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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  • MIXTER

    Hoping Sandra Bullock for Gravity. She was awesome in that stunning film and she carried the whole movie too. Clooney, who was ok in it, was my only slight semi-gripe. He was ok, but he was too George Clooneyish, if you know what i mean. Shame someone less familiar or more subtle wasn’t in the role. Maybe Bill Paxton or.. well, hundreds of others would have been better picks. Mind is still fried from seeing that in 3D, I love it when that happens. Rare these days.

    • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

      Have you seen blue jasmine ?
      Cate blanchett is rehearsing her speech as we speak !!!

      • Gerard Kennelly

        cate is a mother
        I thought that might prevent her from working with a peado
        guess I was wrong :(

      • Old Soldier

        Hey, it’s just an “alternative lifestyle”!
        Don’t be a “hater” you pedophobe!
        Or would you be an incestiphobe?
        Ether way you HATE and should lose your livelihood.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        ha ha ha
        I better make a statement
        make a public apology to all peadophiles

    • Gerard Kennelly
  • pickaname

    As great as Sandra Bullock is in Gravity, Cate Blanchett (at least to me) is in an entirely different league. She really is the Meryl Streep of her generation. This isn’t to say other actresses aren’t great, of course, but I really cannot think of another actress from her age group who comes even close to doing what she does. It might sound cliched at this point, but you really do not see Cate Blanchett when you see her in a movie. From “Elizabeth” to “The Aviator” to “Notes on a Scandal”; heck even in commercial stuff like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” or even “Hanna”, you see entirely different people. So, I do hope she wins her very deserving second oscar.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      Cate will be nominated against,,
      Bullock
      Larson
      Adams
      and Streep

      • The Flobbit

        This doesn’t change the fact that she’s phenomenal.

      • Nate B.

        also doesn’t change the fact that she’s got this one in the bag. Blanchett will without a doubt win her second Oscar in 2014.

  • The Flobbit

    Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett is my favourite actress alive today. More than that, I will venture to say she’s the best actress working today. She is incredibly diverse, talented, charismatic, and often, nothing short of brilliant. This win is in the bag.

    If I had a time machine and came back from 2014, this is what I’d bring:
    -Best Picture – Gravity
    -Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron
    -Best Actor – Chiwetel Ejiofor
    -Best Actress – Cate Blanchett

    Sandra Bullock – Gravity – color me surprised, amazed, shocked, scared, and riveted all at once. Gravity was Bullock’s best work by about 400%. It was an incredible, physical, emotional role. It was nothing short of electrifying! But here’s the thing: The Academy is a bunch of old farts, and Blanchett’s meatier, more grounded performance is likely to get them going more. Not to mention that Gravity was 75% CGI…

    Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks – I’ll tell you what’s keeping Emma Thompson away from her little golden boy: The fact that the movie’s a comedy, the movie’s got somewhat mixed reviews, Emma’s already won twice. Oh, and Cate Blanchett.

    Meryl Streep – August: Osage County – OK, so Meryl’s amazing. We all know it. But she did NOT deserve to win for Iron Lady and she does not deserve to win THIS year. You have three Oscars, how many more do you need?

    Judi Dench – Philomena – nice, but not widely seen enough. This was a bigger hit in England. Maybe a BAFTA…

    Amy Adams – American Hustle – Not going to happen. This is not a very *dramatic* role – not one that (based on past experiences) Amy Adams is likely to win for. Also, she should get a Supporting Actress nod here. But if Amy doesn’t win SOMETIME in her life than I don’t know who will!

    Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Color – This will happen when Takashi Miike wins Best Director, and Harmony Korine gets Best Picture. Not. On. Your. Life. The Academy is a bunch of stuffy old windbags, and this is far too edgy.

    Kate Winslet – Labor Day – I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but reviews have been less than ecstatic, and this is not the showiest (talent wise) of roles.

    Julie Delpy – Before Midnight – I seriously doubt this will happen. Out of sight, out of mind.

