Best Actress 2014 – The Woman and the Woman Behind the Man

actresses

There has never been a more scarce lineup for Best Actress than there is right now in 2014. While there might be plenty of opportunities for women to stand behind, prop up and otherwise be there to make sure the “great man” succeeds, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for women to stand on their own.

It isn’t that there aren’t people out there in the world who want to see movies about women – there are. Why, just look at the top twenty box office hits of 2014 so far.

No, sadly, there is something far more sinister going on, probably something that most people won’t admit, and worse, they get hotly defensive at the accusation: the people who drive the buzz, the gatekeepers, the fanboys and even fangirls are less interested in stories about women. The alternative is that movies about women are ALL BAD while movies about men are ALL BETTER. I don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps it just gets down to what kinds of characters people can relate to.

Imagine Whiplash, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything or even Boyhood with a woman at the center. Just close your eyes and think about it before you start caterwauling. Really think about it. Do you think there’s any chance in hell those movies would be as strong as Best Picture contenders? Be honest with yourself before you immediately write it off. When I think about these films being about women I get excited at the prospect. But I also know that there are only a small handful of films that do consider women to be interesting enough to allow them complexity. Of that group only one is even marginally being discussed as a Best Picture contender: Gone Girl. But Wild, The Homesman, Maps to the Stars, The Clouds of Sils Maria are the other films that center on women but they are, as of now, nowhere near the Best Picture race.

Let it be known that in the two years the Academy had ten slots for nominations it was much much easier for films about women to get in; perhaps they wouldn’t make the majority of voters’ top five, they could at least crack their top ten. Look at 2010 alone: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right (also directed by women), Black Swan, True Grit. Now look at 2009 – An Education, The Hurt Locker (2 films directed by women), Precious and The Blind Side.

Very soon thereafter, in 2011, 2012, 2013 – things went back to “normal” and we have The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty and Gravity. In three years, four films in total that center on a female character versus seven in two years. Kind of weird, right?

Now, we have another year where theoretically and quite probably 100% of the films in the Best Picture race will center solely on a male protagonist and that protagonist will be surrounded by strong supporting female characters who are now being called leads. Remember, you don’t measure it by screen time but rather how the plot turns and on whom.

Over at Indiewire, Wloszczyna’s Big O column is entitled “Stand by Your Man and Grab That Oscar Nomination.” Indeed, this is a familiar trope in Oscar Best Picture lately, and certainly was the case when Lawrence won for Silver Linings Playbook. That role – the supporting wife or love interest – has been traditionally put in the supporting category, like Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock or Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind – but because there are SO FEW films headed into the Oscar race that even have females in them at all let alone LEAD females, it has become necessary to turn supporting parts into leads.

To Felicity Jones’ and The Theory of Everything’s credit, the movie is almost more Jane’s story than it is Stephen’s. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and it more than explores her own experience being married to a man who changed the world. But. Still. We’re talking about a woman being famous for being married to a famous man.

Is it any wonder journalists and op-ed writers are exploding with commentary about Gone Girl? Is it any wonder I am? The scarcity of a major motion picture aimed at adults – and adult women that isn’t a romantic comedy or a YA film – is astonishing to those of us old enough to remember that it wasn’t always this way. Gone Girl will shatter expectations at the box office and, god willing, be nominated for many Oscars – but hey, it is the only film written by a woman, produced by and starring women – give the collective time to obliterate it from the race. That’s what’s coming next.

You have to go outside the Best Picture race to find the best performances and usually deep into the independent scene. Tommy Lee Jones is the rare director who chose to cast his entire film with women. While it’s called “The Homesman” and it’s about a man who encounters a woman, the film is really about Hilary Swank’s character. It is propelled by one of Swank’s most vivid performances. Her best gift as an actress is when she is cast as a woman who tries hard to be tougher than she really is. She makes us root for her because we admire her true grit.

The Homesman flips the traditional and modern narrative that the woman is there to help turn the man. While Swank’s Mary B. Cuddy does turn Tommy Lee Jones’ character from an indifferent man to a man who gives a damn (sort of – it’s more ambiguous than that) this is a story about what the settling of the West did to women, not what it did to men. Swank’s character, and the film overall, works in opposition to what we’re constantly being told about what kinds of women are popular in film today: hot, young and able to slip in and out of superhero costumes to continue to draw that PG-13 appeal (translation: tween boys can pop a bone looking a them). Hard-edged, unlikable, courageous and imperfect, Swank’s Cuddy is easily one of the most compelling and remarkable characters of the year. And yet – find me one other writer or critic talking about the film? You know what you hear? The sound of dumbed down Oscar prognostication that only cares if it’s going to go or not go.

