14 Women To Watch This Oscar Season
From award season mainstays like Viola Davis and Olivia Colman to wild cards like Michelle Yeoh and Michelle Williams, Bustle breaks down the most notable women in the race to an Oscar nom.
Like many storied institutions, the Academy is both prestigious and slow to change. It took nine decades for the Academy Awards to recognize a female director, when Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for directing The Hurt Locker. Thankfully, progress has come at a quicker pace in the decade since (though still not quickly enough), with two other women taking home the Oscar for Best Director in the 2020s — Chloé Zhao in 2021 for Nomadland, and Jane Campion in 2022 for Power of the Dog.
When the next Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 24, 2023, there will be plenty more opportunities for women to make history. The odds that several women, including Sarah Polley and Gina Prince-Bythewood, are in contention for Best Director this year are promising, giving women the potential to three-peat at the March 12 ceremony. Other historic moments may be on the horizon, too: If Michelle Yeoh is nominated for Everything Everywhere All at Once, she’ll be the first Malaysian nominee; if Viola Davis is nominated for The Woman King, she’ll extend her record as the most-nominated Black actress in Oscar history.
While what unfolds on Oscar night is often unpredictable, we’re here to help make sense of the lead-up to the biggest night in cinema. Below, our guide to the women to watch — from the mainstays on the Oscar circuit to the wild cards that just might shake things up.
Frances McDormand, Women Talking
McDormand is no stranger to taking home an Oscar, previously winning four times over the course of 24 years for Fargo; Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing, Missouri; and Nomadland (for both producing and directing). In Women Talking, she serves as a producer and plays a brief role as Scarface Janz, who discovers she can’t leave the abusive Mennonite colony she lives in. Though the role is slight, McDormand is a favorite of the Academy; even if she doesn’t get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, the fact that she’s also a producer means she would take home a statue should Women Talking win Best Picture. And with critics talking, that’s certainly a possibility.
See Women Talking in theaters on Dec. 2.
Olivia Colman, Empire of Light
Director Sam Mendes wrote Empire of Light with Colman in mind. The one-time Oscar winner and three-time Oscar nominee who won for The Favourite plays Hilary, a deputy manager of a movie theater in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. The movie serves as an elegy to theaters, an escape from the harsh realities of the time, tackling themes like interracial love, racism, mental health, and infidelity. Despite the lukewarm reviews critics have given the film for its confusing plot, Variety lauded Colman’s performance as a career best, while Deadline called her “an actor who can instantly express more with one facial expression than 120 pages of dialogue ever could.” She’s certainly a safe choice for a Best Actress nom, if not exactly a shoo-in.
Empire of Light premieres on Dec. 9.
Regina King, Shirley
King previously won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for If Beale Street Could Talk. In her latest project Shirley, which she also produced, she portrays Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman and the first Black woman to run for president. A biopic is catnip for the Academy, and especially considering her directorial debut One Night In Miami... did not get her any Oscar noms, perhaps some justice for Regina is on the way? Ultimately, it will depend if the film hits theaters in time to be eligible.
Cate Blanchett, TÁR
Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who previously won for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine, could very well net herself a third golden statue for her role in TÁR, writer-director Todd Fields’ portrait of a charismatic yet complex conductor whose personal life unravels at the height of her career. Fields wrote the role of Lydia Tár with Blanchett in mind, going so far as to say the film would never have been made had she not agreed to star. Reviews of her performance so far have been raves, with The Guardian calling her “utterly magnetic.”
TÁR hits theaters on Oct. 7.
Viola Davis, The Woman King
At this point, Viola Davis’ name is practically synonymous with awards season. Though she’s only won once — for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Fences in 2017 — she’s been nominated for performances in Doubt, The Help, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. To play the formidable warrior General Nanisca in The Woman King, Davis trained five hours a day for three months, and the Academy loves to recognize a physical transformation (see: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, and Christian Bale in The Fighter).
Davis’ performance, according to critics, shows off far more than just her physical preparation. “Davis truly gets to flex the full range of her acting chops,” The Wrap wrote in its review of the film. “A performance of this caliber is rare in what’s essentially an action flick.”
The Woman King premiered on Sept. 16.
Naomi Ackie, I Wanna Dance with Somebody
Despite Twitter’s mixed reactions to the trailer of this Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is exactly the kind of splashy project that could get Naomi Ackie noticed by a wider audience. Known for roles in The End of the F***ing World and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Ackie gamely embodies Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which chronicles the legendary singer’s rise to fame and the heartbreak and tragedy she experienced along the way. Though Ackie doesn’t sing in the movie, that doesn’t preclude her from taking home an Oscar — Rami Malek famously lip-synched as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and still won without it being much of a talking point.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody premieres on Dec. 21.
