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FYC: Thomasin McKenzie in "Leave No Trace" for Best Actress

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

A good number of pundits agree that Thomasin McKenzie has an outside shot at scoring a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as a teenage girl living on the outskirts of civilization with her father in the critically-acclaimed Leave No Trace. I’d like to posit a different theory – that she may end up as a surprise nominee for Best Actress.

Now, I don’t think this is likely, but I’d be ecstatic if it happened. Nathaniel is very big on calling out category fraud when he sees it, and there’s more than enough of that to go around this year. It’s actually just as puzzling to see McKenzie called a supporting actress as it is to see her costar Ben Foster classified as a supporting actor. They’re both leads, sharing screen time and the focus of the narrative...

The Best Actress competition this year seems to have four safe contenders, with Melissa McCarthy solidifying her chances after a rough start earlier this awards season to join Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga, and Glenn Close. For the fifth slot, it’s anybody’s guess. Emily Blunt might seem strongest, but what about Toni Collette, Nicole Kidman, Elsie Fisher, or Yalitza Aparicio? They will all garner votes but how many?

We know McKenzie’s performance is respected. She’s been nominated already for breakthrough prizes and in youth performance categories. She’s contending as a supporting actress at the Independent Spirit Awards and with other groups. A few bodies – the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, the Dublin Film Critics Circle, and the Seattle International Film Festival – have classified her as a lead actress where she belongs.

When I saw the film at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and McKenzie walked out on stage with the cast and crew, I did not expect her to share that she was from New Zealand. The 18-year-old Wellington native puts on an impeccable American accent, and like Damian Lewis when he accepted the Emmy for Homeland back in 2012, she seemed to know that most watching her wouldn’t be aware that she hailed from somewhere other than the United States.

Thirteen years ago, Keisha Castle-Hughes, star of Whale Rider, a drama about native Maori culture in New Zealand, earned a SAG nomination for Best Supporting Actress after a similar trajectory of breakthrough prizes. When the Oscar slate was announced, hers was among the names called for Best Actress, an impressive promotion (to the category in which she always belonged) for the-then-13-year-old actress.

That 2003 Oscar season had the distinction of delivering one of the most unexpected lineups before crowning the most predictable winners in many years. It’s worth noting that the Best Actress list only preserved two of ten (!) Golden Globe nominees and three out of five of SAG’S choices, while Blunt and the four frontrunning nominees this year have all been cited by the Globes, SAG, and the BFCA, indicating considerably more accord.

That said, Leave No Trace is quietly building momentum, something that Whale Rider never did aside from Castle-Hughes’ performance. Both films come from female directors, and Debra Granik seems like the woman with the strongest shot to crack the Best Director field at this point.

McKenzie would definitely be classified as a dark horse for a nomination of any kind, but the last time a young actress from New Zealand had some degree of awards buzz, she ended up becoming the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee (until Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated in 2012). Statistics don’t mean everything, but history might repeat itself, and any Oscar voters looking for a truly standout lead performance should look no further than McKenzie.

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Reader Comments (14)

She is so good in this movie. I hope hope hope that Toni Collette gets the 5th spot but if it’s Thomasin I won’t be too disappointed :).

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

Fisher is terrific in Eight Grade, rising above the material.

But it's hard to understand how anyone could take her over McKenzie, who is well above Foster in this film. He's great in the movie, but she's magic. She gives a top 5 performance, but I'm more upset about her hoing supporting, and her just being generally overlooked.

Funny about all these womens directing. 4 of my current 5 are women. Would be nice to see The Rider recognized there. Also, Potter for The Party (Clarkson would take my Best Supporting Actress Oscar).

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Saw Leave No Trace yesterday and liked it.

I do feel like the character development was slightly undercooked, especially Ben Foster's character.

McKenzie is wonderful as Tom, but no (not having watched Destroyer, A Private War, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) the 5th slot needs to go to Toni Collette.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

"with Melissa McCarthy solidifying her chances after a rough start earlier this awards season to join Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga, and Glenn Close."

who would have ever thought this sentence would be spoken! overall great give or take Gaga. Also rooting for Collette but Thomasin would be a cool surprise.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

She's wonderful in the film and would definitely be in my top 5 for Best Actress, along with Elsie Fisher.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterER

At least BETTER than VICE, GREEN BOOK, THE FAVOURITE and a handful of others contenders.

Thomasin McKenzie is great, but Granik will be the one robbed here.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

nope, Leave No Trace is not a better movie than The Favourite

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

She is INCREDIBLE. Such a shame to see her prodigious performance get stupidly pigeonholed into category fraud outrage. She's on my ballot. I pray that some voters (writers branch? maybe directors?) recognize this amazing film.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Silkwood

That 5th slot is still up for grabs and her film is peaking now when it matters,if Stone was in the right category she'd have more chance but this year is unpredictible.

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

It's exciting to see who gets the fifth slot.

I pray that it's TONI COLLETTE!!! But Viola surprisingly got a big boost from the BAFTAs.

If not Toni, I'd love to see Elsie Fisher nominated, but I know that's highly unlikely.

I haven't seen Leave No Trace yet though...

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Keisha Castle Hughes scored a nomination in 2004 under similar conditions. Who knows? It would be interesting and surprising to see Thomasin nominated for her performance in 'Leave No Trace.'

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuigi De Angelis

I salute your FYC for McKenzie, even as an answer to this season's category frauds. I'm just a little sorry that almost EVERYBODY thinks that Blunt is going to miss and the fifth spot will be filled by someone else

January 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Thomasin will be nominated for best actress along Toni Collette or Charlize Théron or Yalitizia Aparicio.

Gaga will be snubbed.

Glenn + Olivia + Melissa + Thomasin + Charlize (my dream!) / Toni / Yalitzia will be the nominees.

I have to say that Glenn, Yalitzia and Thomasin, The Favourite Trio and Charlize are my Favourite performances of the year so far. Have to see Carey, Tilda and Melissa. What a great year for female performances we have being blessed!

January 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSoshua

She was really good. I wish they would've cast someone other than Foster (whom I've enjoyed a lot onscreen, just not in this movie).

January 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

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