Reese Witherspoon is the MVP of this year by having her name on two films as producer – Gone Girl and Wild, two films that are based on source material by women. While Wild may not be a perfect movie and does dwell in that irritating genre of women needing to find themselves, it is nonetheless a richly-told tale of the difficult challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon delivers one of her most honest performances – raw, vulnerable and occasionally funny. She carries the entire film and much of the time does so with no dialogue. This film says this woman mattered – what she did mattered. Some writers are talking about the film because they know both Witherspoon and Laura Dern are going to go to the big show.

Two of the best female performances of the year are in Xavier Dolan’s brilliant, expressive Mommy. Indeed, I have been remiss in not including Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément. Anne Dorval’s portrayal of the titular character hails from a tradition of focusing on complex women by Dolan. He gave thanks to Jane Campion at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and said how much she inspired him. Her influence is profoundly felt throughout Mommy. Dolan is one of the brightest young lights in film, long may he reign.

And there is Agata Trzebuchowska in the beautiful Ida, Poland’s entry for the Oscars.

Shailene Woodley is having a profitable year and could find herself in the Best Actress race for The Fault in Our Stars, about a young woman dying of cancer. The Fault in Our Stars has decent reviews – look, you’re not going to find any film this year that stars women burning up the male-driven critics polls. You just aren’t. But 80% on Rotten Tomatoes for this is a pretty good.

Jessica Chastain in Eleanor Rigby may or may not have a shot, but the reviews are (of course) not good so far. Chastain is such a good actress she steals almost any movie she’s in – and with Eleanor Rigby there is an entire film dedicated to her side of the relationship. The buzz for the film feels like it flatlined – of course.

Finally, one of the bigger questions of this year is Amy Adams in Big Eyes. Unfortunately the early word on it wasn’t great but that was from the always unreliable “test screening.” Several pundits have earmarked Amy Adams for a nod, which brings the generally accepted five over at Gold Derby to be:

1. Julianne Moore in Still Alice (a performance I have not yet seen but buzz from Toronto says it’s “the one.”)
2. Amy Adams in Big Eyes a performance most of them have not seen.
3. Reese Witherspoon in Wild – carries the film, produced the film – feels like a cake walk
4. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl – crazy good work from an actress no one thought capable of going that dark.
5. Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything – surely worthy of a nomination, and a performance that does more than it had to since it is about the woman behind the man.

After that, you have:
6. Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
7. Shailene Woodley in The Fault in our Stars
8. Hilary Swank for The Homesman (one of the best performances of the year dumped way down at number 8 – for shame)
9. Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (not yet seen)
10. Anne Hathaway in Interstellar

Only Anne Thompson, who like me and a few other pundits, only predict what already has been seen has Mia Wasikowska in Tracks.

No one appears to have Emily Blunt on their radar for Into the Woods, not yet anyway. Into the Woods will be full of women but everyone is holding their breath because no one knows how it will turn out.

Predicting films that haven’t yet been seen blocks the potential for films and performances that have been seen. It is a silly practice but one that is accepted across the board (for god knows what reason). It also sets up unrealistic expectations for films and performances overall and suffocates the life out of them if they don’t live up to those expectations.

Nominations are built on buzz and hype. Much of it is leftover buzz from the men in the race or the directors who are “hot” right now, or the popular people (high school all over again). The buzz machine can sometimes predict how the races will go but not always. Some of the time – some magical moments in Oscar history – the most deserving performances get in. Amy Adams in American Hustle besting Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks is not one of those times.

We can hold out hope that things – perception, taste, “relatability” – change. I’m not suggesting critics need to like films that are bad simply because they star women. The best female characters are, of course, on television and tend to be in films made anywhere but here in America. But perhaps if they didn’t get immediately dismissed by critics, perhaps if the newly formed mob of self-made critics didn’t lean so heavily in the direction of boy-friendly fare, of stories that mirror themselves, perhaps they could start seeing women as human beings worthy of being the subject of films.

Kudos this year to David Fincher for holding fast to Gillian Flynn to adapt her own novel and to Christopher Nolan who chose to make Murph a female and not a male in Interstellar. It was a bold choice but when you see Jessica Chastain in the role, one that makes sense. Imagination is the only thing that limits us in terms of how we choose to see women in film.

It’s unfortunate that an article about Best Actress has to turn into yet another rant about the lack of women’s roles but there are so few out there it makes it hard to write about anything else. On the upside, last year’s slate was quite promising in terms of complex and interesting female leads. Perhaps it’s just the luck of the draw this year and not a sign of things to come.