Carey Mulligan, She Said
Adapted from the book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, this film follows Megan Twohey (Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), the New York Times reporters who exposed the wrongdoings of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Their work helped launch the #MeToo Movement, and the reporters won Pulitzer Prizes for their investigations. It’s hefty and award-worthy material, which should make it easy for Mulligan’s performance to cut through the noise. That said, her performance in Promising Young Woman was snubbed by the Academy. With She Said, could this be Mulligan’s year?
She Said premieres on Nov. 18.
Sheila Atim, The Woman King
If the buzz and momentum around The Woman King continues, Academy voters could be inclined to recognize a breakout talent in the crowd-pleasing action film in the Best Supporting Actress category. Reviews of Atim’s performance as Amenza have singled her out as one to watch, with RogerEbert.com praising her stellar performance as “measured, aware, and giving.”
The Woman King premiered on Sept. 16.
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
After four nominations (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, and Manchester by the Sea), Michelle Williams is overdue for a win. As Mitzi Fabelman, a role said to be inspired by director Steven Spielberg’s mother, Entertainment Weekly says Williams “gives such a fine-grained and devastating performance as a fierce, fragile woman whose own thwarted dreams have landed her in a life she doesn't recognize.”
The Fabelmans premieres on Nov. 11.
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Although Everything Everywhere All at Once came out in March — hardly a typical release date for Oscar fare — Yeoh’s performance has gained enough buzz and continued support in recent months that it’s possible she could edge into the Best Actress conversation. A nomination would certainly be deserving: Yeoh’s role as Chinese immigrant Evelyn Wang is really multiple roles, as her character gets sucked into a portal that transports her into alternate dimensions where Evelyn is everything from a hibachi chef to a glamorous movie star. “Her facility to switch between comedy and martial arts and then real emotion,” Yeoh’s co-star Jamie Lee Curtis told Town & Country, “I challenge anybody to come up with a better performance.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once is available to rent on Prime Video.
Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King
Prince-Bythewood’s latest film, which tells the story of the Agojie tribe of women who train and fight amid clashes over slave trading in West Africa, has earned rave reviews so far not just for its performances, but for the woman at the helm of it all. “The way it all grapples with history is subsequently clear-eyed, making some closing statements feel especially resonant,” Collider says. “It is a film that ensures there is no denying Prince-Bythewood’s dedication as a director and visual artist who can take on any cinematic challenge with ease.”
The Woman King premiered on Sept. 16.
Sarah Polley, Women Talking
Writer-director Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name features a murderer’s row of talent and tells the moving story of a Mennonite colony as they confer about their shared abuses and resilience. It’s a “wrenching drama about freedom, faith, abuse, autonomy, responsibility, and survival, all of which it tackles with patience and poignancy,” according to The Daily Beast. While Polley’s odds of a directing nod are favorable as of now, she could also very well snag a nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. If she were to win there, it would mark the first time the category had back-to-back female winners.
See Women Talking in theaters starting Dec. 2.
Ana de Armas, Blonde
While the reviews of Andrew Dominik’s woozy adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Blonde have been mixed at best, a biopic’s dubious quality has hardly stopped a star from snagging a nomination for performing in it. Such could be the case with Ana de Armas’ uncanny turn as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. She certainly put in the work, spending nine months training with a dialect coach to perfect Monroe’s tone. “The breathy gasps, the eyes that widen in pleading or panic, the fleeting frowns of perplexity, the million-watt beam: pretty much everything in de Armas’s performance hits the Marilyn mark. She’s so real it’s unreal,” The New Yorker says.
Blonde premiered on Netflix on Sept. 28.
Florence Pugh, Don’t Worry Darling
Don’t Worry Darling’s buzz has largely been the controversial kind, more related to offscreen drama than what actually happens in Olivia Wilde’s Stepford Wives-esque cautionary tale. But although critics have largely panned the film as a whole, Florence Pugh’s performance as Alice still stands out. “None of Darling works at all without such a committed performance from Pugh,” Collider says. “She brings it her all like she’s in an old-fashioned Hitchcockian thriller.” Don’t Worry Darling isn’t the only film Pugh has out this award season: her performance in the Irish period drama The Wonder, out on Netflix Nov. 16, is already earning raves. Whether these performances will solidify her as a double-Oscar nominee this year remains to be seen.
Don’t Worry Darling premiered on Sept. 23.