moonlight). 1 from Toronto (Green Book). 1 from Cannes (Parasite). Two from Venice: The Shape of Water and last year’s Nomadland. 

How about the acting derbies? Of the 20 winners in Actor, Actress, and the supporting fields from 2016-2020, only two were performances that did not come from a festival screened film. There’s 1 from Cannes. Three each from Telluride and Toronto. Four from Sundance. And seven from Venice.

This is why the titles hitting Venice in 2021 currently hold lofty positions with prediction makers like myself. It’s why Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog took over House of Gucci (not currently slated for a fest) at the #1 slot in my BP rankings. This explains why I’m keeping a close eye on pics like Dune, The Hand of God, Parallel Mothers, Spencer, and Last Night in Soho. Maybe Spencer won’t win Best Picture, but it could nab Kristen Stewart her first nomination and victory.

Of course, only the screenings themselves will demonstrate the viable contenders. Yet there’s a recent history proving that Venice has become the most important festival of all. Ask the makers of Nomadland and The Shape of Water. Or Emma Stone (La La Land), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), or Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) to name just some.

My coverage of the Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow!

Summer 2011: The Top 10 Hits and More

We have arrived at part III of my recaps of the summer seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means 2011 is upon us. If you missed my sizzling throwbacks to 1991 and 2001, you can find them here:

Summer 1991: The Top 10 Hits and More

Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

As is tradition, I will recount the top 10 hits as well as other notable features and some flops in a season where moviegoers bid a fond farewell to their iconic wizard:

Let’s get to it, yes?

10. Bridesmaids

Domestic Gross: $169 million

Kristin Wiig made one of the most successful jumps from SNL to movie stardom in this critically hailed pic that also earned Melissa McCarthy her silver screen breakout and even an Oscar nomination. It might not be the highest grossing comedy on here, but it’s definitely still the most talked about.

9. The Help

Domestic Gross: $169 million

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller, the 1960s set period piece from Tate Taylor brought the book’s readers and many others to the multiplex. Four Oscar nods followed including Best Picture and a Supporting Actress victory for Octavia Spencer.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger

Domestic Gross: $176 million

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first big branch out occurred during this summer where we would get our first glimpse at this OG avenger in the form of Chris Evans and another one who sits at the throne of spot #6. The sequels actually improved on what we see here, but the Captain gets rolling with this.

7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $176 million

Rupert Wyatt’s reboot of the franchise is deservedly better regarded than Tim Burton’s re-imagining that transpired in 2001. Debuting the fantastic motion capture work of Andy Serkis, this would spawn two follow-ups that also pleased audiences and critics and did considerable monkey business.

6. Thor

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian heartthrob hammered into the public consciousness alongside Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins and managed $5 million more box office bucks than the Captain. The third sequel is currently in production.

5. Cars 2

Domestic Gross: $191 million

Despite grossing nearly $200 million, this Pixar sequel is not one of the studio’s most fondly remembered vehicles with just a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating. A third Cars did zoom into theaters six years later.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Domestic Gross: $241 million

With a reported budget of $379 million, Johnny Depp’s fourth headlining of the franchise still sports the largest price tag of all time. The actor’s final participation in the series would come in 2017 with Disney still looking to reboot it without their signature player.

3. The Hangover Part II

Domestic Gross: $254 million

Crowds were still clamoring for the drunken exploits of Bradley Copper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Critics weren’t near as kind to part II, but audiences didn’t begin to tire of the hijinks until part III two years later.

2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Domestic Gross: $352 million

Michael Bay’s third saga of the Autobots and Decepticons marks Shia LaBeouf’s last appearance in the franchise and includes drop-ins from acting heavyweights John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Mark Wahlberg would take over starring duties three years later.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Domestic Gross: $381 million

After nearly a decade of enchanting kids and their parents alike, the franchise stemming from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels received a fittingly massive send-off with this billion dollar plus worldwide earner.

