Two down, one to go with our run down of some of the potentials for next year’s Academy Awards, in our attempt to not have to type the word “Oscar” until at least September. We’ve already looked at some of the Best Picture possibilities, and the ten men and women who could be in the Best Director mix in the months ahead, and now it’s time to turn our attention to Best Actress.
This year saw Brie Larson dominate the race from the premiere of “Room” at Telluride to Oscar night, just as recent winners Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep were presumptive frontrunners all the way through their own seasons. But this year looks, at a distance at least, to be a mite more unpredictable. (Yes, a feeling made more palpable as we’re eleven months away from the Oscar nominations, and twelve from the trophies being handed out). Take a look below for the ten women who seem most likely to be up for Best Actress in 2017, and let us know who you’re tipping at long range in the comments.
Amy Adams – “Nocturnal Animals”/“The Story Of Your Life”
Now that Leonado DiCaprio’s got his, there are few actors who have missed out just as many times, who are just as deserving, and who will be surely the subject of “it’s time” chatter before too long. Glenn Close has six nominations without a win, Albert Finney five, but the youngest, and likely the next to be rewarded, is Amy Adams, who’s racked up an impressive five nominations in less than a decade. Adams has two possible contenders coming this year: Tom Ford’s return with literary adaptation “Nocturnal Animals,” and Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi movie “Story Of Your Life.” Both are fascinating projects, though neither seem like immediate and obvious awards home runs from what we know about them. But Adams is well liked, and even if the movies don’t prove awards players elsewhere, she could very well still be in the conversation.
Emily Blunt – “The Girl On The Train”
Given that even “Gone Girl” struggled to make much impact on the awards race, we’re not totally convinced that “The Help” director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of classy-airport-thriller-du-jour “The Girl On The Train” will be a Best Picture contender. But we think it’s entirely possible that it follows the David Fincher movie and lands a Best Actress nomination for its star, in this case Emily Blunt. Despite making a huge impression in everything from “My Summer Of Love” to “Edge Of Tomorrow” to last year’s “Sicario,” Blunt’s never been nominated, but her role here, an alcoholic divorcée who stumbles into a murder, is a meaty one that should be her best ever chance at landing a nod. Given Taylor’s record at aiding his actresses to nominations (“The Help” saw three of its stars nominated, with Octavia Spencer winning), she’s probably in safe hands too.
Jessica Chastain – “Miss Sloane”/“Zookeeper’s Wife”
She’s been so omnipresent that you might not have noticed, but Jessica Chastain hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since her lead turn in “Zero Dark Thirty” nearly four years ago. But a drought for one of our finest talents is likely to come to an end this year, as Chastain has two very serious prospects in the race. The first is “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” Niki Caro’s film that tells the true story of the life-saving role the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo played during the Second World War. The second, which just started filming, is John Madden’s “Miss Sloane,” a hot-button drama which sees Chastain play a political strategist working on gun control legislation. Currently the latter’s planned for a 2017 release, but we’re sure it’ll get moved up if it has the right stuff, though the best bet is likely “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” Either way, Chastain looks to be returning to the Oscars.
Marion Cotillard – Untitled Robert Zemeckis WW2 Project
Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action the past few years has had mixed results: “Flight” was a flawed film anchored by a great, Oscar-nominated performance by Denzel Washington, while “The Walk” was a pretty good picture that ultimately felt too familiar to connect with a wider audience. As such, we’re not yet convinced that his latest, an untitled WW2-set spy romance about an agent who discovers that his wife may have been a Nazi traitor, is going to be up for the big show. That isn’t to say that Marion Cotillard, who stars opposite Brad Pitt, won’t be in the conversation. Cotillard’s become something of an Oscar favorite over the years, winning for “La Vie En Rose” and being nominated for “Two Days, One Night,” and if she can get into the Academy consciousness for her foreign roles, she’ll certain be a player for a Hollywood production.
Taraji P. Henson – “Hidden Figures”
It’s almost easy to forget that, before she went to new heights as the unforgettable Cookie on TV mega-hit “Empire,” Taraji P. Henson had already picked up an Oscar nomination for her supporting turn in David Fincher’s “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.” Now she’s a household name, and could well convert the attention into another nod, as a lead this time, in “Hidden Figures.” From “St. Vincent” director Theodore Melfi, it’s the story of three female African-American mathematicians who played a crucial role in the mission to launch John Glenn into space. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, the lead, with Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner in the cast too, and it’s clearly got an awards-y subject matter. It’s currently set to open in January 13, 2017, but if 20th Century Fox thinks it has the juice, it could sneak it in with a qualifying run in December.
