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Best Actress: Cate Blanchett and her Challengers


This year, it feels like there is Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and everyone else.  It isn’t that anyone is confident Blanchett can win. When Anne Thompson suggested Blanchett was the frontrunner she was was pounced upon by many of her colleagues who said the often heard Oscar season phrase, “no way.”  Even still, here it is September and a few performances insist upon sharing the spotlight. Most of the challengers, and even Blanchett herself, are prior Oscar winners.  That means that the winner this year, at least so far, is likely to be a repeat winner.

Blanchett’s first and strongest competition (so far) comes from two such previous  winners, Sandra Bullock (won lead for The Blind Side) in Gravity and Judi Dench (won supporting for Shakespeare in Love) in Philomena. The urgency to reward a winner tips in Blanchett’s favor, however, given that Bullock has won fairly recently, and Blanchett has an impressive grossly under-rewarded body of work behind her.  Not having yet seen Philomena, it’s hard to gauge how good or powerful or undeniable the role is.

Bullock carries Gravity completely, with some help from George Clooney. It is a showcase piece, like Redford’s All is Lost, where the inner world must be revealed frame by frame. Gravity will make a shitload of coin, which will only add to Bullock’s heft in the category. Her recent win in 2009 works against her for the win but her nomination is secure.

Kate Winslet is a strong contender for Labor Day. Like Bullock, Winslet has won fairly recently, although 2008.  She’s been nominated six times and it took an all-out publicity push to get her the win, courtesy of the Weinstein Co.  There is no question that hers is one of the best performances of the year. Her nomination also seems probable.

Today is the day August: Osage County plays in Toronto, but there isn’t a Meryl Streep threat coming from that movie, since she’s been put in the supporting category.  According to Kris Tapley, Meryl Streep is still in lead. That means she’s in play and will likely be turning in another standout, blowing Julia Roberts out of the water, possibly.  Whether the Academy adheres to that is a different question. There’s Julia Roberts from the film who might make an impact for a nod.

The one to really watch out for is the beloved Emma Thompson. She’s won lead already for Howards End way back in 1992 and is supposedly outstanding in Saving Mr. Banks.  If anyone can take down Blanchett it could be Thompson, both for her general likability in Hollywood (and everywhere) and the likability of her character; the problem with Blanchett’s Jasmine is that she isn’t likable and the Oscars often tip their scale to the likability, or fuckability, side.

One of the breakout stars for this year is Brie Larson in Short Term 12. This is the kind of role women used to get back when they ruled the box office.  She plays a woman with a difficult past but also one who is the smartest person in the room, and the one who holds everything together. Rare is the film that features a woman in that light without making her earn her keep as the resident sexpot.  It isn’t that sex is removed from her character, but her main purpose in the film is beyond it.

The same can’t be said for the mesmerizing performance of the young Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. It must be said this is most certainly one of the standouts of the year. Every tiny movement or ripple of her emotions are captured on camera for the three hours we spend with her. Her co-star Lea Seydoux ought to be considered for supporting.  It would be hard to argue against the nominations of either of these actresses simply based on the nature of the film, which is much ado about the graphic sex scenes.

The sight unseen performance on everyone’s mind is Amy Adams in David O. Russell’s American Hustle. But it’s unclear whether it will be one of the great ones or not. Many are comfortable predicting Adams for the win, without having seen the film based on her past performances, on David O. Russell’s track record (of late) with winning Oscars for his stars – Jennifer Lawrence last year, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale the year before.

How I see the Best Actress race right now shaping up of the films that have been seen:

1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Judi Dench, Philomena
3. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
4. Kate Winslet, Labor Day
5. Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Colour

Followed by:
6. Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
7. Brie Larson, Short Term 12

Three slots in the top five could be bumped by:

1. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
2. Amy Adams, American Hustle
3. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
4. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
5. Nicole Kidman, Grace of Monaco

Amy Adams is the only name in serious contention for the win right now who has never been nominated. In a wild, wild world Exarchopoulos could win, even with the recent hubub involving the actresses and the director.  I would say my instincts tell me that Emma Thompson would be next in line. But I believe right now only one actress can realistically win, without having seen the other performance, and that is still Cate Blanchett.