Now for other noteworthy titles from the summer:

X-Men: First Class

Domestic Gross: $146 million

Bryan Singer’s handed over directorial reigns to Matthew Vaughn for this reinvigorating reboot of the series that introduced the younger versions of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique in the bodies of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Numerous sequels of varying quality followed.

The Smurfs

Domestic Gross: $142 million

Sony Pictures wasn’t blue about the financial returns for this half live-action/half animated adaptation of the popular comics and animated series. A sequel came in 2013.

Super 8

Domestic Gross: $127 million

In between Star Trek pics and before rebooting Star Wars, J.J. Abrams helmed this sci-fi original which paid tribute to the Spielberg efforts of the 1980s. Critics gave it their stamp of approval and it’s notable for one heckuva train crash sequence.

Horrible Bosses

Domestic Gross: $117 million

This raunchy comedy about workers exacting revenge on their wretched superiors showed us a whole different side to Jennifer Aniston and spawned a 2014 sequel.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Before their collaboration on La La Land earned lots of Oscar nods five years later, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling teamed up for this rom com with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore that exceeded expectations with audiences and many critics.

Midnight in Paris

Domestic Gross: $56 million

It was a different time 10 years ago for Woody Allen, who scored his last big hit with this fantastical comedy starring Owen Wilson. Woody would win the Oscar for Original Screenplay and it landed three additional nominations including Picture and Director.

The Tree of Life

Domestic Gross: $13 million

Terrence Malick’s epic philosophical drama won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography at the Academy Awards. Not your typical summer fare, but it certainly had reviews on its side.

And now for some titles that didn’t meet expectations commercially, critically, or both:

Green Lantern

Domestic Gross: $116 million

Five years before he entered the comic book flick pantheon with Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds didn’t have as much luck with this critically drubbed flop. Even the star himself has taken to calling it a waste of time for viewers.

Cowboys & Aliens

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Coming off the huge Iron Man pics, Jon Favreau cast James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in this space western that didn’t impress crowds or critics and earned considerably less than its budget domestically.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Domestic Gross: $68 million

Audiences were mostly cool to Jim Carrey’s treatment of the popular late 30s children’s book though it did manage to top its $55 million budget. It probably would have made far more during the star’s box office heyday.

Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World

Domestic Gross: $38 million

A decade after Robert Rodriguez kicked the kiddie franchise off to great results, part 4 marked a low mark for the series.

Larry Crowne

Domestic Gross: $35 million

The star power of Tom Hanks (who also directed) and Julia Roberts couldn’t elevate this rom com from a subpar showing (critics weren’t kind either). This is largely a forgotten entity on both actor’s filmographies.

Conan the Barbarian

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Before becoming known to the masses as Aquaman, Jason Momoa couldn’t fill the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in this bomb that couldn’t swim close to its $90 million budget.

And that does it, folks! I’ll have recaps of the summers of 1992, 2002, and 2012 up for your enjoyment next season!

Oscar Watch: Cruella

More often than not, the Disney live-action remakes related to their animated classics have managed to score Oscar nominations in various technical races. Two days ahead of its Memorial Day weekend domestic bow, the studio’s Cruella (a reboot of their 1961 animated tale and the Glenn Close live-action features) has seen its review embargo lifted. It is widely expected that the Academy will reward it in some of the races that their previous features have been mentioned in.

The Rotten Tomatoes meter currently stands at a decent 72% with many critics praising Emma Stone (Best Actress winner in 2016 for La La Land) in the title role of the dog despising villainess. She’s unlikely to get much attention in the lead race, but should certainly find herself in the mix in the Musical/Comedy competition at next year’s Golden Globes… if there is a Golden Globes next year.

As mentioned, the Academy has been kind to the remakes over the last decade plus. Alice in Wonderland won Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and was nominated for Visual Effects. Nods for the costumes were also received by Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015). In 2017, Beauty and the Beast made the shortlist for Production and Costume Design. The Jungle Book (2016) was victorious in Visual Effects with Christopher Robin (2018) and The Lion King (2019) as nominees. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) nabbed a mention for its Makeup and Hairstyling. Last year’s Mulan got in for Costume Design and Visual Effects, winning neither.

