Cate Blanchett began the year, along with her co-star Rooney Mara, as the strongest contender for Best Actress in Todd Haynes’ Carol. Unbelievably, she bested herself in Truth, giving maybe her best ever performance. Putting both Carol and Truth together you have the strongest double hitter we’ve seen in a while. But unfortunately, Truth will be hit pretty hard by journalists who have come forward to side with the Bush administration and CBS to say that Mary Mapes was in the wrong. The film Truth does not say she wasn’t. It isn’t about that as much as how the original Bush story was buried, and the unusually strong punishment Mapes received. It was, to my mind, a sad day for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. When a woman is involved people run like scared rabbits, as they did with Zero Dark Thirty, Selma and now Truth. This is one of those faux scandals that will simply damage an Oscar contender but then slither quietly back from whence it came. There is something about a woman being in charge that makes people nervous. Dollars to donuts if Mapes had been male none of this would have happened in quite the same way. CBS might have done what Ben Bradlee had done and stood by his reporters who really were on the side of the truth. But they didn’t. They collapsed under pressure. Period. The end.
So if the faux scandal gives Blanchett’s nod to Carol instead, which it may do, where does that leave us? Well, since Blanchett won recently for Blue Jasmine, it it could mean Brie Larson, whose film Room just won the Audience Award at Toronto, right at the top of the list for the Best Actress win. While it is too early to talk about winners, I suspect Larson, who was already a top contender anyway, could become the early frontrunner.
Helping Larson is that she’s never won before. She’s young and she has nothing but good buzz around her work so far. She exploded onto the scene with Short Term 12 and almost earned an Oscar nod for it. She made enough of a ripple effect that the residue goodwill for that performance will help getting recognition for this performance. Furthermore, Room is now a formidable Best Picture contender. That only helps Larson to win. While Best Actor is more closely aligned with Best Picture, it never hurts to be the star of one. Having beaten every other film at Toronto, Room’s chances are now greater. It had great word of mouth at Telluride and will likely continue to depend on word of mouth to get people to see it who might be reluctant because of the subject matter.
Brie Larson’s performance in Room is astonishing. The different ways her character expresses the complex feelings of being a carefree teenager, then sexual predator’s victim, then a mother, then a kidnap victim who escaped after being confined is why she will likely shine brighter than her competition. She doesn’t just play one note and isn’t afraid to sometimes be unlikable, blank-eyed, angry.
What moved me most was the close relationship Larson clearly had with her co-star, Jacob Tremblay. Never once did I doubt she wasn’t his mother. They never seemed like they were acting even. Larson, who has never been a mother herself, inherently knows what it means to be simultaneously irritated and resisting the urge to feel irritated at one’s own child. It is a performance that deeply embeds. It will be hard to beat.
Finally, as all of these things usually do, it will come down to Larson’s own personality and willingness to do publicity. The easygoing, accessible Larson is a charmer. True, she will be going up against the Queen of Charm, Jennifer Lawrence herself, and Blanchett, who’s no slouch in that department either, but Larson can hold her own as one of the most promising up and coming young actresses who’s nearly being wasted by Big Hollywood at the moment.
This also helps the supporting actress contender Joan Allen, and screenwriter Emma Donoghue, and of course, director Lenny Abrahmson.
Best Actress is shaping up like this:
Brie Larson, Room
Cate Blanchett, Truth or Carol
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Jennifer Lawrence will have to be factored in somewhere.
Either way, the team working on Room will be having a very happy day today. They now know they have the goods to go all the way, certainly to Best Actress but no one can rule out winning Best Picture or Best Director either. Just saying.