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The Big O: Assessing the Actress Races Coming Out of Venice, Telluride and Toronto

The Big O: Assessing the Actress Races Coming Out of Venice, Telluride and Toronto

Telluride and Venice are fini. Toronto wraps this weekend.

Time for some serious girl talk about how the lead and supporting actress categories have somewhat shifted now that the festival Oscar pundits and critics have chimed in.

But, first, allow me to share with you one of the more telling moments that occurred at the Toronto fest this week that reveals much about the less-esteemed status of the fairer sex in Hollywood.

There was Sandra Bullock, looking every inch the star, taking her well-deserved bow before the standing-O throng at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Love was in the post-screening air following her grueling, emotionally draining portrayal of an astronaut lost in space in Gravity.

Standing onstage, she graciously thanked her director, Alfonso Cuaron, for allowing her to perform this unique physically and mentally challenging role that – despite welcome supporting help from Mr. Charm himself, George Clooney — forces her to act alone for much of the film’s 90-minute running time.

“It was an amazing experience to be able to do as an actor, but I think more importantly as a woman,” she said, before adding that the part “could have very easily gone to a man.”

First off, why is she thanking anyone for hiring her at this stage of her career? On the verge of 50 – also known as Death Valley for many actresses who dare to age – she owns an Oscar, and scored one of summer’s biggest hits and beat the boys at their own game by daring to pair with another female (that human comic bulldozer Melissa McCarthy) in The Heat. In addition, she remains America’s sweetheart long after Meg Ryan lost the title and manages to conduct herself with dignity and humor in the public eye.

Can you imagine Clooney ever being grateful they didn’t hire a woman for one of his roles? Although, now that I think of it, Vera Farmiga could have killed as the corporate downsizer in Up in the Air with George as the “girl”.

Of course, Bullock might just be impersonating a potential Oscar nominee and being humble instead of pumping her fist and doing the happy dance. That just means she is incredibly smart, too.

Needless to say, the pride of Arlington, Va., is pretty much a given in the best-actress category, in part thanks to the rousing reception in Toronto.

It’s true, however,  that almost every journalist who engages in the art of guessing the whims of Oscar voters feels that Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine should just make extra room on her trophy shelf right now. One factor also in her favor besides her brilliant performance as a rich socialite forced to downscale after her swindler husband loses their ill-gotten fortune is that the great Cate only owns a supporting Academy Award for her work in The Aviator. She is overdue for lead attention.

Still, there might be some wiggle room considering that some films sure to feature impressive turns by actresses have yet to be seen, including Amy Adams in American Hustle as well as Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks.

For those women whose pictures did make the festival rounds, their fates in the race for the big O came into sharper focus, for better or worse. Here is who is up or down.

*Bullock in Gravity – Way Up. Toronto truly allowed her to achieve liftoff and step up as Blanchett’s chief competition.

*Meryl Streep in August: Osage County – Up. Now that the Weinstein Co. has decided to place co-lead Julia Roberts into the supporting category, the most Oscar-nominated performer ever with 17 tries is ready to go into the ring to win No. 4. Considering how many of acting tricks Streep’s dysfunctional matriarch displays – she suffers hair loss from chemo, is fighting cancer and a pill addiction plus does one of her patented accents – there is no way she is going to be ignored.

*Kate Winslet in Labor Day – Down. Nothing especially wrong with the past Oscar winner for The Reader’s portrait of a deeply depressed housewife who finds hope in the arms of an escaped prisoner. Except that the role is too close thematically to two of her previously lauded performances in Little Children and Revolutionary Road, not to mention her Emmy-winning work in TV’s Mildred Pierce.

*Judi Dench in Philomena – Up with a Bullet. If you can make them laugh through their tears, you are more halfway there. Thanks in part to her pairing with a wonderfully acerbic Steve Coogan, Dench does wonders in a change of pace role with both humor and heart as a typically middle-class retired nurse who decides to search for the child she gave up as an unwed teen mother in the ‘50s.

*Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color – Down. What got them all hot and bothered in Cannes this year hasn’t resulted in much discussion in Toronto, even though this young actress has her supporters.

At least two supporting performances — Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle and Amy Adams in Her— are yet to be seen. But newcomer Lupita Nyong’o has most certainly secured her spot as the abused mistress of a plantation owner in 12 Years a SlaveAugust: Osage County is the mother lode of fine female thesping this year and could fill most of the ballot slots alone. But Margo Martindale as Streep’s hard-charging sister seems to have the edge.

However, not that it matters since most believe that the category will boil down to one theme thanks to an acting career-reviving tour de force in Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Oprah meet Oscar, Oscar meet Oprah.

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