Sunday, June 23, 2024

Chasing the Gold: Zendaya Becomes Major Best Actress Challenger

The film landscape has changed so much in recent years that a film and a performance, with the right narrative, can be a contender long into award season. Voters seem to have much longer memories now. They have been ignoring films that attempt a final push in the last weeks of December for the films they’ve loved all year. Everything Everywhere All at Once was released in March of 2022, yet nearly a year later, Michelle Yeoh strode across the stage to accept Best Actress. The greatest performances often supersede time and space. Zendaya gives an immortal performance in Challengers, making her the top Best Actress contender of 2024 thus far.

There’s no doubt that moments after seeing Challengers, people did an internet search for Tashi Duncan. Her character is so indelible that she has to be based on a real person. Like Cate Blanchett’s Lydia Tár from two years ago, Zendaya has pulled off an acting feat of epic proportions. It’s refreshing to see a woman so three-dimensional from an original script.

Zendaya takes the reins of the film from her first silent moments until her final primal scream of ecstasy. She is the one who carries the heft of the story. Her machinations drive her “little white boys” mad with the need to please her. She broods with the best of them, and her silences say even more than each of her careful and cuttingly terse words.

The performance is one for the ages and shows the brilliant actress Zendaya has become. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of her, even when she’s doing something despicable. Zendaya’s Tashi has the power to keep us on her side, even at her worst. She never telegraphs a move. Only the subtleties in Zendaya’s expression give us the barest hint as to Tashi’s true intentions.

It’s obvious Zendaya is the frontrunner at this point, but she will likely have some stiff competition. The strongest contender so far is another child star turned prestige player, Kirsten Dunst. The loudest pundit voices have championed her understated but powerful work in Civil War. Her narrative is the opposite of Zendaya’s up-and-comer. Dunst has had an illustrious career with too few accolades. She’s due for more love with only one Oscar nomination under her belt. However, whether or not Dunst has a chance is hinged on how much love Civil War can carry through awards season. Even if Challengers fails everywhere else, Zendaya is too much of a presence to ignore.

Other actresses from the spring releases who could nab a nod: 

  • Regina King’s performance in Shirley will be in the mix. 
  • Kristen Stewart’s brilliant turn in Love Lies Bleeding is talked about but might be a tough sell on this ballot. 
  • Anya Taylor-Joy will likely have her moment in the blistering sun with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
  • Anne Hathaway’s charms in The Idea of You are undeniable.

Zendaya has a terrific narrative behind her. She’s the 21st-century version of the Hollywood actress. She can balance prestige TV as well as franchise films. Not only that, but she’s also a producer who is a fierce advocate for her films. Two of last year’s Best Picture contenders were produced by their lead actresses— Emma Stone’s Poor Things and Margot Robbie’s Barbie. With the press and engagements for Dune: Part Two behind her, Zendaya can focus the rest of the season on advocating for herself and for Challengers. There’s a good chance another spring queen will be walking across the Oscar stage this coming March.

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