All the 2024 Best Actress Oscar nominees, ranked

A woman bows her head in court in Anatomy of a Fall.

The 2024 Oscars are here, and it’s not too hard to predict who will emerge victorious next Sunday. Oppenheimer is poised to sweep the ceremony, with projected wins for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Barbie, meanwhile, will win Best Song, while Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will likely snag Best Animated Feature.

There’s one category, however, that remains a bit of a toss-up. This year’s Best Actress race has five intriguing nominees, and while I won’t predict who will win, I will list who deserves to win, from least to most, and explain why their performances either failed to move me or still keep me thinking about them months after I’ve watched them.

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5. Carey Mulligan, Maestro

Maestro | Certain Type | Official Clip | Netflix

Last fall, the film festival circuit was abuzz with talk surrounding Carey Mulligan’s performance in Maestro. The movie, while ostensibly about famed composer Leonard Bernstein, was really about Bernstein’s marriage to Felicia Montealegre, who wasn’t famous for anything besides being married to somebody famous. It was Mulligan, the award prognosticators claimed, and not her co-star Bradley Cooper, who gave the best performance in the movie and a frontrunner for Best Actress.

Oh, how wrong they were. Mulligan, an actress who always seems miscast in any role she’s in, is grating and almost unbearable in Maestro, playing a boring character who is supposed to be interesting and focusing more on Felicia’s ridiculous accent than imbuing her with any kind of inner life. It’s a classic “suffering wife” role that isn’t performed with the intensity or originality of others like it. Just look at what Marcia Gay Harden did in 2000’s Pollock, and you can see just how bad Mulligan’s performance is in Maestro.

4. Annette Bening, Nyad

There’s nothing wrong with Annette Bening’s work in the Netflix original movie Nyad. As Diana Nyad, the real-life swimmer who attempts to be the first person to swim non-stop from Cuba to Florida, she’s appropriately spunky and, yes, feisty, and shows a commitment that has become a trademark of the actress, particularly in her work in the last two decades in such films as The Kids are All Right.

Her performance doesn’t rank higher here because it’s an easy role for Oscar to embrace, and a hard one to really love. Nyad is a, pardon the pun, dry biopic that goes through the motions, and the movie, and Bening’s can-do, relentlessly aggressive Diana, ultimately gets a little tiring toward the end. Ultimately, I admired her performance more than I actually liked it, and that’s why she’s not at the top of this list.

3. Emma Stone, Poor Things

POOR THINGS Clip - "Seems Low" (2023) Emma Stone

One of the most praised performances in years, male and female, has to be Emma Stone’s in Poor Things. As Bella Baxter, Stone has a field day portraying a feminist variant of the Bride of Frankenstein, a creature made from God (not the deity, but Willem Dafoe’s character) who starts off with the body of a grown woman and the brain of a newborn. Throughout the movie, Bella learns about the world around her, and gets to experience everything — sex, love, social injustice, gender role liberation — within just a few years.

I can see why critics fell hard for Stone in Poor Things, but I’m not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, she’s very good, but at no point did her performance, and the film as a whole, surprise me. Bella’s character arc seemed relatively straightforward, and I don’t think it’s that hard to act like an overgrown child, which Stone does for the first half of the movie. When you stack Poor Things against some of the other nominees or even Stone’s past nominated work in La La Land and Birdman, it pales in comparison and doesn’t justify the Academy giving Stone a second Oscar in less than a decade.

2. Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon

Now, here’s a performance that will be remembered for quite some time, award or no award. Despite just an hour of screen time in the three-and-a-half-hour Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily Gladstone completely dominates the entire movie. Her Mollie is quiet yet forceful; even when she’s not in control of the situation, she’s still in control of herself and doesn’t waver in remaining true to her beliefs or her people.

As Killers of the Flower Moon’s tragedy unfolds, so too does Gladstone’s performance gain power. Her final moments with Leonardo DiCaprio’s sad, defeated Ernest are the film’s best, as years of love, heartbreak, and betrayal are expertly communicated by Gladstone with a few glances and even fewer words. If there’s one drawback, it’s that the movie splits its focus too much. In telling two dual narratives — one focusing on Mollie, the other on the more encompassing story about the repression and massacre of the Osage Nation — Scorsese can’t give proper weight to either one of them and Gladstone’s performance, through no fault of her own, felt incomplete, a detailed sketch rather than a fully-realized portrait.

1. Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall - Official Clip - You Are Not A Victim

It’s not that Sandra Voyter, the main protagonist of Justine Triet’s drama Anatomy of a Fall, is unlikeable; it’s that she doesn’t care or ask to be liked, not from her husband, not from the jury that’s determining her fate, and certainly not the viewer. This is due to a combination of things: the smart script, which never simplifies what’s eventually revealed to be a complex marriage; the precise direction, which lets the narrative flow at a deliberate pace; and most of all, the lead performance by Sandra Hüller, who pulls off the tricky feat of exposing all of her character’s emotions while also keeping her maddeningly aloof.

Did Sandra Voyter kill her husband? By the movie’s end, that question becomes irrelevant, or at least it should be. In its place is an even more urgent question: why does it matter if Sandra was a good wife in determining her guilt or innocence? In one bravura scene, one that’s already made the rounds on Twitter and is sure to be used as a reference to how great movie acting was in 2023, we see Hüller expose all of Sandra’s anger, frustration, and rage at being trapped in a marriage she no longer desires. Whether that makes her guilty or innocent isn’t up to us or the movie’s jury to decide; only Sandra knows, both the character and the actress, and it’s a measure of just how great Huller is in Anatomy of a Fall that I keep coming back to her, wanting to know more.