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Best Actress – Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock Strongest Heading into Race


With several potentially pivotal roles left to be seen — Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks and Amy Adams in American Hustle, two names seem like they might dominate the category when the critics start handing out their awards. Those awards will then influence the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice, the Screen Actors Guild and ultimately, the Oscars.  The Golden Globes often reflect the early part of the race, not the late breaking changes that can sometimes occur.  The New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review both announce early and also tend to reflect the early part of the race.

Here is a poll for you to respond to whom you think is in the lead.  I make my own list after the jump.

If the race goes as expected, it will end up turning out this way:

1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity*
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks*
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County*
6. Amy Adams, American Hustle
7. Kate Winslet, Labor Day*
8. Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Colour
9. Brie Larson, Short Term 12
10. Julie Delpy, Before Midnight

*previously won an Oscar for Lead Actress

What surprised me most about my second viewing of Gravity last night was Sandra Bullock’s performance. I suppose the first time through I was more dazzled by the visual effects and didn’t notice what she goes through emotionally, what a transformative performance it is.   It is not to be underestimated, despite her having won for The Blind Side fairly recently. Right now, she seems to be Blanchett’s biggest challenger because the reviews for Gravity are setting that film up to be a critics’ darling. If it makes a shitload of money at the box office, at least $100 million, it will not only be a strong contender for Best Picture, but an even stronger contender for Best Actress, if voters want to reward a film that has made such a strong impact this year.

Bullock carries Gravity entirely.  She has some help from George Clooney and even more from the visual effects, but this movie belongs to her. Were it not for her previous Oscar, there wouldn’t even be a discussion as to who’s in the lead in the race. But with that recent win, there might be a greater sense of urgency to award an actress who hasn’t won.

On the other hand, Gravity’s success seems to be surpassing expectations. It’s just this side of becoming a phenomenon.  The same could have been said last year with Jessica Chastain and Zero Dark Thirty but the difference here is the life-affirming message of Gravity, and Bullock’s heroism.  There’s a big difference between the two characters — Bullock’s “Oscar Story” will be her coming back from winning for The Blind Side, which many figured was the best she had in her, and doing an even more impressive job.  There is a narrative built in to seeing her succeed that none of the other actresses have; Bullock has proved herself more than worthy.

Blanchett, though, is at the moment, heads and shoulders above the rest. But that doesn’t necessarily amount to a win.  We’ve all watched in horror over the years as the most memorable, heart-wrenching performances lose the prize to the more popular contender.  Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream vs. Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, for instance. But Blanchett is young enough and beautiful enough and charming enough to perhaps pull in a win.

Complicating matters is the Mia Farrow’s expose that’s about to hit Vanity Fair in November. In it, Woody’s daughter Dylan is interviewed for the first time.  How much will the press make of it? Are there still old wounds that haven’t healed?  Will the newly opened controversy disappear once Woody receives the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes? Perhaps no one will care, and the film will continue its success — on the other hand, voters tend to shy away from controversy. Add to that, Jasmine not being a likable character — as opposed to the extremely likable Ryan Stone (Gravity).  All of this adds to a potential shift.

Much is riding on the performances that haven’t been seen yet.  Saving Mr. Banks is a story that revolves around Emma Thompson’s character, and those kinds of films are so rare now.  The early buzz is good so far.  Amy Adams is such a versatile actress, and she was one of the best things about The Fighter.  As yet, there is no way to know how big or how important these performances will be.