My own predictions:

1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
3. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
4. Hilary Swank, The Homesman
5. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

My instincts tell me to:
watch out for Anne Dorval
Keep a close watch on Emily Blunt and Amy Adams.

How about you readers? What are your five predicted nominees of the films that have been seen versus the ones that haven’t?

64 Comments on this Post

  1. Bryce Forestieri

    Final Predictions

    Best Actress

    1. Julianne Moore – STILL ALICE (winner)
    2. Rosamund Pike – GONE GIRL
    3Idontcareabouttheotherswithrealchances

  2. Clouds of Sils Maria is coming out next year in the US. La Binoche is probably going to get nominated at the Cesars.

    I don’t see Hilary Swank geting in. If Into the Woods does well, I can see Emily Blunt happening.

  3. Sasha, though they aren’t in the race this year, they will be next year with a wholly-female-centric film–what are your thoughts on David O. Russell and his being taken with Jennifer Lawrence as a muse? Though Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle and The Fighter all have central male roles, a decent argument can be made that they each include strong roles for women in the sense that they show women in a variety of lights.

    Though I agree with the consensus that this is Julianne’s year, I won’t be surprised if the award goes to someone else this year. Still Alice is going to have to be seen to get her the win. I have no idea who will challenge her. I think Anne Hathaway is a risky, but playable bet for a nomination.

  4. LOVE that you mentioned Dorval and Clement, they should be getting SO much more praise and attention then they are. Especially, IMO, Clement, she stole every scene she was in,even when she barely speaks for the first half of the film. Watching her character break free throughout the film was the most enjoyable part for me. At TIFF she got a HUGE response from the crowd too, so I really hope she somehow manages to get a supporting nod.

  5. Nick Johnson

    What are Marion Cotillard’s chances for Two Days, One Night? She’s an amazing actress and hasnt recieved a nom since La Vie en rose.

  6. “Very soon thereafter, in 2011, 2012, 2013 – things went back to “normal” and we have The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty and Gravity.”

    You forget Amour, Philomena, and though they’re more of an ensemble, Silver Linings and American Hustle. Not to mention Her, which entirely revolves around a female (admittedly A.I.) character who becomes a little too assertive for the central make character. I submit once again that the 2011 rule change has nothing to do with this.

    As for the Best Actress race, if you don’t like the dearth of female contenders, do something about it! You have a great platform here to assert the worthiness of a film or performance. I wish people would spend more time talking about what should be nominated rather than what will be. Then, wonderful performances like ScarJo in Under the Skin, Lindsay Duncan in Le Week-End (a film that is totally within the Academy’s wheelhouse), and more wouldn’t go by the wayside as we talked about Julianne, Reese, and Rosamund for the 1100th time!

  7. Robert A.

    It’s true that this year’s potential Best Actress line-up is somewhat scarce, but I wouldn’t say there’s never been a more scarce Best Actress line-up. That sketchy prize might go to 1975, when the field of Best Actress contenders was so weak that The NY Times ran an article (before nominations were announced) titled, “Do Any of These Actresses Rate an Academy Award?” The field was so thin there was speculation that the relatively unknown Marilyn Hassett might get nominated and win for the “inspirational” drama/schlocky weeper The Other Side of the Mountain. The article also mentioned that Louise Fletcher might win the lead actress prize that year for a borderline supporting performance because the field had such a dearth of viable contenders (which is, of course, exactly what happened).

    As it turned out, AMPAS managed to cobble together a line-up that didn’t include Hassett, but they had to dig deep. The nominees were Louise Fletcher for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ann Margret for Tommy, Isabelle Adjani for the French film The Story of Adele H., Glenda Jackson for the film adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hedda Gabler, and Carol Kane for Hester Street. Kane was only 22-years-old at the time and the movie was made on a micro-budget and had been seen by almost no one.

    The Best Actress line-up was considered so weak that Ellen Burstyn, the previous year’s winner, went on TV and asked Academy voters not to mark their final ballots for Best Actress as protest for the lack of good roles for women, a move that irked nominee Fletcher, who called up Burstyn and confronted her about her remarks.

    I’m not sure any year in Best Actress can top that for its paucity of viable Actress contenders.