All four categories mentioned are on the table for Cruella to varying degrees. Based on the buzz, Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling are highly probable and could even be wins. Production Design is also feasible while Visual Effects could be more of a stretch due to expected competition.

Additionally, Florence and the Machine have contributed the original song “Call Me Cruella”. I wouldn’t bank on it making the final five in that race, but you never know (sometimes there’s surprises in that category).

Bottom line: Cruella is looking good for at least two Academy mentions and possibly more. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Producers Roll With Nomadland

In the previous decade, the winner of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) best motion picture ended up matching with the eventual Oscar recipient 70% of the time. So it’s no wonder that all eyes of prognosticators were on tonight’s ceremony. Would the PGA do anything to interrupt the narrative that Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is a sturdy favorite to take the Academy’s gold?

The answer? No. Nomadland received yet another honor from the PGA to go with its Golden Globe for Best Drama, Critics Choice Award, and numerous regional group best pic designations. Had Minari or Promising Young Woman or The Trial of the Chicago 7 won, it might have created more suspense for the Oscar ceremony happening on April 25th. Yet the PGA victory is another arrow in the quiver for Zhao’s achievement.

If you’re another movie hoping to best Nomadland, the PGA and the Academy have differed three times in the last five years. In 2015, the Guild picked The Big Short over Spotlight. In 2016, it was La La Land instead of Moonlight. Last year – 1917 over Parasite. 

As for other races, Disney/Pixar’s Soul, as expected, took animated feature and it remains a major frontrunner at the big show. The documentary category went to My Octopus Teacher and that certainly puts it in serious contention in one month.

Bottom line: Nomadland is rolling and nothing may be able to stop it.

Oscars 2020: The Case of Nomadland

Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is next up in my Case Of posts for the 8 Best Picture nominees from the 2020 Oscar season. If you missed my posts on The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, and Minari, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/03/16/oscars-2020-the-case-of-the-father/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/03/17/oscars-2020-the-case-of-judas-and-the-black-messiah/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/03/18/oscars-2020-the-case-of-mank/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/03/21/oscars-2020-the-case-of-minari/

Now to the business at hand:

The Case for Nomadland

Since its debut at the Venice Film Festival in September where it won the Golden Lion (the event’s top prize), Nomadland has been a serious contender that has managed to become the favorite. While many prognosticators predicted The Trial of the Chicago 7 would take the Best Drama category at the Golden Globes, Nomadland emerged victorious and it also won the Critics Choice Award recently. Other accolades include the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and numerous regional critics group selections as the film of 2020. Nomadland tied with five other pics last week with 6 Oscar nominations and it landed in the expected races beyond Picture with Director, Actress (Frances McDormand), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Editing. It is a contender to win them all.

The Case Against Nomadland

Being the frontrunner can be dangerous. It could be argued that the on paper favorites for three of the last ceremonies did not take the gold (2016’s La La Land lost to Moonlight, 2018’s Roma to Green Book, and 2019’s 1917 to Parasite). A narrative could certainly develop where a “surprise” winner (think Minari or Promising Young Woman, as well as the aforementioned Trial) could pose a serious threat.

The Verdict

Betting odds favor Nomadland as it’s done what it needs to be the picture to beat this year. That said, Oscar voters have had a way of recently upending the conventional wisdom.

My Case Of posts will continue with Promising Young Woman…

Oscar Watch: Trolls World Tour

Well… it feels a little strange to be back doing an Oscar Watch post, but here we are! The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives during this time and that certainly has impacted the release of films as movie theaters are shut down.

