I was planning to do a Top Ten Meryl Streep performances but I could anticipate the collective groan by you fine people. We don’t really even need to go there — there have been so many. I’d probably go: 1. Sophie’s Choice, 2. The Devil Wears Prada, 3. Postcards from the Edge, 4. Silkwood, 5. Doubt, 6. Kramer Vs. Kramer, 7. Manhattan, 8. Out of Africa, 9. One True Thing (totally underrated), 10. The Bridges of Madison County – you know, it’s kind of impossible to choose only ten; I suppose I’ll have to write a longer Meryl tribute later, after I see and decide where Julia & Julia fits in. I know, you’re all jumping with joy at the prospect…
I wanted to take a look at the up-and-comers – because, you know, in Hollywood it’s all about who is young and hot, not who is old and not (except Meryl, we love YOU old Meryl!). I’m wondering who is most likely, as a young actress, to win an Oscar either soon or at some point in the near future. I’m going to toss out a very lame list because I just know you readers are much smarter and can come up with better names. So before I hand it over to you – here are a few young ladies who seem like the path is being cleared for them, either because they have the talent to get there or because they are so well-liked they will clutch that statue whether they deserve it or not.
Lists like this are kind of pointless – because it isn’t always about who they are but what kind of work they do, or perhaps the right part at the right time. But let’s face it, a lot of it is who they are – Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Penelope Cruz – they were destined to win something at some point.
1. Carey Mulligan. An Education is one of the best films I’ve seen this year (admittedly, not saying much). The beautiful and intelligent Mulligan was seen briefly as a giggling, chubby background sister in Pride and Prejudice – ironically co-starring with Rosamund Pike, with whom she also stars in this film. While I bristle at the idea that we have to go across the pond to find pretty, young, intelligent-seeming actresses to play leads in American films, Mulligan is playing an English girl. She’s also playing a 16 year-old – she plays her as a virgin and later, hope I’m not spoiling anything, as a non-virgin. It is such a subtle change but she nails it. She has the promise of becoming another Helen Mirren or Judi Dench – a timeless beauty not afraid to be who she is as she ages. Yes, a lot is being made of her, a lot of hype is churning away, but it is all deserved.
2. Amy Adams – she’s making the right choices (seems to have good people helping her run her career, or else she is just smart about it) with projects and has taken full advantage of her moment in the spotlight. She’s a good actress but needs to show more versatility to win probably; she always seems to be playing the same type of person. She is showing, though, with the films she chooses, that she’s Oscar-bound in a deliberate sense. She isn’t losing fifty pounds or playing hookers or drug addicts yet but she’s playing the game well at the right time in her career.
3. Keira Knightley – another Brit who seems destined to be an Oscar girl. She seems to be the go-to actress for the sweeping epic, which puts her in a good position to eventually get into the right role at the right time, or else she is doing the proper prep work (like Amy Adams) so that should she ever gain fifty pounds, play a hooker or a drug addict (or perhaps a long-suffering wife) she will be Oscar-climax-ready. Knightley is someone who will never need plastic surgery and she will age as beautifully as Audrey Hepburn. Somewhere there is an Oscar with her name on it. It’s only a matter of time.
4. Anne Hathaway – it wasn’t so apparent how serious Hathaway was about the Oscar thing until Rachel Getting Married. When she accepted her Broadcast Film Critics award, which she shared with Meryl Streep, her speech made it abundantly clear how serious she was about it. It kind of backfired, probably – the way the game is played is that you work hard, you show up at press events but you never act overly confident or anything but utterly humbled by the attention. Any amount of confidence is read as arrogance. So much of award-giving is the idea of bestowing a great gift, a grand act upon someone. And if it doesn’t feel good to bestow it, voters seem less inclined to give it. So one must always cry and grovel. Still, that aside, Hathaway is on her way.
5. Natalie Portman – it seemed, for a time, that Portman was really on the shortlist. She is on the list but not in an immediate sense — she’s probably at the stage, though, where she’s paid her dues and the groundwork has been laid so that, say it with me now, should she gain fifty pounds, play a hooker (she kind of did already), a drug addict, a long-suffering wife she’d be ready for Oscar voters to say, okay, it’s time. Portman has always been good, going all the way back to her first film The Professional. She was praised for her part in Beautiful Girls and nominated for her great performance in Closer. Since then, there have been a few Oscar missteps. Doesn’t matter; she still has a full and promising career ahead of her.
6. Rachel McAdams – one American who is certainly pretty enough and talented enough and more importantly, CLASSY enough (no DUIs or mug shots thankfully) to find her way into the awards race. She did the indie thing, now she’s back to doing the A-list thing, which may or may not lead to, eventually, the award movie thing. Sooner or later, she’ll on the short list.
7. Abbie Cornish – this is kind of premature entry, perhaps, because the reviews aren’t yet in for Bright Star. Still, she seems, so far, to have it all – beauty, talent, the right connections. She is mostly clean from the Reese Witherspoon divorce scandal to not be held accountable for their breakup (who cares anymore?). She’s not American, which is a plus, sadly.
8. Ellen Page – she’ll have to do a lot more than play the wise-cracking goofball but she’s had her moment and the moment will linger until she does something about it. This is a person who really does not care whether she wins an Oscar or not. She has a life away from Hollywood. 85% of winning an Oscar is wanting one in the first place (but pretending like you don’t). Still, Page seems like she might be the kind of actress who could hit the right part at the right time and win, whether she wants to or not.
9. Saoirse Ronan – the camera loves her, as we’ve seen in both Atonement, and in the trailer for The Lovely Bones. It will take her some time before she earns enough cache to considered an Oscar winner. Still, she is intriguing, both in her seriousness and in her ability.
10. (A tie) Keke Palmer and Rebecca Hall – Of the young actresses out there, it’s difficult to come up with young women of color who seem Oscar-bound. I had to dig deep to find Palmer and probably this is a token entry. I just couldn’t stomach ten white actresses. I know I get shit for it, too. But Palmer appears to be hungry enough and serious enough, and is making the right choices to put her in the top ten of eventuals. She is unproven, of course, but the perception is there that she is going places.
Rebecca Hall seems to have handlers pushing her in the right direction. She’s got the looks for success. So far, the readers are more confident of her placement than I am – she’s okay to me but nothing particularly astonishing. At any rate, I’ll add her.
Other names I wanted to squeeze in but had a hard time doing so: Dakota Fanning (needs more time to erase the kid actor thing), Jenna Malone, Scarlett Johansson (seems to be deliberately derailing her Oscar promise, but one day she’ll wake up to the reality of having and then losing power in Hollywood), Emily Blunt – she seems headed that way but to me has shown enough depth or versatility yet. She will. Catalina Sandino Moreno has had the one great performance.
A note about the almost complete whiteness of the choices: I chose all white actresses because they seem to dominate the whole idea of cultivating an Oscar-winning career (though no doubt Halle Berry would have broken through).
This isn’t to say there aren’t many black, Asian, Latino actresses who are also cultivating Oscar careers, or aren’t deserving, or won’t win – in fact, these days, being black seems to give potential nominees the edge. But they are more likely to be one-offs and WINNERS, rather than multiple nominees who finally win – and again, this isn’t exclusively true.
As for older black actresses, or any older actress, overdue for an Oscar – or in line to someday win an Oscar – that’s a whole different list too, and that would include Viola Davis, Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, etc. I tried to narrow it to the young and up-and-coming. It’s a sober awakening, no doubt.