Who Will Win Best Actress at the 2022 Oscars?

Kristen Stewart leads a race that also includes Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman, and Penélope Cruz.


With this year’s Oscar forecast coming into focus, the Best Actress race finally has some clarity. But just some. This is a field heavy on biopic performances, and while there’s no definitive front-runner just yet, one person does seem to have an edge on the crowded competition. Let’s break down the top contenders as they currently stand before the Oscars nominations are announced on February 8.

The front-runner: Kristen Stewart, Spencer

For Oscar voters, biopics are an easy shortcut. The acting is tangible; they can judge it against what they know about the real person being portrayed. Indeed, almost half of the lead-acting prizes in the last 30 years have gone to biopic performances. That alone boosts Kristen Stewart’s odds, despite the fact that Spencer isn’t your typical biopic. Playing a psychologically wounded Princess Diana during the British royal family’s 1991 Christmas celebrations, Stewart submits career-defining work, proving once and for all that she has graduated from Twilight superstar to indie empress. Even folks who don’t care for director Pablo Larraín’s arty freakout of a movie can’t deny the depth of Stewart’s transformation.

Likely challengers:

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain does a decadent Tammy Faye Bakker, the wealthy Christian televangelist whose husband went to federal prison for fraud. The Eyes of Tammy Faye suffered sleepy box-office returns and tepid reviews from critics, but her high-pitched, mildly manic performance is the indisputable highlight.

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Can Olivia Colman win Best Actress twice in only three years? It would be a rare feat but not an impossible one. Widely considered one of the greatest actors working today, Colman simmers and stews in The Lost Daughter, giving a far more internalized performance than the ones we saw in The Favourite and Fleabag. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is an arty Elena Ferrante adaptation that may or may not align with the Academy’s tastes, but Colman seems poised to earn the film’s sole acting nod.

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Penélope Cruz’s first Oscar nomination was for 2006’s Volver, another of her seven (and counting) collaborations with beloved Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. In Parallel Mothers, she plays a photographer who unexpectedly becomes pregnant at age 40, only for the hospital to mix up her baby with that of another woman. Mothers hews to the conventions of melodrama-an Almodóvarian signature-but Cruz embodies a master class in understatement. Hers is one of the few performances in this race that isn’t based on previous source material, so her nomination will depend on whether she can break through the clutter of more familiar movies.

Lady Gaga, House of Gucci

House of Gucci may lack the luster expected from a decadent crime saga about one of the world’s biggest fashion brands, but no one would dare call Lady Gaga, aka Italian American Stefani Germanotta, bland. As headstrong upstart Patrizia Reggiani, Gaga dons a chewy Italian-ish accent in a performance that’s worlds away from her Oscar-nominated A Star Is Born breakthrough. She won the New York Film Critics Circle’s best-actress citation last week, which could be the first award of many to come.

Jennifer Hudson, Respect

Respect drowns in pop-biopic clichés, but it gives Jennifer Hudson her strongest shot at awards recognition since she won the Oscar for Dreamgirls in 2007. Remember: Voters love when famous people portray famous people, and Hudson’s Aretha Franklin is an effective ode to the OG diva.

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Hollywood’s favorite topic is Hollywood, one of multiple reasons Being the Ricardos could make a big showing when the Oscars roll around. It’s also a crowdpleaser directed by four-time nominee Aaron Sorkin and features a Nicole Kidman performance whose verisimilitude (or lack thereof) has already sparked internet debate. Kidman doesn’t try to look or sound exactly like Lucille Ball, which gives her performance breathing room that some biopics lack. It’s been almost two decades since she won for The Hours, and this accolade could double as an acknowledgement of the unimpeachable career she has built for herself.

Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Joel Coen’s sparse black-and-white Macbeth adaptation feels at once theatrical and cinematic, a hybrid that will invigorate some people and alienate others. Because Frances McDormand just won for her Nomadland performance, it’s hard to see her prevailing again. But she’s playing Lady Macbeth, one of the all-time great roles, so don’t discount her.

Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

West Side Story was one of the final movies to screen for press this year, and the rapturous responses signal that it could bulldoze presumed Best Picture front-runners like Belfast, King Richard, and The Power of the Dog. Rachel Zegler’s star-making turn as Maria recently nabbed her the National Board of Review’s actress citation, so maybe she’ll score the nomination that eluded Natalie Wood when she originated the role on-screen in 1961.