Jennifer Lawrence – “Passengers”
We’ll be honest here: we’ve read an early draft of “Passengers,” directed by Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game“) and starring the red hot duo of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and it doesn’t strike us as particularly awards-friendly — it’s a harder kind of sci-fi than “Gravity” or “The Martian,” and we think it’s likely a commercial play first and foremost. But J-Law gonna J-Law and, like Meryl Streep, should never be counted out, given her record of four nominations in six years, including most recently for the mostly unloved “Joy,” a film that failed to get a nod otherwise. The movie might prove to be a crossover hit like “The Martian,” but even if not, J-Law will probably be in the conversation.
Lupita Nyong’o – “Queen Of Katwe”
Since winning her Oscar for “12 Years A Slave” at the start of 2014, Lupita Nyong’o has sadly really only been in movies voicing CGI characters, in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the upcoming “The Jungle Book.” But she’s back on screen in Disney and Mira Nair’s upcoming “The Queen Of Katwe,” in which she plays the mother of a young Ugandan girl who became a chess prodigy. This has been something of a passion project for Nyong’o and co-star David Oyelowo, so assuming that the film works (and that Nyong’o goes lead rather than supporting: it’s unclear where the emphasis of William Wheeler’s script lies), this could see her return to the Dolby Theater.
Rosamund Pike – “A United Kingdom”
From Bond girl to Oscar nominee, Rosamund Pike’s had one of the more interesting career trajectories of any working actress right now, and she’s got a promising picture on the way that could return her to the awards conversation. She’s starring with David Oyelowo in Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom,” about the love story between a British woman and the ruler of Botswana in the 1940s. Both of Asante’s films so far have shown her to be a terrific director of women, and while this is likely to be predominately Oyolewo’s films, PIke shouldn’t be counted out: she’s in the club now, and the movie is likely to show a more sympathetic side than her sociopathic “Gone Girl” lead.
Natalie Portman – “Jackie”
It feels like we haven’t glimpsed all that much of Natalie Portman since she won her Oscar for “Black Swan” — “Thor: The Dark World” was really her only major movie, with “Jane Got A Gun” flopping hard, her directorial debut “A Tale Of Love And Darkness” playing to muted response on the festival circuit, followed by the briefest of appearances in Terrence Malick’s “Knight Of Cups.” But “Jackie” will potentially see her back in the awards conversation in a very big way. Once intended for Darren Aronofsky to direct, with Rachel Weisz to star, it’s a biopic of Jackie Kennedy set entirely in the few days after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, and told entirely through her eyes. It has every possibility of being another tour-de-force for Portman, and if director Pablo Larrain can pull it off, could not just see Portman nominated, but maybe even winning her second.
Emma Stone – “La La Land”
Though we’d probably argue that she should have been nominated for her unbelievably delightful lead turn in “Easy A,” Emma Stone finally got her first Oscar nod for “Birdman.” Could she follow it up shortly with a leading nomination too? Joining Ryan Gosling, the duo front Damien Chazelle’s original musical, “La La Land,” and it has the potential to both play to her ever-charming strengths, and to show a new side of her star talents. As we said in discussing the film’s Best Picture prospects, the film is a risk, given the number of similar musicals that skewered themselves on their own ambition. But if it works, and “Whiplash” suggests it really will, Stone will probably be a good bet to go along with it to the Academy.
Honorable Mention: Of course, there are plenty more contenders that could make their way into the race. Among the more notable are the leads of Pedro Almodovar‘s new one, “Julieta,” Ruth Negga in Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” Alicia Vikander with either “Light Between Oceans” or “Tulip Fever,” Naomie Harris could pick up a first nod for Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” and Emma Watson has a good role in James Ponsoldt’s “The Circle.” Then there’s the cast of Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” (Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning), Rooney Mara in the “Brooklyn”-esque “The Secret Scripture,” Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen’s new one, Charlotte Rampling in “Sense Of An Ending,” and, perhaps inevitably, Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins” (though it seems more “Ricki & The Flash” than “The Iron Lady” at first glance).
We’re not fully focusing on the Supporting races this year, which are too unpredictable and oblique right now for it to be anything more than stabbing in the dark. But look in particular for Aja Naomi King in “Birth Of A Nation,” Laura Dern, who has strong possibilities in “The Founder” and “Wilson,” Rachel Weisz in “Deep Water” or “The Light Between Oceans,” Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures,” Greta Gerwig in “Jackie,” Kristen Stewart in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” and Janelle Monae in “Moonlight” to be potentials. Anyone else we should be paying attention to? Let us know in the comments.