Studios have had to be creative lately and the animated sequel Trolls World Tour became available for digital distribution today in lieu of a theatrical bow. The DreamWorks Animation flick is a follow-up to the hit 2016 musical and features the voice work of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Four years back, the original Trolls broke through with audiences and most critics with a 76% Rotten Tomatoes score. Part 2 is a notch below that with a still solid 71%. That said, the predecessor failed to nab a Best Animated Feature nomination and I wouldn’t expect this to grab one either.

Of course, there is the genuine question of shifting release dates with various titles already pushed to 2021. That could potentially increase the chance for a nomination, but I wouldn’t count on it.

In 2016, Trolls did achieve one nomination. That was for Justin Timberlake’s hit song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”. It lost to “City of Stars” from La La Land. Mr. Timberlake has teamed with SZA for “The Other Side” and that seems to be the track that DreamWorks might campaign for an Original Song nod. However, “Side” has currently peaked at 17 on the Billboard Top 40. Its road to a nomination is certainly less assured than the massive “Feeling!”.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

First Man Movie Review

Perhaps the largest overarching theme of Damien Chazelle’s First Man is control. Mission control of the world famous Apollo 11 flight, yes. There’s also a mission in which Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) tragically cannot control with the death of his young daughter to a brain tumor. In Gosling’s face as he lands for the first time ever on the outer reaches of our solar system, we sense his myopic focus on this historic assignment. It is coupled with a sense of loss of what he experienced a few years prior with a task he couldn’t achieve in saving her life.

That, more than anything else, is where the power of this picture lies. Yet these moments are not particularly frequent. We all know how First Man is going to end with Armstrong’s first footprint on a never before stepped upon surface. There is little dramatic tension there, though the booming musical score helps a little bit. Chazelle’s film takes the moon landing and shows it through the eyes of the man who did it. That means we see the extraordinarily small spaces he trains and rides in. And in the years prior to success, we see a string of losses from his daughter to several coworkers who perish along the way.

This is not the space saga I expected from Chazelle. It’s entirely different in tone from his previous efforts Whiplash and La La Land. Armstrong was a famously low key figure and First Man takes cues from his personality. The saga begins eight years prior to his claim to fame. Armstrong is a test pilot with a devoted but strong in her convictions wife Janet (Claire Foy) and two children. With two-year-old Karen, Neil treats her illness as a mathematical equation to be solved, like his daily work. He can’t solve this problem.

His piloting career coincides with his nation’s fervent desire to beat the Russians to the moon after being beat out by them in earlier missions. As we know, he’s eventually given captain status with Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas) alongside him. Before that occurs, we see Neil’s friendship with another famed astronaut Ed White (Jason Clarke) and others. All of these innovators reside in Houston and develop a close community where the wives are constantly living in fear of whether their husbands will come home.

First Man often focuses on that sense of dread and the fact that, in the 1960s, NASA was a program often running blind. Ever hopeful, but with rickety rockets and a cross your fingers and hope for the best attitude. It takes a toll on Neil’s marriage. Foy is excellent as Janet and she’s given a scene or two to shine.

Gosling’s work is, like his subject, tougher to nail down. It’s not a showy role. However, in the moments where he must convey Armstrong’s laser concentration, Gosling flourishes. I admired Chazelle’s tactic of making this tale that goes outside our galaxy a small and personal one. First Man is ultimately an experience that easier to appreciate than be grandly entertained by. Neil Armstrong worked in his own way and so does this for the most part.

*** (out of four)

The PGA Goes Green

The eyes of Oscar prognosticators were on the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards and for good reason. In this decade, the Best Picture Award has matched the Academy’s 6 out of 8 times (there’s a little fudging here because in 2013 there was a tie between Oscar recipient 12 Years a Slave and Gravity). The non matches occurred in 2015 when the PGA selected The Big Short over Spotlight and the following year with La La Land winning and not Moonlight.

Two scenarios could have changed the Oscar landscape in a significant way. A victory for Roma (coming off its Critics Choice honor) could have solidified standing as a front-runner. If A Star Is Born took the top prize, it would have marked a much-needed win after some high-profile precursor snubs.

