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by Peter Knegt
October 29, 2013 11:48 AM
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For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses Who Deserve Oscar's Attention This Year

"Don Jon"

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.

Cinedigm Brie Larson in "Short Term 12."

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.

READ MORE: Brie Larson Discusses the Daunting Challenge of Leading 'Short Term 12' and Only Doing Projects She Believes In

"Enough Said."

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.

READ MORE: Julia Louis-Dreyfus On Returning To Film Work, Her Love For Nicole Holofcener and the New Season of 'Veep'

Wadjda "Wadjda"

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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  • Bridget | October 31, 2013 2:15 PMReply

    Paulina Garcia should get the nomination 'cause in Gloria she is the perfection!

  • Steve Warren | October 31, 2013 1:43 AMReply

    Though the movie was ultimately disappointing I can't forget Susan Sarandon's performance in The Company You Keep, especially the interrogation scene. It was all downhill after that.

  • Chris L. | October 30, 2013 3:40 PMReply

    Wonderful list, Peter. I'm a bit confused about Gloria's eligibility in this category, though. The only listed release date is January 17, and Roadside Attractions recently tweeted that there would not be a 1-week December qualifying run. Has that now changed? Sure hope so.

  • Steve | November 1, 2013 12:13 AM

    Paulina Garcia is sadly ineligible in the acting categories. Gloria is not getting a 2013 qualifying release, so it's only eligible this year in foreign language.

  • Eli | October 30, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    Don't forget Julia Stiles in BETWEEN US, or Melissa George as scene-stealing supporting actress in it; two powerhouse performances in ensemble cast.

  • roger | October 31, 2013 2:53 PM

    said no one except maybe the filmmaker

  • Jason | October 30, 2013 1:09 PMReply

    Paulina Garcia deserves the nomination and even wins because she's totally amazing in Gloria

  • Daniel Delago | October 30, 2013 7:13 AMReply

    I have to disagree on Scarlett Johansson in 'Don Jon.' I actually felt Julianne Moore's performance blew her out of the water. Don't overlook Amy Adams in 'American Hustle.' She could be the dark horse contender for Best Actress.

  • C | October 30, 2013 8:08 AM

    Julianne Moore was doing her usual in Don Jon but it was her bad usual. The intense crying. The stuttering thing. Things she's done so much better before. It doesn't help that she is a part of what many did not like about Don Jon - the final act. Scarlett refreshes in the role of Barbara and should be the one recognized from the film.

  • MD | October 30, 2013 3:26 AMReply

    Golshifteh Farahani in THE PATIENCE STONE
    Danai Gurira in MOTHER OF GEORGE

  • MD | October 30, 2013 3:23 AMReply

    Zhang Ziyi in THE GRANDMASTER
    Sonakshi Sinha in LOOTERA

  • bob hawk | October 30, 2013 12:57 AMReply

    A very good list, albeit I think that the only two who might possibly be a dark horse nom (for lead) are Paulina Garcia (superb) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Blanchett is the one to beat, but I'd love to see Garcia steal it. I do think with this piece you've already begun a list for the Indie Spirit Awards, with Greta Gerwig and Brie Larson the most likely to be included.

  • cass | October 29, 2013 11:25 PMReply

    Except for Wadjda (Waad Mohamed) all these are mentioned in every pundit's list. Yes not top tier / locks but not surprising either. Where's Elizabeth Debicki who single handedly brought The Great Gatsby to life.

  • Italo | October 29, 2013 9:16 PMReply

    Paulina Garcia has to be nominated for Gloria, amazing performance.

  • draves | October 29, 2013 8:21 PMReply

    Lindsay Burdge - A TEACHER

    Tashiana Washington - GIMME THE LOOT (who I thought for sure would be on this list and was disappointed to see omitted)

  • Bump | October 29, 2013 8:03 PMReply

    Whew, one non-White actress at the end! I thought we were going to go an entire list, as usual, without mentioning the accomplishments of non-White talent. I know Hollywood is a racist place, but come on!!!! Indiewire, let's stop with all the Eurocentric stuff and try to move the needle forward and acknowledge people that don't fit the racist view of life that Hollywood not so secretly peddles to the American public. You can do it. I promise.

  • Peter Knegt | October 30, 2013 10:27 AM

    Who did you have in mind, Bump? And also: We absolutely had no racist motivations when making this list, and note in the intro that Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong'o would have been on this list except that they are pretty close to shoo-ins for nominations (as are Oprah Winfrey and Chiwetel Ejiofor). For once there will very likely be a fair representation of black performers in the Oscar acting nominations (likely 20-25% of nominees). As for this list, we simply offered the 10 female performances we liked the best that didn't seem likely to get an Oscar nomination. Is it Indiewire's fault or society's that the crop we had to choose from was mostly white?

  • draves | October 29, 2013 8:22 PM

    Who are the non-Whites you'd like to see on there? You get very upset about the lack of non-Whites but don't name a single one you'd like listed yourself? Strange...

