Think back to last year’s Best Actress category and what a titanic lineup it was. Sandra Bullock for Gravity, Judi Dench for Philomena, Meryl Streep for August: Osage County, and Cate Blanchett, who won the honor for Blue Jasmine. All four legendary ladies were past winners and are living proof that sometimes Oscar makes the right call.
But then there was Amy Adams, whose slinky apparel and elaborate disco-inspired hairdos as a con artist in American Hustle could not obscure the fact that she was the odd woman out. In four previous tries, she has never won an Oscar. And with Blanchett an early favorite to claim her first-ever lead victory for her astonishing performance as a latter-day Blanche DuBois, Adams experienced Defeat #5.
That she then joined an exclusive club — whose only other member is the late Irene Dunne, who also went 0 for 5 at the Oscars following her final loss as the lead in 1948’s I Remember Mama — was little compensation for getting all gussied up for the big show, only to come home empty-handed once more.
This year, however, Adams is expected to have a sixth chance to claim an Oscar for Tim Burton’s Big Eyes as painter Margaret Keane, whose portraits of large-eyed waifs made her the queen of mid-century kitsch. If she fails again, Adams will at least be able to commiserate with Glenn Close (along with the late Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter) as actresses who have been nominated the most times without a win.
At this point, it’s all speculation, since Big Eyes won’t be released until Christmas. Still, the possible upside for Adams as far as the Best Actress choices are concerned is that the competition isn’t considered that strong — especially compared to last year.
Among the likely suspects? As good as Reese Witherspoon might be in Wild, she already has an Academy Award for 2005’s Walk the Line. Felicity Jones’ distinctly complex turn as the supportive wife of a temperamental genius in The Theory of Everything is a career-maker. But it all depends on whether the public embraces the Stephen Hawking biopic when it opens on Nov. 7.
Rosamund Pike might sneak in as the ultimate desperate housewife in Gone Girl. And Hilary Swank, who is 2 for 2 when it comes to winning Oscars, has a chance at a third go-round with the feminist Western The Homesman, directed by and co-starring Tommy Lee Jones.
But the strongest candidate who could stand in Adams’ way is the equally overdue Julianne Moore, who has four nominations without a win. It looked as if she wouldn’t even make the cut when her performance as a mentally warped movie star whose career has flamed out in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, which earned her the title of Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, was moved to next year. (It will, however, get an Oscar-qualifying run late this year).
But then came Still Alice, which was picked up after receiving strong word-of-mouth after premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. The quieter yet compelling role as a Columbia linguistics professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease seems to be a much more traditional candidate for awards attention.
Suddenly, pundits who spend awards season predicting likely nominees suddenly placed Moore as the one to beat among the likely Best Actress competitors. Right now, out of 21 experts at the Gold Derby, 12 have placed Moore as the leader. Meanwhile, Adams and Witherspoon both have three supporters each, while two pick Pike and one chooses Jones to reign supreme.
Of course, there is a number of variables that will come into play between now and when Academy voters actually see Big Eyes and Still Alice, which also will get a brief run in December before opening wider on January 16. But perhaps the biggest issue is who is perceived as being the most overdue: Adams or Moore?
And what if Jessica Chastain, who has been nominated twice without a win, sneaks in for one of her many releases this year — The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, and Miss Julie?
To have this trio of fabulous redheads engage in an acting battle royale would not exactly be a terrible thing, of course. Save for the fact that two of them will end up without the trophy again.
The Gold Derby prediction site actually conducted a poll asking their readers who they consider more overdue for an Oscar — Adams or Moore. The result: 75% went for Moore. Of course, Oscar voters will be the ones to ultimately decide their fates. But let’s look at some of the reasons why Moore might be better positioned than Adams to take the gold — or not.
Pros and Cons for Adams
The breadth of her previous nominated roles: She has more variety than Moore. Besides her seductive swindler in American Hustle, what other actress could pull off a sweet novice nun in 2008’s Doubt, as well as the manipulative Lady Macbeth wife of a cult leader in 2012’s The Master? That’s in addition to her optimistic pregnant wife in 2005’s Junebug and a tough Boston bartender who stands by her boxer boyfriend in 2010’s The Fighter.
