The most competitive category at the Oscars this year is Best Actress. It’s been this way since last fall. For several months, the race was defined as Emma Stone versus Natalie Portman. Back in November I wrote about their competition, and that despite Portman’s excellent work in Jackie, Stone has an edge because she’s an “Ingénue”, a young potential first-time winner with big eyes. The Academy loves Ingénues. But the Academy also loves Icons, and Portman isn’t quite at Icon status. (Her “persistent freaky baby quality” is arresting her at the Ingénue phase long after she should have moved to Icon status. If she does manage to bag her second Oscar, she will be forcibly propelled to Icon status and, hopefully, will drop some of that child-woman pretension.)
The race between Stone and Portman remains tight, though Stone has gotten a big boost from La La Land’s dragon horde of nominations this morning. And she’s also getting help from an unexpected quarter—Icon Isabelle Huppert, who snaked Portman at the Golden Globes. Huppert was nominated this morning (for Elle) alongside Portman and Stone, and Huppert has, arguably, the most momentum going into February. She’s an Icon, she’s already got one upset win, and she’s working the circuit, Letting It Be Known that she would like an Oscar, too.
I’m not counting Portman out—she knows how to hustle—but you can feel the momentum shifting away from Jackie. It only got three nominations, and only Portman’s is in a major category. Academy voters don’t see as many movies as you might think, and a lot of them tend to vote lock-step down the line. And this year, looking down the line, there’s an awful lot of La La Land to vote for, including that charming young Emma Stone, whom everyone likes. And if they don’t feel like voting for Stone—romantic performances don’t always get the most respect—then there is Isabelle Huppert, the Icon, who has been in so many good movies over the years and never really gotten the recognition she deserves in America. And in between is Natalie Portman, who already has an Oscar.
It’s going to be a tight race, and this is a strong group of performances. (Shout out to Ruth Negga in Loving—looking forward to her red carpet steeze for the next month.) SAG will be a good indicator this weekend, as Stone and Portman go head-to-head without the draw of Huppert between them. Stone can continue bolstering her momentum with a win, or Portman can pull her own campaign back to center stage if she takes it. But there is always Huppert, standing over their shoulders.
Here is Natalie Portman at the Women’s March on the weekend, Isabelle Huppert at the Critics’ Circle Film Awards, and Emma Stone being interviewed for This Morning.