Sizing Up: Best Actress

Cate-Blanchett-Blue-Jasmine-We’re back now ladies and gentlemen for part four of this series. This time around I’m going to be tackling the somewhat top-heavy Best Actress field. For many, this is one of the more boring categories of the majors this year and for some the easiest to figure out, especially in terms of an ultimate winner. The victorious lady won’t be too much of my concern right now, but I’m seeking to try and make sense of the category and see which ladies can actually get all the way to the final five. A lot can change between now and the nominations, but this is where I think things currently stand, and it’s certainly a rather fluid list right now at least. Suffice to say, it’ll be interesting to see how this matches up to the eventual slate of nominees, since so much is sort of guesswork with Best Actress year in and year out, even if this year seems easier to predict on the surface. Enough chatter though, let’s get on with it and move to this new list and start sizing things up in the Best Actress field!

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

These are the leading ladies that I’d say are basically 100% out of the race, regardless of their work and the quality found therein. Some are excellent in films that have no chance of being included in the field, and others just didn’t live up to the expectations people had for them earlier on in the year. There are plenty of candidates, of course, but the most notable ones for me are Lake Bell for In a World…, Olga Kurylenko for To the Wonder, Lindsay Lohan for The Canyons, Rooney Mara for Side Effects (though she’ll appear again later), Brit Marling for The East, Sienna Miller for Just Like a Woman, Julianne Moore for The English Teacher (sorry Clayton), Aubrey Plaza for The To-Do List, and Kristen Wiig for Girl Most Likely. There’s some fine work in that field, but they’re done, plain and simple. No use crying over spilt milk (or spilt nomination chances) though, so we can quickly move on to more likely women.

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first serious (or at least more serious) grouping consists of ten females who are not out of the race this year, but have a rather long road to take if they want to really be in the thick of it at all, which makes their candidacies rather unlikely. They either have subject matter that could be problematic, as is the case every year in all categories, or just don’t seem to have the right traction yet for any awards attention. By and large here the quality of their performance isn’t being called into question, so that’s a plus at least. Some of them are slightly bigger contenders than others, but for me I’m pretty much inclined to bet against them all right now, with perhaps a tiny exclusion or two (though not really). The actresses that fit this bill are as follows:

DIANAfirstlookPhoto by LaurieSparhamRosemarie DeWitt- Touchy Feely
Vera Farmiga- The Conjuring
Danai Gurira- Mother of George
Felicty Jones- The Invisible Woman
Rachel McAdams- About Time
Emma Watson- The Bling Ring
Naomi Watts- Diana
Robin Weigart- Concussion
Olivia Wilde- Drinking Buddies
Evan Rachel Wood- A Case of You

A select few of these have better chances than others of breaking away from the pack and moving towards a more realistic shot at Best Actress, but I’m less than confident about them all and wouldn’t put any money on them. A long shot case could be made for Naomi Watts not being totally out of it yet, but don’t hold your breath for her, and the same goes for Robin Weigart, despite her Gotham Award nomination. I’d love to see Olivia Wilde recognized a bit, but I’m delusional to think she’d break through at this point. Felicity Jones is far better in Breathe In, but that Sundance title doesn’t even have a distributor yet. In short, when it comes to these women, I’m skeptical at best and dismissive at worst, with perspective mostly aimed at the worst. They all are going to need lots and lots of help to make any sort of dent in the Best Actress race, so you can almost totally dismiss them all.

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The “Second Tier” Contenders

These particular actresses here are more solidly in play for a nomination, but have some moderate to serious question marks that I’d like answered about them before moving them up a notch. I’d usually say that there will be at least a few from this list that make it closer to the big day with hopes of hearing their name called, but most will no doubt fade away as well…except that this year I think they’re all pretty far behind. There are ten of these particular performances that would like to be considered big time contenders, somewhat wishful thinking as that may be. I don’t see them as big time ones just yet this season, but like I said, they’re not amazingly far off, at least historically. The ones that I see in this light are:

Frances-HaAngela Bassett- Black Nativity
Lindsay Burge- A Teacher
Paulina Garcia- Gloria
Greta Gerwig- Frances Ha
Jennifer Lawrence- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss- Enough Said
Rooney Mara- Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Carey Mulligan- The Great Gatsby
Sophia Nelisse- The Book Thief
Amanda Seyfried- Lovelace

Normally I like to state here that there’s a version of this year’s race where some combination of these ten women could make up the ultimate Best Actress field, but there’s still another dozen females to come with far better chances as always, so that kind of shoots that theory to hell…plus, you know, the top heaviness of this category. That puts these females in an odd position where they need to distinguish themselves in some way a lot more so than usual. A few might, but most won’t. My best guess is that Angela Bassett and Sophia Nelisse represent a pair of potentially intriguing X factors in the race, while the top players in this middling field otherwise are Greta Gerwig and probably Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (unless you’re a big believer in Mara’s candidacy for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). I’m fully expecting both sets of women to miss out, but the four of them have somewhat of a fighting chance in the race, at least. Nelisse could be the one to keep an eye on though, if you’re desperate for someone to latch on to here.

