The common wisdom in most years is that the Best Actress Oscar race is less competitive than its male counterpart. In part, that’s a sad reflection of the relative dearth of good lead roles for actresses, versus the string of bait-y parts given to forty-year-old white dudes every season. In part, it’s also down to a lack of imagination on the behalf of both voters and awards prognosticators. Last year, for example, saw a disappointing lack of support behind the likes of Brie Larson in “Short Term 12,” Berenice Bejo in “The Past,” and Adele Exarchopoulous in “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” none of whom eventually made the cut, but should certainly have been considered among the best performances of the year.
From a purely predictive point of view, there’s no denying that this year’s Best Actor race (which we examined in detail last week) seems more unpredictable and tough than the Best Actress, but that doesn’t mean that hearts won’t be broken by deserving female performances missing out too, both from those who are traditional Oscar contenders, and by some more off-the-wall possibilities. Below, we’ve lined up the front-runners, the contenders, and those that we believe should be in the conversation. Let us know who you’re rooting for in the comments section, and keep an eye out for our look at the supporting categories very soon.
As ever, this is deemed to be a “weaker” race than the Best Actor category, though that’s not something we’d say if there was any chance of Scarlett Johansson in “Under The Skin” earning a nomination, for example. The first solid competitor to emerge at the front of the pack was Reese Witherspoon, who’s having a strong year (she’s a producer on “Gone Girl,” and cameos in “Inherent Vice“), led by her performance in “Wild.” The film won respectful, if not stellar reviews, but Witherspoon, who plays a darker role than is usually on her slate, was immediately deemed to be the strongest Best Actress candidate yet to emerge.
That only lasted as long as TIFF, because Julianne Moore turned up with the previously unheralded “Still Alice,” in which she plays a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The actress is a four-time nominee (“Boogie Nights,” “The End Of The Affair,” “The Hours,” and “Far From Heaven“), so is pretty much due, and already had a narrative in place after winning Best Actress at Cannes for “Maps To The Stars.” Focus World, the film’s new distributor, hemmed and hawed over whether they were planning to push Moore for that film (they now have, but it’s not like a David Cronenberg movie was ever going to get a nomination anyway), but in the meantime, Sony Pictures Classics stepped up to acquire “Still Alice” and rush it into theaters before the end of the year. As such, Moore is potentially the one to beat here, even if people seem to like her more than the movie.
Rosamund Pike is the third of the safe-ish bets so far. The British actress, who’s never really been in awards contention before, won the doozy of a role in David Fincher‘s “Gone Girl,” and is revelatory in the part. The film’s already proven controversial and divisive, and not everyone will take to her character, but with it already proving a substantial hit, and little serious competition around, she should easily make the cut regardless of whether “Gone Girl” is rewarded elsewhere.
Still To Come:
The biggest contender still on the way is “Big Eyes” with Amy Adams. The actress, like Moore, is long overdue for a trophy after five nominations, and has a potent role in Tim Burton‘s true-life tale, especially with the might of The Weinstein Company behind it. From the buzz we’ve heard, the film doesn’t quite work as a whole, but Adams is apparently terrific, and barring some unforeseen disaster, she’s likely to be among the nominees. Beyond that, there’s also Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year,” which could land the star her third nod. Reportedly, it’s closer to a supporting part than a lead one, but we hear that Chastain’s going supporting for “Interstellar” and lead for this (with the disappointing box office for “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby” making that unlikely to figure in anywhere). It looks like it’s up to her usual high standards, so if the film clicks with voters, she has as good a chance at anyone.
Anne Hathaway could end up going lead with “Interstellar” too, while we wonder if someone from the “Selma” ensemble, possibly Carmen Ejogo, or Brie Larson from “The Gambler,” could do the same (though likely not). There might also be a contender from “Into The Woods” as well, as either Emily Blunt or Meryl Streep could be argued to be the lead, though that’s slightly problematic in both cases. Our guess is that Blunt will campaign here and Streep in support, but it could end up the other way around.
In the next tier down, the most likely to break through if Adams or Chastain don’t end up making the five, is Felicity Jones. Though she’s mostly unknown to the Academy at large, the actress has won terrific reviews for “The Theory Of Everything,” and looks likely to follow co-star Eddie Redmayne. There’s still some question as to whether Focus will put her in lead or supporting, but it’s as much as her film as Redmayne’s, so she totally deserves a slot (though might face a slightly easier ride, and even a possible win, if she does go supporting).
Beyond Jones, Hilary Swank‘s being pushed hard for “The Homesman,” with tributes at Telluride and elsewhere. She’s very good in the film (which is rather divisive), but the bigger question might be whether newcomers Saban Films can get her there. At this point, it’s also unclear whether Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s getting a push from Fox Searchlight for “Belle,” but if the studio gets behind, she could well end up surprising many.
Again, those who deem this a weak year for actresses simply haven’t seen enough movies. One who should certainly be in the running is Marion Cotillard for “Two Days One Night,” in which the French Oscar-winner gives one of her finest performances ever. She will be getting a campaign of sorts, but if she couldn’t get there for “Rust & Bone,” our guess is that she’ll struggle with this one, though we’d love to be proven wrong. It’d also be great to see Jenny Slate getting serious consideration for “Obvious Child,” along with Charlotte Gainsbourg for “Nymphomaniac,” Tilda Swinton for “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and Agata Trezebuchowska for “Ida.”
Two still to open that should be in the conversation are Keira Knightley, who’s looser and more winning than ever before in Lynn Shelton‘s “Laggies,” and Tessa Thompson, the breakout star of Justin Simien‘s excellent “Dear White People.” If wishing made it so, they’d be among the final five for us, along with Johansson’s eerie turn in “Under The Skin” (or even her performance in “Lucy,” which is kind of remarkable too) and we hope Academy members give them appropriate consideration.
Knightley probably stands a better chance with summer sleeper “Begin Again” than “Laggies,” though only slightly, as the film’s a bit minor to really register with the Academy. Some believe that Shailene Woodley has a good chance with “The Fault In Our Stars,” but the movie is probably not really on their radar, unless the tween membership of the Academy went up a lot this year. There’s little buzz around Helen Mirren in “Hundred-Foot Journey,” Maggie Smith in “My Old Lady,” Emma Stone in “Magic In The Moonlight,” and Mia Wasikowska in “Tracks,” while we’d be kind of surprised if Quvenzhane Wallis picked up a second nomination for “Annie.” That said, we’ll be less shocked if the HFPA go for Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent” for one of their slots, though don’t expect the Academy to follow suit. And we’d wondered about Rosario Dawson in “Top Five,” but the movie’s probably too broad a comedy to figure in here.
Amy Adams – “Big Eyes”
Felicity Jones – “The Theory Of Everything”
Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”
Rosamund PIke – “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon – “Wild”