Long shots

Several other women could sneak up in the coming months. Halle Berry, who hasn’t been nominated since her win for Monster’s Ball, plays a disgraced MMA fighter in Bruised, her directorial debut. First-time actor Alana Haim, best known as one-third of the sister rock trio Haim, lights up the screen as an aimless Los Angeles 20-something in Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age romp Licorice Pizza. Emilia Jones also gives a great coming-of-age performance as the hearing child of deaf parents in Apple TV+’s charming tearjerker CODA. Jennifer Lawrence makes a comeback of sorts in the Adam McKay misinformation satire Don’t Look Up, though it’s Leonardo DiCaprio who steals the show. Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve gives one of the year’s most ravishing performances in the romantic dramedy The Worst Person in the World. And in Passing, an elegant Tessa Thompson helps to anchor a complex period piece about racial identity.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Matthew Jacobs is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tarantallegra.


With One Orgy, 'Queer as Folk' Sets a New TV Standard

Peacock's reboot of the gay drama is finally giving queer disabled people some of the representation they've been seeking on television.


Everything is ready for the orgy. The snacks and drinks are prepared, the disco ball is hanging, and there are mechanical lifts to help people in and out of their wheelchairs. As a few guests mingle and a go-go dancer gyrates, Marvin (played by Eric Graise) rolls onto the stage in his wheelchair to act as emcee. With the help of a sign-language interpreter, he kicks things off by announcing, “I know you’re all dying to tear each other’s clothes off, or to have your attendants take them off for you.” This is no ordinary orgy; it’s “#F*CK Disabled People,” the titular orgy from Episode 4 of Queer as Folk.

The Queer as Folk reboot, released this month on Peacock, is already far more diverse than the versions of the show that came before it: more racially diverse, more body types, more genders, and multiple disabled actors in key roles. Episode 4 pushes the envelope beyond almost anything seen on network TV. It’s the kind of representation that disabled viewers-and actors-have been dreaming about, centring on a queer disabled orgy and one stunningly beautiful sex scene.

Ryan O’Connell, who both co-writes and acts in the series, recognized the reboot’s potential when it came to better representing the lives of queer disabled people like himself. Key to this was sharing the screen with multiple disabled actors, including recurring appearances by Graise. Marvin’s presence had already sold O’Connell on the show when he began meeting with series developer Stephen Dunn, who had previously directed the coming-of-age movie Closet Monster. “He was like, ‘I also want you to star in it too,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, you want two disabled people?'” says O’Connell.

O’Connell grew up enjoying the sexy, soapy escapades of the American Queer as Folk, Showtime’s five-season adaptation of the British series of the same name. Amid widespread bigotry and the AIDS epidemic, the two popular shows offered a rare picture of happy gay life. But O’Connell longed for a reflection of himself on the screen. That impulse eventually led him to create Special, the Netflix sitcom about a gay man with cerebral palsy seeking love, sex, and friendship. Queer as Folk gives him another special opportunity: to tell sexy, soapy, positive LGBTQIA+ stories with an ensemble cast wherein he wouldn’t be the only disabled character. “I was so shocked in a way that was truly depressing, but it’s so rare as disabled people that we get any kind of inclusion whatsoever, let alone that there’s two of us,” O’Connell says. “Immediately, writing for the reboot, I felt a sense of ease.”For Graise, working on a show written by O’Connell was a “dream come true.” He continues, “I’d always said there needs to be a disabled person in the writers’ room, but I had no idea how significant it would be and how much it meant to me. And even Stephen Dunn has a disabled friend who Marvin is very much inspired by.”

Marvin is outgoing, even wild in his energy. When we meet him at a bar in the first episode of the series, he acts like he owns the place, flirting and serving up wicked verbal jabs with equal ease. Before we get to know him better, O’Connell’s shy, sheltered Julian Beaumont seems to fade into the background by comparison. Initially, he serves mostly as a foil to his more outgoing older brother, Brodie (Devin Way), who, in many ways, is the chaotic core around which the rest of the ensemble orbits. During the first three episodes, the brothers, along with Brodie’s on-again, off-again lover Noah (Johnny Sibilly), convert their shared New Orleans home into the epic party house known as “Ghost Fag.” It’s Ghost Fag that attracts Marvin, in the fourth episode, with the idea of hosting a queer disabled orgy. We don’t learn as much about Marvin’s background, but it’s clear he’s made himself a cornerstone of the LGBTQIA+ community despite the everyday ableism he faces.

