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‘Priscilla’ could propel Cailee Spaeny to the Oscars

Elvis isn’t dead. In fact, he’s very much alive and well after Baz Luhrmann‘s “Elvis” starring Austin Butler and, now, Sofia Coppola‘s “Priscilla,” featuring Jacob Elordi as The King.

However, as you can guess by the latter movie’s title, Coppola’s focus isn’t on Elvis but rather on the singer’s wife Priscilla, whom he was married to from 1967 until 1973. Coppola’s slow, purposeful drama puts the young Priscilla front and center and explores her complex relationship with Elvis — a relationship fraught with passion, power, power imbalance, and, frankly, abuse. The film from A24 lives and dies by its female lead and, thankfully, Cailee Spaeny soars in a breakout role as the titular Priscilla. And critics agree.

Marlow Stern (Rolling Stone) noted: “Spaeny, who is 25 but makes for a convincing teenager, is an absolute marvel, nailing Priscilla’s complicated mélange of emotions — the wide-eyed wonderment and youthful desire, the apprehension and fear.”

David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter) observed: “The Priscilla Presley portrayed here with moving emotional transparency by Cailee Spaeny is a self-possessed woman always attuned to her needs, who emerges from intoxication to begin a long, painful but ultimately decisive process of reassessment.” He continued: “Spaeny stealthily dials up the melancholy of her increasing imprisonment, even as Priscilla remains caught up in the fairy tale of being American pop royalty living a life of romantic bliss… Spaeny’s performance becomes increasingly moving once Priscilla’s rose-colored glasses are permanently off and her isolation is compounded.”

Owen Gleiberman (Variety) opined: “Cailee Spaeny makes Priscilla a figure of strength, but the force of her performance is how she enacts Priscilla’s slow-motion melancholy, connecting the audience right up to what it’s like to be in love with someone who turns out to be a gaslighting freak. When she finally liberates herself, it’s like she’s waking up from a dream.”

This should equate to what should be exciting Oscar odds for Spaeny, who has never been nominated for an Oscar. However, she does feel a little short-changed by our Oscar odds for her in our Best Actress odds chart. Currently, she is outside of our predicted five: Fantasia Barrino (“The Color Purple”), Sandra Hüller (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Carey Mulligan (“Maestro”), Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), and Emma Stone (“Poor Things”). However, Spaeny is one of the ones on the precipice, alongside the likes of Margot Robbie (“Barbie”), Annette Bening (“Nyad”), and Greta Lee (“Past Lives”).

Spaeny should be taken more seriously, though. She fits the bill in a number of ways (aside from her great performance of course). Firstly, this is her breakout role. Voters like nominating ingenues in breakout roles in this character. Andra Day was nominated in 2021 for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” Felicity Jones was nominated in 2015 for “The Theory of Everything,” Michelle Williams was nominated in 2012 for “My Week With Marilyn,” and Jennifer Lawrence was nominated in 2011 for “Winter’s Bone.” Plus, Spaeny is playing Priscilla Presley, who is a real person and something of an icon. Voters love nominating actresses for playing these types of roles. Aside from the aforementioned Day (who played Billie Holiday) and Williams (who played Marilyn Monroe), there have been multiple actresses nominated for playing real-life icons. Ana de Armas was also nominated for playing Monroe, in “Blonde” earlier this year, while Kristen Stewart was nominated in 2022 for playing Princess Diana in “Spencer.” And Renée Zellweger won in 2020 for playing Judy Garland. Spaeny as Priscilla would fit right alongside those stars and performances.

Plus, the profile of this film fits the types of movies that often earn Best Actress nominations. Often, these movies are smaller pictures and Best Actress is the sole focus of the movie and, subsequently, the only Oscar nomination they receive. Take a look at the last five Oscar ceremonies, for example. “Blonde” might not have been a small movie, per se, but de Armas’ Best Actress bid was the one nomination it received. The same goes for Andrea Riseborough‘s nomination for “To Leslie,” Stewart’s bid for “Spencer,” Vanessa Kirby‘s nomination for “Pieces of a Woman,” Day’s bid for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and Glenn Close‘s nomination for “The Wife.” Spaeny and “Priscilla” fit that pattern. For now, however, Spaeny will have to hope that the positive critics reaction can propel her further up the ranks in our Best Actress Oscars odds chart. Let’s see.

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