  • Amanda | October 29, 2013 7:42 PMReply

    "Though Gerwig has shown considerable potential in films like "Nights and Weekends" (which she also co-wrote and co-director), Baumbach's previous film "Greenberg" and last years' Whit Stillman offering "Damsels in Distress," her turn as a twentysomething mess trying to figure it out in "Frances Ha" brought her to a whole new level (and frankly, showed Lena Dunham how it's done)."

    Why can't Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham both be wonderful in their own right? Because they are, and I don't think either of them needs to show the other "how it's done."

  • draves | October 29, 2013 8:23 PM

    Because Frances Ha is like Girls with maturity, intelligence and wit instead of solipsism, and since the protagonists of both works are similar there will naturally be comparisons drawn between the two. Gerwig is easily better than Dunham at acting, so that's why she should show her how it's done.

  • HARVEY DENT | October 29, 2013 7:31 PMReply

    oscar 2014 snubs

    Dennis Quaid -- AT ANY PRICE

    Lindsay Burdge -- A TEACHER

    Vithaya Pansringarm -- ONLY GOD FORGIVES

  • Ans | October 29, 2013 6:21 PMReply

    It's hardly a travesty that Johannson hasn't been nominated yet. She's proven herself to be a mediocre actress at best. I did like her voice work in the trailer for 'Her' though.
    A nomination for Ghost World? Oh please.

  • C | October 30, 2013 8:11 AM

    Yes, Scarlett has been in some bad movies and some performances are not as good as others. Hardly something you can't say for any other actor. She most certainly deserved recognition for Lost in Translation, Girl with A Pearl Earring, Match Point even A Love Song For Bobby Long. And she showed quality in Hitchcock. Too bad that movie couldn't have been better.

  • rand | October 29, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    Where's Lupita Nyong'o?

  • Peter Knegt | October 29, 2013 6:39 PM

    @Rand, see the intro: Commentators should keep in mind that the list does not include work that looks like a safe bet for a nomination (Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" and Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave," certainly, as well as June Squibb in "Nebraska" and Octavia Spencer in "Fruitvale Station" -- both of whom might not quite be locks yet, but most people are reasonably predicting both of them).

  • ECP | October 29, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    My mind?! Increasingly, I find releases/release dates start to blur by this time of year. (Was GATSBY this year? Which Marvel superbeings are in contention?) And that brings me to Dakota Fanning's deeply affecting performance in GINGER & ROSA. Eligible?

  • ECP | October 29, 2013 5:35 PM

    My mind is in worse shape than I thought. A vote for Elle. Thanks Peter. Oh and another longshot--the always luminous Juliette Binoche. (At least I didn't spell it Brioche!)

  • Peter Knegt | October 29, 2013 5:09 PM

    Ginger & Rosa was eligible last year, I believe (and its Elle Fanning, but either way, she was fantastic I agree).

  • Joack | October 29, 2013 4:10 PMReply


  • Helen | October 29, 2013 4:10 PMReply


  • Thornquist | October 29, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    Six of these names were in your Oscar predictions article the other day (, then you added a few more and you still couldn't find room for Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now?


  • RyanT | October 29, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    Amazing list. Sad most of them won't even get their dues. I'd also add AMY ACKER in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

  • Eduardo | October 29, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    What? No love for Loreto Peralta's scene-stealing performance in "Instructions Not Included"?

  • Pat | October 29, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    Go Greta!

  • Pat | October 29, 2013 12:38 PM

    Oh, and Luminita Gheorghiu gives one heck of a performance in 'Child's Pose', which probably isn't going to get Oscar's attention...

  • Laura | October 29, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    No mention of Onata Aprile? I found her far more impressive than either Waad Mohammed or Quvenzhané Wallis.

  • Dave Kelly | October 30, 2013 4:21 PM

    Onata Aprile's performance in "What Maisie knew" was the female performance of the year. It is hard to remember when I saw a more compelling turn - to quote Deborah Ross " I don’t know where the directors discovered Miss Aprile, or how they elicited her performance but, my God, she knocks it out the court. Over and over. The thing is, she seems so utterly natural, and her scenes with Julianne Moore are riveting:" If the academy can nominate eight year old Quvenzhané Wallis they should have no trouble nominating six year old Onata Aprile.

  • arshadfilms | October 29, 2013 12:21 PMReply

    Believe it or not, Indian and Pakistani women can act as well. Please check out Amna Ilyas in 'Zinda Bhaag' and Tisca Chopra in 'Qissa' as well as Nimrat Kaur in 'The Lunchbox'. Why the academy should select overwhelmingly white actresses and ignore Indians all the time is beyond me.

  • Peter Knegt | October 29, 2013 12:07 PMReply

    @Jackie, see the intro: Commentators should keep in mind that the list does not include work that looks like a safe bet for a nomination (Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" and Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave," certainly, as well as June Squibb in "Nebraska" and Octavia Spencer in "Fruitvale Station" -- both of whom might not quite be locks yet, but most people are reasonably predicting both of them).

  • Jackie McGriff | October 29, 2013 12:04 PMReply

    Where's Octavia Spencer for 'Fruitvale Station'? I doubt that the Academy will recognize her for her excellent performance in the film. If they do, that'd be awesome, but given their usual pattern in nominations, I'm going to go with no.