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OscarWatch: An Early Look at the Best Actress Race

As we head into another Oscar season you’ll see an array of representations of male characters of all ages and walks of life. Old, young, fat, thin, handsome, unattractive – you name it, they never run out of stories to be told about them. Women, such is not the case. Women have the choice of being the Bond girl, the superhero love interest, the regular love interest who helps male character achieve goal, the manic pixie dreamgirl, the young action star, etc. It’s even worse when you factor in race – Lupita Nyong’o, the hottest thing going last year, doesn’t seem to have any kind of industry that is prepared for her. Not yet, anyway. There isn’t a single black or Asian actress on my radar for a lead actress nod this year. Not so far anyway. With so much money at stake, the risk level drops significantly.

There are several major roles on the horizon to watch out for as we make our way away from roles that can be readily dismissed for Oscar consideration as being not meaty enough, not big enough, not outstanding enough to get a nod. Very young actresses who act in serious films have a hard time getting taken seriously by the voting Academy, or the Screen Actors Guild – there are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking an actress will have to earn her stripes to get taken seriously enough when the film itself is aimed at young adults.

Still, there are performances that are already being talked about for Oscar, or their place is being held in line in case the role achieves everything we all hope. This is how, in this very early stage, it’s shaping up.

*Performances I’ve already seen.

Early Predictions for the Best Actress Five:
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars*
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Hilary Swank, The Homesman*

Next in line:
Helen Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey
Jessica Chastian, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby*
Robin Wright, The Congress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth or Two Days, One Night
Jennifer Lawrence, Serena
Juliette Binoche, The Clouds of Sils Maria

Effects-driven heroines:
Scarlett Johansson, Lucy
Anne Hathaway, Interstellar
Mila Kunis, Jupiter Ascending
Angelina Jolie, Maleficent
Jennifer Lawrence, Hunger Games

Lighter fare:
Diane Keaton, And So it Goes
Keira Knightley, Laggies
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Audrey Tautou, Mood Indigo

Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight
Chloe Moretz, If I Stay (?)
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Elisabeth Olsen, Very Good Girls
Dakota Fanning, Very Good Girls
Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything

Any of these names could pop into the top five. So why have I chosen the top five that I have? Here is why.

1. Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars
Moore is one of the most overdue actresses in Hollywood. She is where Martin Scorsese was in 2006 when The Departed came along and slam-dunked his long-awaited Oscar win. With so many brilliant performances behind her, this beloved, talented actress has never won. The stumbling block for her is that she does not try to make her character likable. This part stabs at the heart of what it is to be an aging, desperate actress hovering on the fringes. Either voters will recoil in horror and hope that this movie and this part disappears so as not to have to confront the ugly side of fame, or they will bow down in gratitude that, at last, someone has put a face on something so utterly familiar and tragic about their world around them. Either they’ll say, wow, I know that woman. Or they’re say, ugh, I am NOT that woman. It’s a coin toss how it will go down but Moore’s is an unlikable, dark portrait of desperation. After the screening, Deadline’s Pete Hammond said it was a shame that it was such an ugly portrait as it might cost Moore an Oscar nod. I think that could be true but I also suspect Moore’s being so overdue will/could trump the horror, the horror of looking into the abyss and having the abyss look back at you.


2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
David Fincher. Nuff said. You have to go back to Zodiac to find a Fincher film where the lead performance wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Why they shunned Zodiac defines much of why the Oscars are considered mostly irrelevant when it comes to acknowledging the true brilliance in American film. So why is this – it has to do with two things. 1) Fincher’s ability to know people in a Hannibal-like sense. He gets them, finds out quickly who they are, what their motivations are and works backwards from there. He casts people he knows can get to that thing he’s looking for. He works extremely hard to pull that performance out of the actor who may or may not even know they have it in them to get there. Surely this was the case with Rooney Mara, whom was underestimated by everyone, starting with the studio. So, given this, given the kind of part it is, we should all prepare ourselves for Rosamund Pike. Again, we’ll be looking at a very dark portrayal of a woman that will likely cause the social justice bloggers to explode, falsely believing this to be a misogynist film. That is, to me, akin to fascism where women will only be afforded opportunities to be portrayed in a positive light. We women know that our characters are not unassailable. We have much to confront within our own community – our hatred for each other, our continual obsession with self-improvement, the tabloid industry, our inclination towards fairy tales. This is all confronted brilliantly by Gillian Flynn in the book. I fully expect Fincher will go there, without flinching. So get ready.

3. Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Here is another overdue actress who could very well win it, especially with Weinstein Co. standing behind her. From the footage shown in Cannes, Adams seems to have finally gotten the right role for what she offers – slightly bitchy, really funny, quirky and obsessive. Her tone as an actress fits the material perfectly. All that will be required is one big Oscar scene. If she sticks that landing she could win the whole thing. But it is still too early and Tim Burton has been extremely hit or miss of late, usually missing. I trust that under Weinstein co. this will likely not be a miss.


4. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
The fate of this film isn’t known yet but what is known is writer/director JC Chandor’s commitment to actors. Though Robert Redford missed out on an Oscar nod last year, anyone who is a fan of Chandor’s knows how hard he works to get the best performance he can. That he has the very very talented Ms. Chastain to work with increases the likelihood for a nod significantly. Chastain will also be in line for a nod with The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Hopefully she will not cancel herself out. What role gets in will likely be the one with more Best Picture heat and I’m guessing, at this early stage, that might be A Most Violent Year.


5. Hilary Swank, The Homesman.
The Homesman’s fate is still very much up in the air. It will get an Oscar campaign. Swank will be a major standout but this film will depend entirely on how the critics react to it. One thing it has going for it is its strong ensemble of SAG actors. Tommy Lee Jones’ own reach in the actor community, not to mention Meryl Streep’s and the other actors involved, could propel the film forward in the awards race. Remember, critics don’t vote on awards. This is an actors showcase, this film, and despite it’s non-traditional story structure, and Jones’ unwillingness to kiss babies and do the dog and pony show, the actors could very well drive this one through. There will be little debate that Swank’s will be among the most memorable performances of the year. The only problem is that the part could be a lot bigger…if it were me, I would re-edit the film to extend the first part with Swank to be 2/3rds of the film and make the last part 1/3. But it is not my movie and I trust in Tommy Lee Jones to tell the story he wants to tell.

Hopefully there will be many more performances emerging from the woodwork that aren’t being discussed here. It’s early yet. Summer hasn’t even begun. We have a long way to go before we settle this conversation. What do you think about Best Actress this year?