The generous audience response in Toronto last night confirmed it: Reese Witherspoon is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild.” It’s easily her best performance since she won an Oscar almost 10 years ago for “Walk The Line.” As a woman who walks more than a thousand miles as she wrestles with drug and sex addictions, divorce, and the death of her mother, Witherspoon pulls off a showcase performance. But is she the category’s only sure thing?
At this point last year, we’d seen four of the five performances that would receive Oscar nominations — Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, and Meryl Streep. “Blue Jasmine” was already in theaters; “Gravity,” “Philomena” and “August: Osage County” were playing the Toronto Film Festival.
Oddly enough, if it weren’t for “Wild,” there’d probably be a some talk about Witherspoon being nominated for another TIFF title, Philippe Falardeau’s “The Good Lie” (which, like “Wild,” is directed by a French Canadian). She’s quite good as a woman who helps Sudanese refugees, but her first scene is 35 minutes into the movie; she’s just not the centerpiece she is in “Wild.”
There has been genuine best-actress chatter about performances in two other TIFF premieres, Julianne Moore in “Still Alice” and Jennifer Aniston in “Cake.” It’s deserved in both regards, but there’s a catch: Neither has a distributor, so it’s unclear whether either would qualify for this year’s Oscars. If the Best Actress race continues to be this weak, an Oscar-qualifying release would be a smart strategy.
Also advisable? That Focus campaign Felicity Jones as a lead for “The Theory of Everything.” It’s really a co-lead film more about Stephen and Jane Hawking’s relationship than about Stephen himself — and Jones gets much more to work with than typical biopic “wife” roles. (The film is based on her memoir.) Focus may feel she’s better off in supporting, but at this point she’d be almost as likely as Witherspoon at getting a Best Actress nomination.
And while it would be more of a long shot, the folks at Focus World should change their tack: A few weeks ago, they said David Cronenberg’s “Maps To The Stars” wouldn’t receive a qualifying run. Its glorious central performance from Julianne Moore won best actress in Cannes and has been getting love here in Toronto. Given how overdue she is (and the category’s weakness this year), a nomination is definitely not an impossible dream.
So maybe there could be two nominees from this year’s TIFF slate. Even three, if Aniston or Moore (for “Alice” or “Stars,” respectively) end up in the race. But it’s all a question mark, and it’s nothing compared to how stacked the Best Actor race is already. Last year, few questioned whether Bullock, Blanchett, Dench, or Streep were in the Oscar race. We’d already deemed it Blanchett vs. Bullock for the win (even though it ended up being more like Blanchett vs. Amy Adams, or really — Blanchett vs. nobody). Witherspoon really is great in “Wild,” but two Oscars on two nominations before the age of 40? Which, unless you’re Meryl Streep, may be inadvisable anyway. (Ask Hilary Swank.)
The only other performance we’ve seen so far this year that could go the way of Witherspoon is Shailene Woodley. Woodley, who just missed a nomination for “The Descendants,” is having a huge year at the box office, and is pretty heartbreaking in “The Fault In Our Stars.” It’s the only female lead that’s actually come out in theaters that could go the distance, which would in turn create a pretty fun piece of trivia: Laura Dern plays the mother of both Woodley and Witherspoon’s characters in “Fault” and “Wild” (and seems likely heading to a nomination herself in the supporting category, one way or another).