Our frontrunner?

Trying to sand down the rough slate that is the Actress categories is an intimidating task.  The past few years, the category has produced the likes of Natalie Portman in her career-topping performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Marion Cotillard’s transformation like no other in the Foreign Language film, La Vie en Rose.

It’s August.  Summer’s coming to an end.  Eight months have passed and we have one, count, one, Best Actress contender on the chart.  Quvenzhané Wallis is more and more looking like the little engine that could for her heartbreaking turn in Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.  While many are shouting from the rooftops that she could be the one to hold the Oscar, barely reaching the microphone, and being a Cinderella story for the millennium, there’s no one to challenge her as of now.

In the past week, Carey Mulligan has dropped off due to the “sudden” push of The Great Gatsby to summer 2013.  Was that telling of something?  We’ll discuss on this week’s episode of Power Hour if it was.  With Mulligan out, we are struggling to find spots filled from performances coming down the pike.

Helen Hunt and Marion Cotillard look as good as any for nominations for their works in The Sessions and Rust & Bone.  Hunt has already been declared by many pundits a full-blown contender after reviews came out of the festivals earlier in the year.  Same goes for Cotillard, who had a larger reception and critical uproar in early 2012.  Unless something extravagant is coming, those two are good for spots (in August at least).

Let’s attempt to analyze this mess.

I’ve held on to The English Teacher and the possibility of Julianne Moore holding an Oscar long enough.  No release date, no poster, no trailer, no dice.  Moore will likely be dropped off next round of predictions unless we get something.

Laura Linney in “Hyde Park on Hudson”

Laura Linney along with the women of Hyde Park on Hudson, Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman are going to be a unique situation to watch for.  On paper, it looks pretty simple, Linney goes Lead, Colman and Williams go supporting.  Often times, studios, particularly Focus Features, can make funny things happen.  Do you remember when the studios tried to convince us that Scarlett Johansson was a Supporting player in Lost in Translation (2003)?  Or that Marion Cotillard was Lead in Rob Marshall’s Nine (2009) by the Weinstein Company?  Don’t be surprised if we see a Williams-Lead campaign with Linney and Colman attempting a Supporting double-dip.

Traditionally, Keira Knightley should be the frontrunner in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina.  Knightley, who was once nominated for Pride & Prejudice, has shown tremendous range throughout the years since.  Her beautiful and aching turn as Cecilia in Atonement (2007) was one of the best turns of the year and she was the best thing about David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method last year.  Knightley looks absolutely magnetic in the newest trailer which could indicate a strong campaign from Focus Features.  At now 27 years old, Knightley is at the prime age of a Best Actress recipient.

The year of Foreign contenders? Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour”

When weak categories are displayed, more deserving and unique choices could come into play.  After Michael Haneke’s Amour won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the buzz shot up in a way no one could believe.  Perhaps a brawny thrust in the right direction could have Emmanuelle Riva among the five Actress nominees.  Riva received incredible notices thus far, the positioning of the film in December shows promise, and it helps that Oscar has been on a French kick since The Artist and Jean Dujardin won last year.  Why not honor a woman this time?

When it comes to Amy Adams, she’s been as dependable as any actress can be in Hollywood.  Getting us to laugh and cry in Junebug (2005), tendering a very controversial topic in Doubt (2008) and getting sexy and dirty in The Fighter (2010), she is giving us a range that many actresses can only hope for.  This year she shoots for the stars in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master as well as the angry daughter in Robert Lorenz’s Trouble with the Curve.  The former has looked more and more like her shot all year-long especially after the trailers have been released.  Anderson has been shown to dig out incredible performances out of his ladies.  Think: Julianne Moore (twice) and Emily Watson.  Adams big competition will come from Catwoman herself, Anne Hathaway.  Hathaway, who has THE signature role in Les Miserables, could be the big winner this year.  SPOILER ALERT – In the words of my writer Terence Johnson, “she sings, she cries, she dies.” – SPOILER ENDED

2012 looks to be an Adams vs. Hathaway Supporting Actress fight to the death.  Two sweethearts in Hollywood.  Two talented actresses.  Two people who critics and audiences want to see win an Oscar.

Sony Pictures Classics has a great deal of big hopefuls for the season including Riva and Cotillard.  One contender some might be underestimating is Mary Elizabeth Winstead in James Ponsoldt’s Smashed.  Filmed in 19 days and having an October opening, Winstead could be our Jennifer Lawrence or Rooney Mara of the year.  Great young actress with a decent enough résumé thus far (supporting turns in Emilio Estevez’s Bobby (2006) and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)) could keep her in discussion moving forward.

