Oscar Beat TIFF 2014: Reese Witherspoon Enters Frustratingly Thin Best Actress Race with WILD

     September 12, 2014


While the Toronto International Film Festival is a regular launching pad for awards season fare, this year’s fest lacked any one big breakout film like last year’s 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.  TIFF 2014, instead, was all about the performances.  I’ve already written about the awards prospects of the incredible work in Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything, not to mention a potential dark horse in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler, and now it’s time to discuss Reese Witherspoon’s raw, naked lead performance in director Jean-Marc Vallée’s pleasantly surprising and refreshing drama Wild.

You can read my full review of the film right here, but in this TIFF 2014 edition of Oscar Beat, I consider Witherspoon’s chances in the frustratingly weak Best Actress race.  Read on after the jump.

wild-reese-witherspoonAs I said in my review of the film, Witherspoon absolutely shines in Wild as a woman who takes a three-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to reflect on past mistakes and possibly come to some sort of inner peace.  The premise is very Eat, Pray, Love, but I can assure you that Wild is anything but trite.  It’s a constantly surprising, tough, and introspective film about the reality of perseverance.  It’s also unabashedly an adult drama about adult relationships, which is all too rare these days.

Witherspoon turns in quite possibly her best performance to date as Cheryl Strayed, refusing to devolve into melodrama and instead putting forward an honest, bare portrayal.  She’s most definitely a contender in the year’s Best Actress race, and I’d also put the film up for consideration in the Best Picture field.  I think it’s far and away a better movie than Dallas Buyers Club, and if that one got a Best Pic nod then Wild certainly deserves one too.  We’ll have to see how the rest of the year turns out before we seriously consider Wild’s chances in categories outside Best Actress, but I wouldn’t count it out for Best Picture and/or Best Adapted Screenplay, and though Laura Dern’s tender, nuanced turn as Strayed’s mother is a small role, it’s worthy of Best Supporting Actress consideration.  Given how thin that field is year after year, I’d say Dern has a serious shot at a nomination.

It’s no secret that Hollywood isn’t great when it comes to female roles.  They’re almost always the girlfriend or sidekick to the male protagonist, existing solely in relation to the man.  Moreover, scripts rarely have fleshed out or three-dimensional female supporting characters.  It’s no wonder that the Best Supporting Actress category is normally one of the hardest to fill out each year.

still-alice-julianne-mooreThis year’s Best Actress field is especially thin.  We’ve still got Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and Amy Adams in Big Eyes on tap to consider, but when you compare the female lead roles to those that were written for men just this year, it’s rather unbalanced.  After the under-the-radar drama Still Alice premiered at TIFF earlier this week to rave reviews for Julianne Moore’s performance as a woman suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many said that if a studio picked the film up and released it this year, they would be ensuring an Oscar nod for Moore if not a win.  Indeed, Sony Pictures Classics did just that, and Moore might be on her way to her first Oscar trophy.

It will be some time before the Best Actress field fully takes shape, and I expect Witherspoon will indeed be among the serious contenders to take the gold, but it’s certainly frustrating to look at the wealth of incredible lead male roles of the year in contrast to the lead female parts.  It’s certainly not on account of a lack of talent on behalf of actresses

If you missed any of my Oscar Beat coverage from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, peruse the links below.  Click here to catch up on the entirety of our TIFF 2014 coverage.


Oscars Reese Witherspoon Wild

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