Just when it seems like the Oscar race was starting to take shape, one awards ceremony goes and throws it all up in the air again.
After last week’s game-changing Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics Association had its shot at awards season king-making with their Critics Choice Awards. Regina King and Mahershala Ali were rubber-stamped as frontrunners (although King’s position is far from safe after critical SAG and BAFTA snubs), while Bohemian Rhapsody‘s post-Globes momentum was halted by Christian Bale and Roma. The night’s biggest surprise came in the Best Actress category, where The Wife’s Glenn Close tied with A Star is Born‘s Lady Gaga. Gaga was afforded the kind of headline-making acceptance speech that can re-ignite an awards campaign, and while the Critics Choice Awards don’t have the visibility of the Globes, the avalanche of glowing press coming out of the ceremony more than makes up for it.
The Best Actress tie at the Critics Choice Awards also gave us something we didn’t know we needed: Lady Gaga and Glenn Close being absolutely adorable and supportive of each other. Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter shared a video on Twitter of Close cheering enthusiastically as Willem Dafoe announced Gaga as the second winner. Images of Gaga and Close embracing and playfully posing for press pictures with their shared statuette have blanketed the Internet. Awards campaigns salivate at the opportunity to pit female actors against each other, so seeing these two competitors rebuke the trend makes for a powerful, poignant statement. It almost begs the question: wouldn’t it be great if the same thing happened on February 24th at the 91st Academy Awards? Assuming both women are nominated, what an indelible image Glenn Close and Lady Gaga would make, clutching their twin Oscars in triumph for their widely appreciated performances?
Absurd? Yes, but it is not without precedent. In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the last acting tie at the Oscars, in the Best Actress category no less. In 1969, the legendary Katharine Hepburn landed her third Oscar (second in a row) for her performance of Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter. She would share the award with Barbra Streisand and her film debut as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. The two actresses couldn’t have appeared more different. Streisand was a hugely popular singer (with multiple Grammys to her name) before making her successful switch to film, while Hepburn was an industry veteran and favorite in the midst of a cultural renaissance. Heading into the Oscars, Streisand and Hepburn had distinctly different narratives for distinctly different films, and the fact that they existed in two separate but equal bubbles allowed them both to miraculously succeed (for a deeper dive into the forces that led to Hepburn and Streisand’s historic tie, please watch Be Kind Rewind’s incredible video analyzing the 1969 race).
The parallels between then and now are striking, uncanny even. Like Streisand, Gaga is an established ingenue, a household name in the world of pop music who has shown genuine promise in the world of cinema. She appears to be keenly aware of her narrative’s power too, going out of her way to show deference to her experienced co-stars like Bradley “there can 100 people in a room” Cooper and Sam Elliott, and reverence for fellow actresses, as she did during The Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable. Gaga’s appreciation has helped make her the season’s darling, making the front pages with every red carpet appearance. It also doesn’t hurt that A Star is Born is the season’s biggest blockbuster, and its marquee song “Shallow” is Gaga’s biggest hit in years (and virtually guaranteed to win her an Oscar for Best Original Song). The Wife doesn’t have the same kind of industry or mainstream support, but it does have Glenn Close. A six-time Oscar nominee and creator of iconic performances in films such as Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, Close is a verified Hollywood legend who is long overdue for recognition from her peers. The overdue narrative is a powerful one, benefitting everyone from Al Pacino to Gary Oldman last year. However, Close has been highlighting, as she did so movingly during her Globes speech, the importance of achieving personal fulfillment as a woman. It’s a speech that Katharine Hepburn would’ve given herself, if she weren’t so diametrically opposed to awards season campaigning (fun fact: she never once accepted any of her four Oscars in person).
Like Streisand and Hepburn in 1969, Gaga and Close’s narratives are competing, but not in direct opposition to each other, both capable of garnering equal amounts of support. For voters looking to coronate a fresh, all-around talent of the zeitgeist, then Gaga is the choice, while Close appeals to a more traditional Oscar voter who awards careers as much as they do individual performances. It is as perfect a condition for a justifiable tie as you could have, and it couldn’t happen to a more likable duo. Unfortunately, with 8,000 voting Academy members, it is nigh impossible statistically for Lady Gaga and Glenn Close to receive the same number of votes to declare a tie. What it will ultimately come down is whose performance resonates the most, whose narrative connects the most, and cuts the most affable figure on the circuit. At this point, the smart money is on Glenn Close laying claim to her first Oscar next month. And yet, with the near carbon-copy circumstances, the too-good-to-be-true coincidences (Gaga being nominated for a role Streisand also played) and the irresistible need to see Gaga sob onstage collecting the biggest accolade of her career, it almost makes you yearn for simpler times when two equally compelling nominees could share the glory.
Then again, the La La Land-Moonlight debacle at the 2017 Oscars is proof that literally anything is possible.