Beyond the surface differences, Julian and Marvin couldn’t be more divergent. In addition to their differing disabilities (Marvin, like Graise, is a double amputee), they come from disparate economic classes and have radically contrasting outlooks on life. Julian protects his vulnerability with an introverted lifestyle and a carefully cultivated routine, while Marvin hides his behind a boisterous exterior. Just like real life, not all members of a marginalized group get along, or even have very much in common.

“I don’t ever try to feel the burden of representation because there’s no point-you have to write from a place of truth,” says O’Connell, who wrote Episode 4 with Alyssa Taylor. “It was really fun creatively to have these two disabled characters who are so wildly different from each other in how they conduct themselves in their relationship to disability and to sex and all those things, but also I think in Episode 4 it was really interesting to show their commonalities.”


Both Marvin and Julian get laid over the course of the episode, but even before their clothes come off, the orgy scene fills the screen with something seldom seen on TV: disabled people in all their sexual glory. The scenario was inspired by a 2015 disabled sex party co-hosted in Toronto by Andrew Gurza, the show’s disability awareness consultant. After Gurza joined QaF, he mentioned the party in the writers’ room. “Mine was a lot more tame than this should be,” Gurza recalls telling them. “I’d like this to be a lot racier.”

Gurza even appears in a sex scene during the episode. “Being together on the show was an amazing moment,” says O’Connell, who cites Gurza as one of his inspirations. “He’s so honest and demands that his voice be heard and makes no apologies for that, and I try to do the same.”

As the orgy continues, both characters hook up with sex workers. It’s clear the actors and creators wanted to affirm that sex work is work. “It’s incredibly difficult work, not only the physical labour but the emotional space you have to hold for somebody to make them feel seen and heard and not judged. It makes me happy to showcase their work in a more positive light,” O’Connell notes.

Sachin Bhatt, who plays Ali, the sex worker hired by Marvin, agrees. He adds that his role is an all-too-rare example of a Southeast Asian man being sexual on-screen. “Anyone who’s not a cisgender, white male has many more mountains to climb,” Bhatt says. “So for me it was really exciting to play this sex worker because they wouldn’t typically cast an Indian for this role.”


While their relationship is transactional to begin with, Ali is respectful, playful, and caring throughout his interactions with Marvin. However, his feelings for his client intensify during Episode 4 as the pair connect alone in a room at Ghost Fag. “We bonded instantly,” Bhatt recalls of Graise. “It was very important to both of us that we get the intimacy and the vulnerability right.”

For Graise, who also appeared on Netflix’s Locke & Key, that actorly connection made the sequence what it is. “We spent a lot of time kiki’ing off-set and discussing what we wanted out of this scene for both of us. The scene wasn’t just about me. It’s also Ali exploring Marvin’s body in a way that he’s never explored with anyone before, and his insecurities and trepidations about interacting with a disabled body.”

Unlike previous interactions shown between them, Ali asks to top Marvin this time-and to interact with his body in new ways. “Can I touch your legs?” Ali asks. This was influenced by Graise’s own life, as someone he dated for three years realized he’d never touched Graise’s legs. After some tender caressing, Marvin wraps his thighs around Ali and they make love. Graise’s background as a dancer is evident in his elegant movement throughout the scene, which contrasts with some of the polished, more “Hollywood”-style sequences that appear elsewhere in the series.

“Sachin and Eric really fucking landed that plane,” O’Connell says. “It was everything I want in a sex scene, which is that it was vulnerable, it was tender, it was awkward, and it was sexy.”Beyond the new Queer As Folk, it’s rare for media to let disabled people be either queer or sexy. O’Connell cited a few other examples, such as Jillian Mercado’s role in The L Word: Generation Q or the work of playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad, but it’s sparse overall. With one episode, Queer as Folk has set a high bar for other shows to follow, and the series as a whole demonstrates how disabled actors can portray real, complex, and flawed human beings.

“A cognitive dissonance happens when we watch things on our TV screens, where, all of a sudden, we want things to be simplified,” O’Connell says. “Isn’t it art’s job to reflect humanity accurately?

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Kit O’Connell is the Digital Editor at the Texas Observer, and lives in Austin, Texas with their spouse and two cats. Follow them @KitOConnell.


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