‘Promising Young Woman’ would end a 22-year drought with this Oscar combo
Everyone knows about how the Best Picture and Best Actress Oscars haven’t gone to the same film since “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), but Best Actress has a longer drought with another major category: A film hasn’t won Best Actress and a writing Oscar in 22 years. That could end on Sunday if our odds prove to be correct. “Promising Young Woman” is the overwhelming favorite to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Emerald Fennell and despite an anything-but-dominant season, Carey Mulligan remains in the No. 1 spot to take Best Actress.
Should they both prevail, “Promising Young Woman” would be the first film since “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), which also scored Best Picture, to claim actress and a writing prize. Since then, there have been numerous Best Actress-winning films nominated in either screenplay category, but all failed to win for their scripts. Two years ago, “The Favourite” (2018) lost the award it was expected to win, Best Original Screenplay, and won Best Actress in an upset for Olivia Colman. When Hilary Swank nabbed her second Best Actress Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby,” the boxing drama lost Best Adapted Screenplay to “Sideways.”
The 22-year dry spell between actress and writing is the longest in the history of the Oscars, which have given out writing awards (under various category names) since the first ceremony. It’s also pretty damning since there are two writing categories, meaning double the chances for a writing award to match with actress — but that’s provided that the actress is nominated, of course, and that there is a lead actress in the winning script in the first place. It should come as no shock that most screenplay nominees and winners feature male protagonists. Not counting ensemble pieces like “Parasite” (2019) and “Spotlight” (2015), the last film with a female protagonist to win either writing Oscar was “Precious” (2009), which took Best Adapted Screenplay in a major upset over “Up in the Air.”
SEE 5 reasons why Carey Mulligan is still on track to win the Best Actress Oscar
However, there hasn’t always been this much distance between the actress and writing categories. In the ’80s and ’90s, there were five instances each of a film winning Best Actress and a screenplay award. It happened four years in a row in the ’70s. Outside of the big fat zeroes in the ’00s and ’10s, the lowest correlation was in the ’40s, when only Best Picture champ “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) did so for star Greer Garson and in adapted.
Of the two categories, Best Original Screenplay is “Promising Young Woman’s” safest bet as Fennell has already collected the Writers Guild of America Award and the BAFTA. She’d be the first first female screenwriter to win since Diablo Cody garnered Best Original Screenplay for “Juno” (2007). Mulligan’s on shakier ground with the Best Actress race being in complete disarray and the four precursors going to four different people, including her at the Critics Choice Awards. But “Promising Young Woman,” with its bids in key categories, including Best Picture, is the second strongest film in the Best Actress field behind “Nomadland,” which could also break this actress/writing drought. Chloe Zhao‘s script is still in first in Best Adapted Screenplay, but “The Father” is giving chase on the heels of its BAFTA victory, while BAFTA champ Frances McDormand is in fourth place in Best Actress. It’d be her third Best Actress Oscar, her first being for “Fargo” (1996), which also won Best Original Screenplay for her husband Joel Coen and brother-in-law Ethan Coen.
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