    Brie Larson – Short Term 12 – Wow. I can’t believe you’d even consider that Brie Larson – a B-list actress – would even get NOMINATED for a little-seen, arthouse drama on a difficult subject.

    Julia Louis-Drefyuss – Enough Said – Yeah, right. Cute little comedy, seen by no one outside of critics and festivals. Not a chance in hell.

    Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha – Yeah, I wish. It was a great performance, but if Gerwig gets nominated then Matt Goldberg is the new Roger Ebert and Justin Bieber will play Robin..

    • SomeGuy

      I’m in agreement with most of your response. I just don’t feel like Gravity will win ‘Best Picture’, though I really do see Alfonso Cuarón winning ‘Best Director’.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      if I had a time machine and came back from 2014, this is what I’d bring:
      -Best Picture – The Butler (more american propaganda)
      -Best Director – Nicholas Windn Refn only god forgives
      -Best Actor – Dennis Quaid at any price
      -Best Actress – Adele Exarchapolos blue warm color

      • The Flobbit

        If you had a time machine from a dystopian hipster future where every actor in the world except Quaid and Exarchapolos had been shot…then yes, that is what you’ll bring. Refn and Quaid will not even get nominated.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        I remember quaid and liotta were both snub for narc and far from heaven

      • Old Soldier

        You forgot to ad after Exarchapolos-(more Hollywood Propaganda)

  • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

    Cate Blanchett of course. Talent, grace and beauty.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      am I the only one who thinks
      woody allen who molested a 7 year old
      and groomed his step daughter should be boycott ?

      • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

        No you are not the only one.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        and there I was..
        thinking molesting kids was wrong

      • Old Soldier

        HATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Gerard Kennelly

        do you have kids
        would you leave them alone with woody allen ? ?

      • Nate B.

        I’d be a lot more comfortable leaving them alone with Woody Allen than with some creepy clown with a cat as his avatar. Seriously, a cat? Might as well have just used a pic of yourself jerking it to your deceased mother’s picture alone in a dark basement somewhere.

  • Cyberpunk14

    Cate Blanchett also won an Oscar before, Like Sandra Bullock

  • Jamie Teller

    I really hope the final line-up isn’t Blanchett, Thompson, Bullock, Streep, and Dench. That would be so boring. Blanchett and Bullock I can see. Thompson, I’m iffy on the film. Streep–come on. Dench–I don’t know, is this really Oscar-worthy? Is this really more worthy than her work in Skyfall?

    Let’s get Brie Larson in there, definitely. Adams, we’ll have to see. Has anyone heard her accent yet? Exarchopoulos…I didn’t think she was that great. Plus, the movie was pretty overrated. I’d love to see Gerwig get on, but I’m not banking on it. Winslet…no buzz. Possible dud of a film. Louis-Dreyfus…Nah.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      2013 oscar snub
      Mary Elizabeth Winstead — SMASHED
      2014 oscar snub
      Brie Larson — SHORT TERM 12

      • Jamie Teller

        Still haven’t seen Smashed. Really want to.

  • Gerard Kennelly

    streep got the Oscar for ‘the iron lady’ instead of rooney mara for TGWTDT
    a disgrace
    that garbage about her going for supp actress is nonsense
    she will win the best in a LEADING role oscar
    same as Hopkins in ‘silence of the lambs’
    when he was only on screen 13 minutes

  • Rastapopoulos

    Jasmine is a great character in a forgettable movie – not bad but come on, compared to Annie Hall or Manhattan, it’s a so-so Woody Allen movie. Gravity is a monument, and Bullock is a wonderful part of it. OK, she already had an award (what a joke…), and Blanchett, no. It seems unfair. So, if you speak about careers, it must go to Blanchett. If you speak about 2013, it must be Bullock.

  • Nate B.

    Nobody’s beating Blanchett this year, we’re basically looking at a sure thing like Jamie Foxx in Ray or DDL in There Will be Blood.

  • Steven Kaye

    The answer to your question is, of course, no. Cate Blanchett, delivering an extraordinary performance in a masterwork by one of the all time greats? Just give her the Oscar now.

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