One year after losing the Oscar to Meryl Streep, Viola Davis will co-star alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal in Daniel Barnz’s Won’t Back Down.  The trailer suggests some tear-jerking and opportune moments of scene chewing for the two Oscar nominated actresses.  Where will they campaign them?  Trailer suggests a lot of screen time for Gyllenhaal with Davis getting the supporting shaft.  We could also find a co-lead campaign, though highly unlikely.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Smashed”

Naomi Watts hasn’t been back to an Oscar ceremony since she detonated on the competition in Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s 21 Grams (2003) with Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro.  In Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible with Ewan McGregor, she’s given a real character covered by a powerful story.  This could be her winning ticket back.

Last year, Jessica Chastain delivered winning turns in Coriolanus, The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and her Oscar-nominated role in The Help.  This year, she has herself in multiple roles again.  She will be teaming up again with Terrence Malick in To the Wonder, a film which looks to have a smaller role for her this time around.  She’s also said to have the best part of John Hillcoat’s Lawless with Tom Hardy.  She also has Tar opposite James Franco later this year.  And let’s not forget about Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty with an all-star cast and written by Mark Boal; something that is sure to keep her in conversation.

While Chastain is a talent we’d love to see re-visited again this year, she’ll likely have to wait until next year’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His or The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?

Speaking of having a breakout year, Greta Gerwig has appeared in several projects already this year that could translate into some attention.  She first appeared in Woody Allen’s To Rome, with Love which received mixed reviews.  Gerwig also gave a warming portrayal in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, a film that’s quietly in the hunt for Original Screenplay.  Perhaps a Golden Globe citation could get something kick-started.  If the Damsels train doesn’t work out, perhaps her brilliant performance in Lola Versus can find some love.  Many of these performances seem solid for some Independent Spirit love.  Watch out for a grassroots campaign.  Maybe Oscar will listen…maybe!

Is there room for Jennifer Lawrence in either category?  With a weak category, can Lawrence wiggle in for The Hunger Games or will her work in Silver Linings Playbook capture some attention?

Is she the best thing about “Django Unchained?”

Word from the roundtable out of Comic-Con says that all Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz could talk about was how incredible Kerry Washington is in Django Unchained.  Trailer suggests a small part but small roles have made it before.  Hello Judi Dench.  Hello Beatrice Straight.

Samantha Barks has THE role in Les Miserables, a performance that has been acclaimed on stage.  Breakout role perhaps?

The women from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet are all people have spoken out of screenings especially Maggie Smith and Pauline Collns.  Smith is also on a high from her role on TV’s “Downton Abbey” and delivered an acclaimed turn in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel earlier this year opposite Judi Dench.  Can Maggie find her way to Oscar one last time?

Fresh off her “snub” for Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, Vanessa Redgrave returns in Song for Marion.  Early word is positive.  Halle Berry looks to the epicenter of Cloud Atlas so expect some type of campaign for her.  Same goes for Jane Fonda who received some of her best reviews in a while for Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding.  Don’t forget Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln in Lincoln who has Oscar written all over her.

Ladies that are getting dropped due to inactivity or any acknowledgement of its existence include Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives, a film with much promise but no word or release date.  Same goes for Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines and Rose Byrne and Scarlett Johansson and her film Under the Skin.

I know many will throw out your Nicole Kidman’s (The Paperboy), Meryl Streep’s (Hope Springs), Kristen Wiig’s (Imogene), and Annette Bening’s (Imogene).  You may be right.  I don’t see it yet.

Wildcards to watch out for:

Olga Kurylenko in To the Wonder, is believed to be the main focus of the love triangle between Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck.  Surprise entry?  The same could go for McAdams’ too.  Ziyi Zhang in The Grandmasters from the Weinstein Company could be something special.  And never count out the power of Babs and what seems like a hilarious mixture in The Guilt Trip opposite Seth Rogen.  Speaking of Rogen, his co-star Michelle Williams is phenomenal in Sarah Polley’s Take this Waltz, something Oscar and Magnolia Pictures should get behind in a big way.

Predictions will be updated early next week but here is a preview of the top five for the ladies:

Best Actress

  1. Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Helen Hunt – The Sessions
  3. Marion Cotillard – Rust & Bone
  4. Keira Knightley – Anna Karenina
  5. Emmanuelle Riva – Amour

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Amy Adams – The Master
  2. Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
  3. Sally Field – Lincoln
  4. Olivia Williams – Hyde Park on Hudson
  5. Kerry Washington – Django Unchained