When an actress faces the gauntlet of Oscar campaigning, usually it requires that extra something something. This isn’t to say you can’t get there if you’re Judi Dench (sexy in her own right), Helen Mirren (ditto) – but there is a reason why many brilliant actresses seem to “age out” of the process — their window for winning an Oscar fading, along with her sexuality (as defined by the male gaze — usually defined as younger). With so many Oscar nominations under her belt, freedom with her own nudity, Kate Winslet still had to go there to finally win: The sex card is a powerful hand to play during Oscar season because the voting bodies tend to be dominated by older straight white males. Women who can play it often do. Women who can’t must depend on their reputation and general likability. But if you’re young and trying to break through, often sex is the only way to really do that. Oh sure, every so often it doesn’t matter. As far as I can tell, Jessica Chastain has never needed to play the sex card, although she lost to Jennifer Lawrence who not only played it in print but played it in the movie, Silver Linings Playbook. While it might not always be the right hand to play to win, it can often make the difference in a very crowded year with many contenders. For instance, Adele Exarchopoulos is an actress who is so hot she could probably fry eggs just by looking at them. She has a powerful weapon at her disposal — all she needed to do was say yes. GQ spreads her out like butter on its pages. That magazine will likely make its way to the commodes, waiting rooms and offices of many voters. These images might, at the very least, get voters who might be afraid of a three hour movie, to watch. They’d be watching (or fast-forwarding) anyway, but surely this helps. You might think this is an insulting way to address collective male attitudes. Surely they are able to judge good performances without having to factor in sex. But human beings overall are preoccupied by, distracted by sex. It isn’t a bad thing. No one is judging. It just is. The sex card is played the same way actors appear on Letterman or go to parties and lunches. It’s the one thing that guarantees men will look, some women too. It guarantees they will be talked about, admired, remembered. The Best Actress race right now is mostly filled with vets — Cate Blanchett, by now, shouldn’t need to play the sex card. She is one of the sexiest actresses in Hollywood — but you don’t really get that about her unless you’ve met her in person. But her charisma is on the level of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Sandra Bullock is almost 50 — but is so popular now, and in the year’s most popular movie so far, that she doesn’t really need to. Meryl Streep for August: Osage County, doesn’t need to. Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks? Won’t. Amy Adams in American Hustle? Can play it and is playing it in that film. The two actresses hovering right on the fringe – Exarchopoulos and Brie Larson. One is playing the sex card and the other isn’t. True, Blue is the Warmest Color already won the Palme d’Or and has making the publicity rounds — the film doing well with critics despite the director’s continued assault on Lea Seydoux, who is the film’s true standout, in this site’s opinion. Larson doesn’t seem to be playing the sex card, at least not to the degree Exarchopoulos is. She did this pose for Elle: Of the two performances Brie Larson’s is by far the most accomplished. Exarchopoulos has less to do with actual skill and more to do with the director’s extreme tactics to elicit from her what he wanted. He’s made that clear. He picked a character who was unselfconscious, young and unaffected. He pushed her far, held her under a microscopic lens and recorded the results. Is that acting? There is no denying the ultimate effect but it was a collaboration between director and muse. With Larson, she has created her own manifestation of a very interesting, accomplished young woman. The layers of her performance from beginning to end is a thing of beauty. You never really know where she’s taking you until you get there. Is an Oscar nomination something she needs right now in her career? Who knows. Is it something she deserves? Absolutely. Ms. Exarchopoulos is going to be an icon. She will sit alongside the greatest beauties in our enduring relationship with French imports. Being so young, it’s hard to imagine where she can take her career from here. She doesn’t seem to mind showing her body (she’s French, after all) — she might hit the big time and start doing tentpole films — big action movies. As far as I can see for her, the sky’s the limit. Either way, it’s a win win for both of these actresses, whether they can bump one of the A-listers or not. It isn’t necessarily a matter of whether Exarchopoulos or Larson will get in; it’s a more a matter of who, of those who have their place in line, won’t. Other actresses who could break through: Kate Winslet, Labor Day Julie Delpy, Before Midnight Berenice Bejo, The Past The Best Actress race right now look like this: 1. Cate Blanchett, still for the win but vulnerable to Bullock. 2. Sandra Bullock, poised to win her second Best Actress Oscar, but she’ll have to beat Blanchett. 3. Judi Dench, word has it her work in Philomena is a career best 5. Meryl Streep and/or Julia Roberts in August: Osage County 5. Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. 5. Amy Adams in American Hustle Those last three actresses will have to fight it out for the last two slots available but as you can see, bumping any of those is going to be tough indeed. Playing the sex card might be one of the ways. Just saying.