I’ll start by saying no, I don’t think anyone can beat Julianne Moore for her performance in Still Alice. Twice nominated at the Golden Globes (like Kate Winslet was the year she won), and a career of brilliant performances behind her, Moore seems to have this sewn up. But. Here’s the thing. Oscar has a history of rewarding first time nominees over veterans in the Best Actress category. Who can forget Annette Bening vs. Hilary Swank, for instance, or Julie Christie vs. Marion Cotillard or Sandra Bullock vs. Meryl Streep. Indeed, Christie, Streep and other vets who have lost to first timers already won Oscars (not Bening) and I would hope that, by now, Moore has paid her dues and then some. But I’m seeing some shakeup in the Best Actress race lately, like Jennifer Aniston taking a prominent role on the publicity tour (which matters).
Rosamund Pike has just won a slew of critics awards, taking Detroit, St. Louis and Kansas City. The big city New York critics denied Julianne Moore by trying to boost Marion Cotillard’s chances. Indeed, Cotillard could still get into Oscar’s Big Five but right now we’re presuming it goes like this:
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Alternates: Marion Cotillard, Two Days or The Immigrant, Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Dark Horse: Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Pike has a few advantages here, or certainly did until Aniston hit the scene. She’s playing against type, playing a dark character, and led a movie to a $164 million box office win. She’s the only one of the five who can boast any sort of box office success at all.
Aniston also plays a hard-edged character (though I’ve not yet seen Cake) who isn’t as likable as Aniston herself. She has the Cinderella thing going on, being that no one really expected she’d parlay the tiny indie movie into an Oscar nod but that’s exactly what is happening, thanks in large part to a brilliant publicity campaign.
Witherspoon has won an Oscar already, and likely won’t be in a Best Picture contender. Only Pike and Jones can claim that honor, at least so far, this year. But Witherspoon produced Gone Girl and Wild, and starred in three films this year. She’s also working the publicity circuit as hard as Aniston.
The question isn’t really which actress can beat Julianne Moore, but rather, can Julianne Moore not win? With a long line of overlooked performances in films like Safe, Far From Heaven, The Big Lebowski, and The Hours, Moore has been the one major actress of her generation who hasn’t yet won an Oscar. From my perspective, I always look out for those kinds of wins. On the other hand, why do I get the sense that others don’t feel that way?
There are more multiple nominees without Oscar wins for women than there have been for men. It gets harder as an actress ages to win.
One of the most interesting years for that was 1950 when Judy Holiday beat both Bette Davis for All About Eve and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Blvd. Holiday’s performance was the most likable and charming, no doubt, as the plucky, funny, dumb blonde. No one can say she didn’t deserve it. Can we pause, however, to look at that year? All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard led by powerful older actresses – can you imagine any Oscar year now looking anything like that?
But neither Jennifer Aniston nor Rosamund Pike play likable charming nitwits. But you know if there was one in the race it would be a deadly threat. Here is how I see it lining up at the moment:
1. Julianne Moore – the frontrunner.
2. Jennifer Aniston – waiting in the wings.
3. Rosamund Pike – the threatening dark horse.
4. Reese Witherspoon – Previous win works against her but might not prevent her.
5. Felicity Jones – The young charmer who could come from behind
Here is a list of actresses who have been the bridesmaid but never the bride:
Debra Kerr – 6 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Glenn Close – 3 for Best Actress, 3 for supporting, 0 wins
Amy Adams – 1 Best Actress, 4 supporting, – 0 wins
Irene Dunne – 5 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Julianne Moore – 4 nominations, 2 Best Actress, 2 supporting, 0 wins
Annette Bening – 4 nominations, 3 Best Actress, 1 Supporting, 0 wins
Jane Alexander – 4 nominations, 2 Best Actress, 2 supporting, 0 wins
Marsha Mason – 4 nominations, 0 wins
Rosalind Russell – 4 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Barbara Stanwyck – 4 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Greta Garbo – 3 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Debra Winger – 3 nominations for Best Actress, 0 wins
Laura Linney – 2 Best actress, 1 supporting, 0 wins
Sigourney Weaver – 2 Best Actress, 1 supporting, 0 wins
Michelle Williams – 2 Best Actress, 1 supporting, 0 wins