  8. 1. Julianne Moore: Still Alice
    2.Reese Witherspoon: Wild
    3. Rosammund Pike: Gone Girl
    4. Felicity Jones: TOE
    5. Jessica Chanstain: A Most Violent Year

    Sasha this is a great interview with Keira Knightley on feminism and the roles that are offered to women in Hollywood. http://www.net-a-porter.com/magazine/271/10

  9. If the role’s as good as it seems it will be, I will be so very happy that Julianne Moore receives an Oscar. The shining moment for Oscars 2014.

  10. I’m anxious to how Into the Woods is received. Maybe a “Devil Wears Prada”ish Best Actress for Meryl’s supporting role?

    With so few roles so far getting buzz, I feel it’s gonna come down to campaigning and studio play. I mean, it always does, but someone like Swank who often straddles the fence of nominations for her stuff, The Homesman team would be smart to go full force knowing how slim the pickings are (no chagrin to Swank’s performance of course).

  11. Sasha’s point about female-driven best picture nominees also reminded me how bummed I was that Blue Jasmine didn’t make the cut for BP. Talk about a brilliant performances about beautifully crafted characters!

    It does seem that any time an A-list/critically acclaimed actor (such as Christian Bale, Tom Hanks, Colin Firth etc) headlines, the buzz instantly goes to “possible best picture contender” where as an equally talented woman (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett) gets the “possible best actress” buzz, not as often “shoe in for best picture” buzz . Like, women have to work twice as hard for their films to be considered locks right away, where as most actors benefit from that buzz, like it’s assumed their film will go all the way.

  12. Thank you, Sasha, for noticing actresses from foreign language films. Unfortunately, very few critics/oscarologists do.
    Dorval and Clement were fantastic in Mommy, Trzebuchowska and Kulesza both – magnificent in Ida, but you forgot about Marion Cotillard. She may not have a real chance to get a nod, but with two outstanding performances this year she deserves to be in conversation.

  13. Sasha, I don’t mind that you keep highlighting the lack of good roles and movies centered on women. Cinema in general is MUCH more interesting when the Battle-of-the-Sexes is in full swing. I’m running low on finding great movies starring great actresses. There a so FEW directors nowadays that can utilize an actress like William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock or George Cuckor did, filling she screen with beautiful performances AND filling the box office with serious money at the same time. Studios ran with the Lucas/Spielberg model in the late ’70’s and haven’t looked back.

  14. Jean-Marc Vallee directs a solid (albeit unspectacular) film starring the resurgent McConaughey and it rockets into the Best Picture race.
    Jean-Marc Vallee directs a solid (albeit unspectacular) film starring the resurgent Witherspoon and the movie is scrutinized for what it is (solid, unspectacular).

  15. julian the emperor

    First of all, the dearth of female performances is very much a question of perspective. If the perspective is American mainstream moviemaking, yes, perhaps there is a lack of truly outstanding performances to choose from. If you look to global cinema, though, there is a WEALTH of worthy candidates (and many of them are oscar eligible, if only enough people cared to consider them). That’s why I’m glad to see you include the very strong female performances in films like Mommy and Ida, because they ought to be in contention as much as their American counterparts (if not more so).
    So, on the one hand, I do agree with you that there is a problem with Hollywood when it comes to creating meaty parts for actresses, on the other hand, the best actress category at the Oscars didn’t have to suffer because of it, because there are so many great performances to choose from outside of the straight and narrow.

  16. Mac, it’s not that simple. The difference between Dallas Buyers Club (which I hated) and Wild (which is one of my most anticipated) is that DBC earned a reputation of being an “important” film about the AIDS epidemic, tolerance, and gay rights. Wild can’t distract with an underlying political message like dBC did.

  17. My prediction at the moment:

    BEST LEAD ACTRESS:-

    1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
    2. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
    3. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
    4. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

    Amy Adams (Big Eyes) or Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) for the 5th spot.

    I wish they would nominate one of the foreign actresses. I have seen Cotillard in Two Days One Night and not Anne Dorval in Mommy. It is a great year for female performance if you want it to be. Plus we may be able find a few other contenders at the very end of the year, who knows? Let’s keep the conversation going.

  18. Sorry for the typos, ugh!

  19. Catra Wardhaba

    How about the year when Jessica Lange won for Blue Sky? Isn’t that the weakest year for Best Actress race?

  20. Sasha if you want to see a woman’s movie, then please see the Greek entry in foreign language film called “Little England”. I would really love to hear your opinion about it.

  21. I am so glad you mentioned Dorval and Clement. Those are nominations that would be well deserved.

  22. Moore, Witherspoon, Pike and Jones are all ‘locks’.

    The fifth slot could go to Adams ( if the film is decent then probably), Swank (the old white AMPAS members may go for westerns more than the regular person so may be taken by Swank’s performance), Blunt (if she wins the ‘comedy/musical Globe then she’s in with a real chance) or possibly Chastain for ‘A Most Violent Year’ though, that performance may end up going supporting.