Oscar-bait potential of her Big Eyes performance: The Academy has a semi-narcissistic need to reward actors in roles that revolve around the arts. And that includes painters. The previous winner closest to Adams as Keane, who fights back when husband Walter claims credit for her work? Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner, who dealt with her abusive alcoholic spouse, Jackson Pollock, in 2000’s Pollock. Then there is Salma Hayek, who received her first and only acting nomination as Frida Kahlo in 2002’s Frida.
Her age: At 40, Adams has time on her side. But she also might be in a better position to capitalize on a win.
The wait: Nine years since her first nomination.
Oscar oversight: Not many actresses other than Adams could have believably pulled off being a Disney princess come to life — trilling prettily and all — in 2007’s Enchanted, but too much comedy often scares off the voters.
Number of roles opposite Meryl Streep (aka Oscar’s BFF): Two. In Doubt, alongside Streep’s Catholic-school principal/nun. And in a parallel storyline as a blogger doing an online tribute to iconic chef Julia Child in 2009’s Julie & Julia.
Mitigating factor: Only two actors have ever been nominated for one of Tim Burton’s movies, whose detours into the bizarre might turn off some voters. Martin Landau won a supporting Oscar as Bela Lugosi in 1994’s Ed Wood and Johnny Depp was nominated as the lead in 2007’s Sweeney Todd.
Bonus: How female-friendly is her franchise? Because this is the Women and Hollywood blog, let’s take this under consideration. Adams’ role as Lois Lane in 2013’s Man of Steel, which she will repeat in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, barely capitalizes on her gifts, and the character so far is primarily there to serve the male hero’s needs.
Pros and Cons for Moore
The breadth of her previously nominated roles: One too many distraught spouses for our liking, save for her turn as a mother hen to a troupe of porn stars in 1997’s Boogie Nights. She was an unhappily married woman drawn back into a tragic fling in 1999’s The End of the Affair. She was a 1950s housewife coping with the fact that her husband is gay in 2002’s Far From Heaven. And she was an unhappy 1950s housewife who finds herself drawn to a female neighbor in The Hours, also 2002.
Oscar-bait potential of her Still Alice performance: Disease and disabilities have always been right up the Academy’s dramatic alley. But the illness in question here is also highly relatable to many who have experienced firsthand the sadness of watching a loved one lose their grip mentally. When someone as acutely talented as Moore allows us to witness from a personal perspective what happens when an intelligent person suffers this decline, it will be hard to beat.
Her age: Even at a still-youthful 53, Moore might not get as many Oscar-friendly showcases down the road — especially if she is reduced to such jobs as being Liam Neeson’s seatmate aboard a misbegotten flight in lightweight junk like Non-Stop earlier this year.
The wait: As hard as it is to believe, Moore was last nominated 12 long years ago. Adams’ previous bid was just last year.
Oscar oversight: Moore should have gotten a fifth nomination already as Annette Bening’s wife in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. But there wasn’t room that year for two lead actresses to be nominated for the same movie, and Bening got the slot.
Number of roles opposite Meryl Streep: One, in a parallel story in The Hours, in which Streep plays a New Yorker in 2001 preparing to throw a party for her AIDS-stricken male friend.
Mitigating factor: Still Alice is a smaller film that may be a hard sell for some moviegoers, considering the subject. And box office does count. But it doesn’t hurt that the actress is the primary reason — besides Kristen Stewart as one of her three grown children — that anyone will likely buy a ticket.
Bonus: How female-friendly is her franchise? You can’t get any more girl-powered than The Hunger Games. It might just be a plus that the third installment, Mockingjay – Part 1, which introduces Moore as estimable rebellion leader President Alma Coin, arrives on Nov. 20 — just as Oscar fever heats up.
And the edge goes to: Moore. While Adams is deserving of any recognition she can get, Moore has age, a huge gap since her last nomination, and a role that will be move many on her side. Plus, The Hunger Games rules.