Neither scenario happened as Peter Farrelly’s Green Book was named. This is a surprise and it opens up an already uncertain race for Best Picture at the big dance. It certainly lessens Green Book winning the Oscar being seen as an upset. It’s a real contender along with Roma and Star.

Tonight’s ceremony also gave yet another animation award for SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse. Coupled with its Globes and Critics wins, it now appears Spidey is the Academy favorite over Incredibles 2.

Bottom line: the PGA made the Oscars a bit murkier. We got ourselves a race.

Best Picture: A Look Back

A few weeks ago, I posted look backs at major categories at the Oscars from 1990 to the present. I’ve covered all four acting races and if you missed it, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/04/best-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

In each post, I review what I’d classify as the three least surprising winners, as well as the three biggest upsets. And I select what I believe are the strongest and weakest overall fields.

Today on the blog, we arrive at the Big Daddy – Best Picture. It’s important to remember that hindsight doesn’t come into play here. For instance, Forrest Gump won the top prize in 1994. Since then, many believe fellow nominees Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should have won. Yet the Gump victory was not an upset at the time. Same goes for 1990 when Dances with Wolves bested GoodFellas.

Let’s begin with a reminder of each winner since 1990:

1990 – Dances with Wolves

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Unforgiven

1993 – Schindler’s List

1994 – Forrest Gump

1995 – Braveheart

1996 – The English Patient

1997 – Titanic

1998 – Shakespeare in Love

1999 – American Beauty

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Chicago

2003 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004 – Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Crash

2006 – The Departed

2007 – No Country for Old Men

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire

2009 – The Hurt Locker

2010 – The King’s Speech

2011 – The Artist

2012 – Argo

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Birdman

2015 – Spotlight

2016 – Moonlight

2017 – The Shape of Water

We start with my three least surprising winners:

3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s final entry in the acclaimed trilogy seemed due for a win after the first two installments were nominated, but lost to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. This was as much a recognition for the entire franchise and by 2003, it was obvious the Academy would move in that direction.

2. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s epic was plagued with rumors of a troubled shoot and the possibility seemed real that it could be a costly flop. The opposite occurred as Titanic became the highest grossing motion picture of all time upon its release. It seemed clear that Oscar love would follow.

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

Capping an amazing year which saw Steven Spielberg direct Jurassic Park over the summer, his Holocaust feature Schindler’s List became the undeniable front-runner at its end of year release. Winning all significant precursors, this was a shoo-in selection.

Now to the upsets. In my view, there were four very real ones and I had to leave one out. That would be 1995 when Braveheart emerged victorious over the favored Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility. Yet there’s 3 others that I feel top it.

3. Moonlight (2016)

La La Land appeared ready to pick up the gold after its filmmaker Damien Chazelle and lead actress Emma Stone had already won. And it looked like the script was being followed when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually announced the musical as Best Picture. Perhaps Oscar’s largest controversy followed as the wrong envelope was given and the Barry Jenkins effort Moonlight had actually won. Correct envelopes or not, the Moonlight victory was still unexpected given the La La momentum.

2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

All eyes were on Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan to win as Spielberg had already picked up his second statue for directing. Shakespeare rewrote that script and few saw it coming.

1. Crash (2005)

Here is perhaps the most surprising BP winner in history. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the strong favorite when the Paul Haggis race relations drama took it. Even presenter Jack Nicholson looked shocked when he read the envelope.

And now the fields. That’s a bit tough because just under a decade ago, the Academy switched from five finite nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine being the most common). For weakest, I’m going with 2011 when there were 9. While there’s some quality picks like The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life – I feel even some of them might have missed the cut in stronger years. And I think that certainly applies to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse.

For strongest, I will go with the aforementioned 1994. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank are indeed two of the most impressive cinematic contributions in recent times. Winner Gump and other nominees Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral filled out the slate.

And that does it, folks! Hope you enjoyed my look back at Best Picture in modern times.

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…