    Johanson (‘Under the Skin’) and Cotillard (‘Two Days, One Night’) are also deserving but AMPAS won’t go for them.

    I think it’s unfair to say that because the majority of critics are male that they’re unduly harsh on ‘female driven’ films. Critics are entitled to, and should, give their honest opinion on movies and, frankly, it’s the opposite of feminism to think that male critics shouldn’t be as critical or honest in regards to ‘female driven’ films as what they would be on ‘male driven films’. It’s a critics job to honestly express how they feel about a film and I’d hate to see them be soft on (or hold back their true opinions) on a movie because it has female lead characters (because they’re afraid of how their criticism will be perceived).

    And, if female driven films are quality then there are plenty of critics who will agree that they are. The following female driven films, that were released recently, got great reviews from critics:

    – Blue Jasmine
    – Gone Girl
    – Hunger Games
    – Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Her). The ‘merged’ film that Weinstein insisted on got some legitimate criticism.
    – Silver Linings Playbook
    – Zero Dark Thirty
    – Short Term 12
    – Blue is the Warmest Colour
    – Bridesmaids
    – My Week With Marilyn
    – Black Swan
    – Gravity

    The list goes on.. Critics (whether male or female) based their reviews on merit. Exclaiming that male critics are out to put down female driven roles, because of some agenda apparently, doesn’t fit with the evidence.

  23. The 5 best actresses of the year:
    Nina Hoss
    Charlotte Gainsbourg
    Mia Wasikowska
    Marion Cotillard
    Anne Dorval

    The 5 ones most likeable by the Academy:
    Julianne Moore
    Felicity Jones
    Amy Adams
    Rosamund Pike
    Reese Witherspoon

  24. Igor Sousa

    Thank you Corvo!

    You’ve got the final answer! Let’s wait for the European Award where we really find the Best Actress

  25. I’ll give you the 5 who I think should be nominated
    1.Najarra Townsend The Toy Soldiers
    2. Rosamund Pike Gone Girl
    3. Jenny Slate Obvious Child
    4. Keira Knightly Begin Again
    5.Zoe Kazan The Pretty One

  26. Bryce Forestieri

    “1975, when the field of Best Actress contenders was so weak that The NY Times ran an article (before nominations were announced) titled, ‘Do Any of These Actresses Rate an Academy Award?'”

    What a bunch of lame-os! So the Academy has always sucked at picking the right performances for this category in particular, haven’t they? Even during their “golden decade”, their record is abysmal — and they didn’t even picked the right ’75 performance for the win when the right choice was sooo obvious and in front of them. Having said all that, that is a pathetic headline by The New York Times. Margret was astoundingly committed in TOMMY, holding her own against Russell. My ballot:

    Best Actress

    1. Isabelle Adjani – THE STORY OF ADELE H. (w)
    2. Angela Winkler – THE LAST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLOUM
    3. Junko Miyashita – A WOMAN CALLED SADA ABE
    4. Monique van de Ven – KATIE TIPPEL
    5. Mariangela Melato – SWEPT AWAY

    A curious year too because from its festering noble guts sprung what could be the single worst performance by an actress committed to celluloid, Delphine Seyrig in JEANNE DIELMAN.

  27. Julie Christie burned a hole through the screen in 1975’s “Shampoo”, but failed to get a nomination in that historically weak year. The shot of her curved back, shrouded in the darkened pool house after Beatty runs after Hawn; in that pose, Ashby and Christie captured the end of sixties idealism on the night of Nixon’s election.

  28. TO SASHA, I THINK YOU MAY HAVE-(already) FORECASTED THE TOP 5???

  29. If you look at TV, you’ll feel less bad about the state of gender inequality and/or lack of quality in female roles. Seriously, look at TV. That’s where everyone else is looking. Movies are for comic book mayhem and spectacle now. Sadly, that’s how it is.

  30. Sasha, it’s a real issue. Be careful to not paint yourself into a corner, though, by saying that certain female-driven films are “of course” receiving mixed reviews by nature of their “femaleness”. I think the critics are very low on the totem-pole of who is to blame here. The main problem is that most of the best movies each year aren’t about female characters. There are exceptions (of course!). But in the interest of keeping this post from becoming a huge, long essay about this multi-faceted problem, I think it comes down to two primary things 1) We need more female directors, and 2) audiences need to support and seek out more movies with female protagonists.

