Scarlett Johannson, Don Jon or Her
Scarlett Johannson is not even 30, but it already seems like a travesty that she hasn't managed an Oscar nomination yet. She came pretty close with "Lost in Translation" and "Match Point" (and should have come close with "Ghost World"), but no cigars. This year will likely be the same story with two very deserving bids for best supporting actress, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon" (which earned her somewhat surprising nod in the Gotham Awards' new best actress category over the aforemetioned Gerwig), and Spike Jonze's "Her." Neither are Oscar-friendly performances, with "Don Jon"'s Barbara a gloriously comedic take on a Jersey Girl who has watched too many romantic comedies, and "Her"'s Samantha, well, a voice-only portrayal of an operating system that Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with. The former has happened with Oscar before (ask Marisa Tomei), while the latter not so much (ask Eddie Murphy, Ellen DeGeneres and Andy Serkis). But given the weak category that is supporting actress so far this year, a dose of Scarlett in either form would be more than welcome.
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Another Gotham nominee, Brie Larson gave us one of the most complex, naturalistic performances in any American indie this year with her work in Destin Daniel Cretton's SXSW winner "Short Term 12." As Grace, a twentysomething supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers, Larson (who oddly had small roles alongside Gerwig and Johannson in "Greenberg" and "Don Jon," respectively) seizes a considerable opportunity with her first major lead role. She gives Grace both strength and vulnerability in a performance of challenging dramatic extremes, pulling off something with, er, grace that few other actresses could. It would seem like the exact type of performance to take the Melissa Leo or Jennifer Lawrence slot in the best actress Oscar category, but given her established competition (Streep, Dench, Thompson, Bullock, Blanchett -- oh my!) and the fact that "Short Term 12" is being released by tiny distributor Cinedigm, it's going to be an uphill battle. Unless the critics awards really rally behind her, though her main competition in that sense are women already noted on this list (Delpy and Exarchopoulos, most likely). Either way, the greatest award Larson could probably get from this film is a major career, and at this point she's a shoo-in.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said" has turned into of a major critical and commercial hit for a film its size, with glowing reviews and box office receipts heading toward $20 million. And while the late James Gandolfini and Holofcener's original screenplay are both getting deserved Oscar buzz, it's a bit more muted for its lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Beyond the aforementioned competition she faces, this is probably because of two things: The Oscars rarely reward comedy, especially in the lead categories, and they also seem to have an adversity toward television actors. But Louis-Dreyfus isn't just a television actor. She's the freaking Meryl Streep of comedic television, winning Emmys for three different series in the past 20 years. And she brings that talent over to Holofcener's lovely, lovely film, carrying it with a magnetism that few possess like Louis-Dreyfus. Enough said.
Waad Mohammed, Wadjda
Not just Saudi Arabia's first film ever submitted to the Oscars, "Wadjda" is the first feature ever (!) directed by a woman in the county (where women still don't have the right to drive cars). It's a remarkable feat for director Haifaa al-Mansour, but also for her young muse. Twelve-year-old Waad Mohammed -- in her first acting role -- is this year's answer to Quvenzhané Wallis, carrying nearly every scene of the film. She plays a young Saudi Arabian girl who will do just about anything to buy her first bicycle, though as her mother tells her: “You won’t ever be able to have children if you ride a bike." It's a deceptively simple narrative that says a lot about the situation facing women in Saudi Arabia, and Mohammed charms us each and every step of the way.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
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