Ranking the Best Actress Oscar Winners of the 2020s

I know, there aren’t a lot of contenders to rank right now. But there’s nothing wrong with getting ready, right? I’ll keep adding the winners of the Academy Award for Best Actress as they happen and we’ll see what this list looks like by the end of the decade. If you would rather browse completed lists in the meantime, feel free to do so.

First, some notes on how I do this. I will comment on whether or not a win was deserved but worthiness alone cannot impact the ranking. Also, please note that for me, these are fluid lists. As I revisit and rethink the winners, I may decide to move rankings around. My list, my rules.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

1. Frances McDormand, Nomadland (2020)

Best Actress has become on of the best categories in any given Oscar year if you ask me. At no time was this more true than 2020, when there was no frontrunner and any one of the nominees could have easily emerged as the winner. Only one nominee, Vanessa Kirby, got through award season without a major televised award. Even so, all five were easily worthy winners. You could argue that McDormand, who had won her second Oscar a mere three years earlier, got the edge on her competition because she starred in that year’s clear Best Picture winner, Nomadland, which she also produced.

Interestingly, McDormand’s second and third Oscars were for performances that deal with grief, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Three Billboards, which I called a Garbage Movie, is about grief that expresses as rage. Nomadland is much quieter. In it, McDormand settles into life in a van-dwelling community of nomads after losing her husband, her job, and her home in quick succession in the economic collapse of 2008. As she weaves from location to location and job to job, McDormand imbues the film with a natural curiosity and kindness. It’s a master class in subtlety–the kind of performance that doesn’t always catch the Academy’s attention but deserves all the recognition it gets.

Should have won in 2020: Even though I would have been happy with any of the nominees winning, McDormand was and is my choice. Here’s how I made up my mind after a lot of thought: McDormand’s performance is absolutely essential to make Nomadland work. It wouldn’t be anywhere near the movie it is without her delicate, empathetic work.

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