  31. Watching Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” was a genuinely exciting experience. I honestly can’t imagine how he’ll ever top it.. For one thing, there’s a montage toward the end of the film that packs one of the most all- encompassing emotional wallops I’ve ever encountered. A real crescendo of artistry. I wasn’t surprised to read later that this sequence prompted waves of spontaneous applause during the film’s prize-winning showing at Cannes. But long before this segment, I already knew I was watching inspired performers at work.. Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clement are superb – both delivering emotionally rich Oscar-level work. And by the time “Mommy” ends, I defy anyone to say Anne Dorval’s performance isn’t right up there with the best – the very best. I’ve been saying (and hoping) for awhile now that – once the critics start handing out their awards, Dorval and Marion Cotillard (marvelous in “Two Days, One Night “) are going to be very much in the Oscar conversation. If these two ladies aren’t among the five nominees, then this year’s Academy Awards will definitely lose some luster.

  32. K. Bowen

    Seriously, Shampoo was a huge hit in 1975 with two potential female leads.

    Julie Christie, Shampoo
    Diane Keaton, Love and Death
    Candice Bergen, The Wind and the Lion
    Faye Dunaway, Three Days of the Condor
    Marisa Berenson, Barry Lyndon (by saying nothing , she speaks volumes)

    That’s without going too far afield. Interesting that they thought it was a weak year.

  33. K. Bowen

    I should say that’s only a list of non-nominees.

  34. Steve Schweighofer

    1975 was an interesting year for women. There were “big” Hollywood films with female leads, but they were either turkeys or offended Oscar voters. The two biggest – Lucky Lady and Funny Lady – were neither lucky nor funny. Lucky Lady marked the end of the leading lady road for Minelli, who had just won an Oscar a couple of years earlier, and after Funny Lady, nobody was going to spend big bucks again on a Streisand musical (she had to do Yentl all by herself). Diana Ross, who dazzled in Lady Sings the Blues, ended her acting career with the awful Berry Gordy directed vanity project, Mahogany.

    That left Ann-Margret and Isabel Adjani. Adjani, the critic’s fave, didn’t have a chance because Oscar didn’t hand out trophies to non-English speaking actresses. If Liv Ullmann couldn’t win one, Adjani certainly wouldn’t. Ann Margret had the most demanding leading role that year and might have had a chance if Ken Russell hadn’t sprayed her with baked beans and chocolate sauce from an exploding TV set. Nice, Ken – I think we’ve had enough.

    Karen Black and Barbara Feldon gave terrific lead performances in Day of the Locust and Smile, but Oscar shunned their mockery of two major American institutions, Hollywood and beauty pageants. Dunaway and Keaton would live on to fight and win another day.

    So many performances in supporting roles, on the other hand, were outstanding and numerous. In addition to Shampoo (Grant, Christie and Hawn were all perfect and worthy of a nom), you had Altman’s Nashville. Lily Tomlin, Ronee Blakely, Barbara Harris, Karen Black (again), Shelley Duvall, Barbara Baxley, Geraldine Chaplin, and Gwen Welles – a banquet of 8 spot-on supporting performances in one film. And, of course, what is probably considered the best supporting performance by a female actor of all time – Louise Fletcher – being strong enough to move into the lead category and fill the void, walking way with the whole thing.

    Odd year.

  35. filmboymichael

    If Into the Woods hits – it will hit big with the academy. Actors love nominating other actors for stepping out of their comfort zone with singing and dancing. Even when the movie is bad – a la Nine – they still nominate Penelope Cruz. The featurette released last week looked fantastic, I think for actors we may just see Blunt and Streep nominated – they are meaty roles on stage. Rumor has it that Streep knocks the witches songs out of the park, if she hits with supporting, she might just win supporting actress, where they like rewarding musicals.

  36. re: “1) We need more female directors,” as a response to needing stronger roles for women…. but Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay are both making films about men…………………………………………………………

  37. As far as Anne Dorval goes, does anyone know if she’s eligible for a nomination? If Mommy isn’t released stateside until 2015 does that make her ineligible even though the film, under different a eligibility time frame, is up for the foreign language category?

  38. Bryce Forestieri

    Re: ’75. I’ve got several names mentioned here in “Supporting”, like Christie and Berenson. My winner in that category would have been Ronee Blakley in NASHVILLE. And I just realized I nominated only foreign actresses. Unacceptable. Boot someone out and replace with Karen Black in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (or Margret).

