Oscar Beat: The Best Actress Race – Can Anyone Beat Blanchett?

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In Collider’s ongoing awards feature Oscar Beat, we recently took a look at the state of the Best Actor Oscar race, which is looking to be one of the most competitive in recent memory.  Likewise, this year’s Best Actress race is chock-full of fantastic performances and serious contenders, but we’ve had a frontrunner for the category since July and Cate Blanchett’s name remains atop the pile as we head into the thick of the race.  Will Blanchett remain the favorite over the next three months or is there another contender more worthy of the trophy?  Can any of the brilliant performances from this year’s smaller indies crack the top five?  Read on after the jump as we examine the current state of the Best Actress category.

As I stated in our Best Actor feature, there is still plenty of time left in this year’s Oscar race, so expect to see further fluctuations in this category as the various awards campaigns heat up.  That said, here’s an early look at the landscape for Best Actress.

Frontrunners

blue-jasmine-cate-blanchettCate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen has a history of directing his actors to Oscar success, but Cate Blanchett’s performance in this year’s Blue Jasmine is nothing short of mesmerizing.  She imbues the titular Jasmine with a mix of entitlement, depression, and delusion that is a true tour-de-force, and critics rightly took notice.  Blanchett has topped the Best Actress list of contenders since Blue Jasmine hit theaters this summer, and she’s still the favorite to win.  Obviously there is still plenty of campaigning left to do on the part of the other contenders so it’s possible she could be overtaken in the next few months, but right now I only see one major threat to her taking home her second Academy Award…

Sandra Bullock – Gravity 

And that threat is Sandra Bullock and the box office behemoth that is Gravity.  The film has been a serious contender in a number of categories since it first premiered on the festival circuit, and its mainstream popularity only helps its chances going forward.  Bullock does tremendous work carrying the film solo for most of its runtime, and it will likely garner her a second Best Actress nomination.  The fact that Bullock has won Best Actress before might nudge Academy members in Blanchett’s direction, but if Gravity continues to pick up steam, the Best Actress trophy could be one of the awards it picks up during a potential sweep.

Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks 

saving-mr-banks-tom-hanks-emma-thompsonReal-life figures are always a draw for the Academy, as are Hollywood stories.  Saving Mr. Banks has both, and it also happens to feature a lead performance by two-time winner Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers.  As the film screens for more critics it’s becoming clear that Saving Mr. Banks won’t be the critical darling of this year’s awards season, but its sentimentality and heavy showbiz leanings could catch on with Oscar voters.  Regardless, Thompson has been earning strong marks for her lead performance and could very well find herself a nominee in this year’s race. 

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County 

The curse of Meryl Streep is she’s so consistently great that her insane talent can sometimes be overlooked as simply routine—as if to say “And Meryl Streep is great again, but whatever.”  Nevertheless, she’s certainly prone to Academy recognition to the tune of 17 (17!) nominations, and she might just make it 18 with her portrayal as a pill-popping matriarch in August: Osage County.  It’s an odd performance to be sure and critics haven’t been universally taken with Streep’s choices in the film, but count me among those who think she’s terrific in the dark, dysfunctional family dramedy.  The film’s Oscar chances as a whole will be more clear once audiences have a chance to check it out, but for now it’s safe to pencil Streep in as a serious contender. 

Judi Dench – Philomena 

august-osage-county-meryl-streepYet another acting veteran who shines in role after role is Judi Dench, and the Dame has another awards-worthy performance this year in The Weinstein Company’s Philomena.  It’s a wonderful turn from Dench, as she plays a naïve and sweet ex-nun who sets out in search of the child she was forced to give up decades earlier.  The actress is wonderfully nuanced in her portrayal, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her nab an eighth Oscar nomination.

Major Threats

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Though American Hustle is one of the films that no one has seen yet, the pic’s pedigree suggests it could be a major player in the awards race, including its stacked ensemble cast.  Adams will be submitted for Best Actress while co-star Jennifer Lawrence is going supporting, and both feel like strong possibilities to score nods.  Adams has scored four nominations in the past seven years, all in the Best Supporting Actress category, so she’s due for consideration in the lead category.  Again, we’ll know more once critics have actually seen American Hustle, but for now definitely keep an eye on Adams.

Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Color 

Though the NC-17 “lesbian sex” film Blue Is the Warmest Color certainly faces an uphill battle with regards to the Oscars, it’s impossible to deny Adele Exarchopoulos’ emotionally magnetic lead performance.  The film itself is an epically intimate relationship drama and won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (Exarchopoulos was awarded Best Actress alongside co-star Lea Seydoux); the only thing standing in its way is its reputation, i.e. the rating, director controversy, and sex scenes.  If enough Academy voters actually watch the film, Exarchopoulos could very well land a much-deserved Best Actress nod. 

blue-is-the-warmest-color-adele-exarchopoulosKate Winslet – Labor Day

As a six-time nominee and one-time winner, Kate Winslet is a regular in the awards season conversation.  Her performance as an emotionally troubled mother who strikes up a complicated relationship with an escaped convict she’s harboring in her home is strong stuff, but since the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it appears to have gone on a sort of radio silence.  That could work against Winslet’s chances, as Labor Day isn’t even set to open in limited release until the very end of December.  That being said, it’s never wise to count Winslet completely out of the race, and Paramount could very well heat up the campaign for director Jason Reitman’s latest in the coming weeks. 

Potential Dark Horse

Julie Delpy – Before Midnight 

Director Richard Linklater’s second film in the Before series, Before Sunset, picked up an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, but this year’s excellent third entry also carries the potential of a Best Actress nomination as well.  Delpy’s turn in Before Midnight is the most complicated of the three films, and she plays the character with ease as the mixed feelings of love, resentment, and fear are always bubbling under the surface Celine’s relationship to her husband, Jesse (Ethan Hawke).  Midnight is a much smaller film than many of the other contenders so it has less of a shot, but critics have been praising Delpy’s performance for months. 

Brie Larson – Short Term 12 

short-term-12-brie-larsonHere’s an even smaller film that faces tough odds despite its stellar reviews.  Brie Larson’s performance in the delicate drama Short Term 12 has been heralded by many as one of the best of the year, and while she doesn’t carry the same name recognition as Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep, this is a case where critics have the ability to shine a light on a film/performance that might otherwise be overlooked.  The small studio behind Short Term 12 doesn’t have the resources to mount a full-blitz awards campaign, but Larson is one of the favorites to pull a surprise Best Actress nomination should enough voters take a liking to her performance. 

Julia Louis-Drefyus – Enough Said 

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is a more commercial work than her previous films, but it’s no less affecting.  The film features a pair of wonderfully charming performances from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, and both are garnering genuine awards buzz.  While it will be very tough for Louis-Dreyfus to crack the very crowded Best Actress field given that comedy is rarely recognized, she remains a serious possibility.

Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha 

Speaking of charming, critics flipped for Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white ode to twentysomething uncertainty, Frances Ha, which is buoyed by a fantastic performance from co-writer Greta Gerwig.  Again, the smaller films are more likely to get lost in the shuffle with heavy hitters like Gravity and Saving Mr. Banks in the mix, but Gerwig has been championed for months and could very well land her first Oscar nod.

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