  39. Christophe

    Amy Adams (Big Eyes) for the win! And yet I’m still sore about the Emma Thompson and Mr. Banks’ scandalous snub but I don’t blame Amy, we ALL know the real culprit was that witch Meryl Streep who has put the Academy under her spell for the last 35 years.

  40. “There has never been a more scarce lineup for Best Actress than there is right now in 2014.” – what rubbish! … 1975 was by far a worse year for women in leading film roles (at least in American film): in addition to the article referred to by Robert A, there was a TV appearance by Ellen Burstyn in which she urged Academy members not to vote for the Best Actress award at all that year in protest of the lack of quality roles for women (Louise Fletcher was rather displeased and commented tartly that perhaps Burstyn should make her protest in a year when she herself was in contention!)

  41. I have yet to see Mommy, however with each film Xavier Dolan releases, his artistic talent shines through stronger and stronger. Suzanne Clement’s performance in his third film, Laurence Anyways, is the best performance by any male or female of the entire decade thus far imo. Anne Dorval had very strong work in I Killed My Mother as well. Can’t wait to see what these women bring to the plate in Mommy, and if its anywhere near the level of their previous work with Dolan, it more than deserves to be recognized by the academy.

  42. Tom Dewey

    Steve wrote: “….nobody was going to spend big bucks again on a Streisand musical (she had to do Yentl all by herself).”

    Have you forgotten about A Star is Born (1976)? Horrible film- but it was a musical. And a big payday for all. And by the way- Funny Lady, although no Funny Girl, was not a failure at the box-office. It did quite well for its time. And Yentl was done all by herself. A studio put up 13 million dollars on it. Quite a gamble on what was perceived as an ethnic, odd drama with music.

  43. George Golden

    My picks.
    1. ROSAMUND PIKE(WINNER)
    2. JULIEN MOORE
    3.FELICITY JONES
    4.REESE WHITHERSPOON
    5.HILARY SWANK

    4.

  44. I get that the industry is very male chauvinist, but I’m having a difficult time to understand the arguments here. As many others stated, I don’t think this year is the most scarce… The Oscar acting categories are usually packed with biopics that somehow became a pillar in english-spoken cinema. Recently we had 2 potential vehicles that could earn their actress an award, but failed horribly, Diana and Grace of Monaco. They had the early buzz, what they didn’t have was quality.
    Mentioning Ida, Claus of Sils Maria and Mommy was a little weird too. I don’t think this problem occurs in Europe and other places. Cannes has tons of movies focused on women (this year we had Marion Cottillard in the new Dardennes movie too).
    So considering the problem isn’t writers having stories for women, I would guess if there’s someone to blame that would probably be the studios in not financing more projects focused on women? Gone Girl I don’t think it’s a good parameter, there are many other factors that can explain it’s success.

  45. My five favourites right now:
    MARION for Two Days One Night (or Immigrant)
    JULIANNE for Maps To The Stars
    SCARJO for Under The Skin
    ANNE for Mommy
    JESSICA for Eleanor Rigby : Her

  46. knee play

    Predictions:
    1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
    2. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
    3. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
    4. Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything)
    5. Amy Adams (Big Eyes) or Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)

    Wish list:
    1. Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars)
    2. Isabelle Huppert (Abuse of Weakness)
    3. Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
    and two others

  47. “There has never been a more scarce lineup for Best Actress than there is right now in 2014.”

    I don’t know that I agree with that assessment. I contend that 2005 was the weakest year in recent memory. Only two nominees had a real shot at winning, and the other three had no chance in hell: Charlize Theron for a glorified Lifetime movie, Judi Dench for being Judi Dench, and Keira Knightley for a good but not great performance. Funny that Reese Witherspoon seems to be factoring into this year’s anemic race, too.

  48. It’s sad to me that Tessa Thompson in Dear White People will probably be totally overlooked or shunted over to Supporting (I’ve seen the film twice; she’s a lead). That performance was brilliant, a perfect balancing act of wit, pathos, anger, fear, confusion, and determination. She’s my #3 behind Pike and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and honestly, she and Pike are virtually tied. Of course, DWP deserves nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography (it’s a sneakily well-composed film), Editing, and possibly Actor (for Tyler James Williams). Will it get them? Unlikely.

  49. Gone Girl does not deserve to be nomd in best picture. No redeeming values, no social or universal relevance. Whiplash is better.

  50. Bryce Forestieri

    A bit off-topic, would like to politely declare that Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in NIGHTCRAWLER not having the least significant chance to land an Oscar nominations is at once the stupidest and most bizarre thing occurring this season, like, by far.

    Is he black-listed?

    Rene Russo needs to be in conversations as well, but if Jake’s is a losing battle…

  51. My 5 favorite right now
    1. Najarra Townsend The Toy Soldiers
    2. Rosamund Pike Gone Girl
    3. Kristen Stewart Camp X Ray
    4. Jenny Slate Obvious Child
    5. Keira Knightly Begin Again

  52. I think the five will be Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and probably Amy Adams, although I would love to see a major surprise like Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) or Angelina Jolie (Maleficent). If Into the Woods is a hit, Emily Blunt could be a late entry, the role of The Baker’s Wife is a great one and she has been long overdue for some Academy recognition. It is a shame that Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) lost steam, I only saw the ‘Them’ version, but boy, she was brilliant. Here’s hoping she will make it in supporting (Interstellar) AND/OR even in lead (A Most Violent Year.

    P.S. New ‘Still Alice’ clip featuring Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v06K9RJj9LI . I wish the would just release the trailer already !

  53. Shailene Woodley was overlooked for a breakthrough performance in The Descendants, but she’s going to get nominated for a YA film that will be nominated in 0 other categories? Sorry, no.

  54. “It’s sad to me that Tessa Thompson in Dear White People will probably be totally overlooked” THANK YOU, Jamdentel. She does incredible work in a wonderful movie that was critically celebrated and is being completely ignored by awards prognosticators. See also: John Lithgow in Love Is Strange. I would LOVE for attention to turn her way.

  55. Benutty

    Don’t be so sure.

  56. Jim,

    Lithgow was definitely charming as hell in Love is Strange. Personally, I don’t think he was totally able to overcome the film’s shortcomings (I think the film is kind of a mess, and not in the “life is messy” way, but in the “half-baked subplots and ill-defined supporting characters” way), but I wouldn’t object to, say, a Globe nom for him (an Oscar would be pushing it, though).

  57. I agree that there’s a lack of imagination. I was watching “Nightcrawler” the other day and kept thinking: This movie would’ve been REALLY interesting if it had explores Renee Russo’s character the entire movie. Not to say that Jake was bad — he’s always great! But Renee’s character was super interesting and complex and I would’ve loved to see that story…

  58. I would have to think the lineup (at this moment) is Moore, Pike, Witherspoon, and Jones. For the fifth spot, its between Emily Blunt and Amy Adams (but I won’t pick since they haven’t been seen). I would hope Blunt isn’t tossed aside just because Into The Woods is a musical/fantasy. It is so much more than that, and filled with some great female roles.

  59. After the Hype around Pike I’ve to think about her crazy presenter role at the BAFTAs 2011 beside poor Dominic Cooper:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3HxXVewP78
    When she is nominated for GG it could be really funny to have her as presenter at the Oscars – i won’t imagine what’s happening when she is winning Best Actress :))

  60. Paul Voorhies

    Moore’s got this one. It doesn’t even really matter who her competition is. It’s her year. The fact that she was brilliant in Maps, has the buzz, and that she finally has enough support among her fellow actors and in the Academy all point to the fact that this is academic. I’m hoping, of course, that she also turns in the best performance in the category. It helps that, as many have pointed out, the field is weak.

  61. FrankieJ

    Dorval
    Binoche (Is the film being released in 2014???)
    Cotillard
    Pike
    Witherspoon
    Moore (for MAPS, haven’t seen STILL ALICE YET)
    These are my favorites. doesn’t mean squat when it comes to the nominations.
    But rest assured Amy Adams will NOT be nominated. I’ve seen the film and, while it’s not her fault, it’s not very good.

    BTW, kudos to the readers who have mentioned Karen Black’s amazing performance in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST in 1975 (one of the best and most underrated films of the 1970s). Sometimes the Globes (who nommed Black) know what they’re doing. Sometimes.

  62. Someone mentioned 1994 as a weak year for Best Actress nominees – with Jessica Lange winning for a film she had made three years previously.

    The irony was that there was a wealth of nomination worthy performance to choose from that year:

    Linda Fiorentino – The Last Seduction (deemed ineligible because it was shown on TV)
    Meg Ryan – When a Man Loves a Woman
    Winona Ryder – Reality Bites
    Rena Owen – Once Were Warriors
    Crissy Rock – Ladybird, Ladybird

  63. @George

    I see you are Greek, was just looking at your blog.

    Kalispera. Ti kanis?

    :-D

  64. There’s a bit of buzz around Jennifer Aniston for “Cake.” It’s getting a week-long release in Dec. for consideration before getting released in 2015. Is it possible? Has anyone seen it?

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