The “Pole Position” Contenders

These here are the dozen most likely contenders for Best Actress in my opinion, and frankly the only ones worth considering. Not surprisingly, my personal Oscar predictions consist of a grouping of some of these gals. They each have a lot going in their favor, and seem to be sitting quite pretty for a good deal of citations during the precursors. They’re also in some of the more often mentioned films so far this year for the category, and I don’t exact that to change as the year comes to a close. Which 12 women are they, you might ask? Well, they are the following:

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Gravity_Sandra-Bullock-floats-onAmy Adams- American Hustle
Berenice Bejo- The Past
Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock- Gravity
Julie Delpy- Before Midnight
Judi Dench- Philomena
Adèle Exarchopoulos- Blue is the Warmest Color
Brie Larson- Short Term 12
Meryl Streep- August: Osage County
Emma Thompson- Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet- Labor Day
Shailene Woodley- The Spectacular Now

Right now, there’s only two locks for a nomination. I don’t think anyone in their right mind has Cate Blanchett missing (rightly so), and those who predict a Sandra Bullock snub are few and far between. After them, it gets a bit murkier, but it’s hard to bet against Meryl Streep scoring another nod, though she’s not locked in. That makes a trio of women more or less set for noms (or at least the most likely nominees right now), with nine others competing for the final three slots. Bringing up the rear we have long shots in Berenice Bejo, Julie Delpy, Brie Larson, and Shailene Woodley. Any of those four could improve their odds with some early precursor wins, but I’d say Delpy is the only one who could see that happen (though Larson and Woodley will receive some indie attention if nothing else). That leaves those last three spots to be fought over between Amy Adams, Judi Dench, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Emma Thompson, and Kate Winslet. Within this subset, Adams is in the best spot, though a lot rides on what her film turns out to be. At the same time, Winslet is sort of the long shot of this group, getting by somewhat on her name and reputation. If we assume Adams is good enough to get in (and that could be a big if), that leaves well respected vets Dench and Thompson hoping that Exarchopoulos doesn’t steal a spot from one of them (and this assumes that Thompson’s movie is top notch too…though early reviews have been very kind to her). Personally, I can see Exarchopoulos doing it, but time will tell. These are likely the only people truly in line to compete for the five slots, like I’ve said, but honestly, who knows for sure?

There you have it my friends in terms of Best Actress. Most of the aforementioned actresses have little to no chance at being nominated (more so than usual even), but as I said, there’s about a dozen solid contenders right now, give or take a few, and this year is certainly weak or top-heavy enough enough for a surprise to go down. I’m sure that the list will be reduced soon enough through precursor awards and everything up to and including osmosis, though we could also see it increase as the aforementioned precursor season might just reveal some new and hopefully exciting contenders for our predicting pleasure. The one thing you have to be sure of is this though…it’s going to be a very interesting Oscar season for us, particularly with the Best Actress race!

Thoughts? How do you see Best Picture shaping up? Discuss in the comments!

About Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of Indiewire's Criticwire Network as well as the Internet Film Critics Association.
  • Joey Magidson

    This category could wind up very conservative feeling, which is what could really help Exarchopoulos get in…

    • Mark DePew

      Trio of likely noms – cate, sandy & meryl leaving 2 spots open not 3 — correct Joey?

      • Joey Magidson

        Indeed, that’s due to a mix of no sleep, me focusing in more on Blanchett and Bullock than Streep, and also a hunch I was considering playing that has Streep miss a nomination altogether…

  • mylesedwardhughes

    Good stuff. Here would be my predix at this point:

    Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
    Sandra Bullock – Gravity
    Judi Dench – Philomena
    Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks
    Kate Winslet – Labor Day

    • Joey Magidson

      That’s a very conservative lineup, but not an unlikely one…

  • Dan Hogan

    I would adore seeing Brie Larson get in.

    • Joey Magidson

      You and me both…

      • Eric Brown

        I agree…

        • Joey Magidson

          Indeed…

  • Viktor Vilotijevic

    And I hope Emma won’t make the cut… I mean, I love her, I still have to watch the film, but the performance and whole thing looks very cheap and cheesy. People can say anything they want about “Diana”, and yes it’s not a good movie, but it’s not a horrible one too. And to be completely honest, as much as I adore “Gravity” and think that Sandra did a good job, Watts played her role way much better. So, if Bullock is a lock, I don’t know why Watts couldn’t be nominated. My favorite actress, Meryl Streep won an Oscar for a good role in a terrible movie (“The Iron Lady”), and trust me, “Diana” is way better than that Thatcher biopic.

    I think this is how it will look like in January:

    1. Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”)

    2. Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County”)

    3. Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)

    4. Berenice Bejo (“The Past”) – well deserved!!!

    5. Amy Adams (“American Hustle”)

    If Sandra gets snubbed, Judi Dench (“Philomena”) will fill her place. If they eliminate Bejo, they will nominate Adèle Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”). I don’t see Winslet scoring a nomination this year, whatever the scenario is.

    • Joey Magidson

      With the exception of The Iron Lady, bad movies are almost always excluded in the end…

  • Adam Slater Lawrence

    so Weinstein is campaigning Streep in lead and Roberts in supporting – but what happens if the reviews come out stronger for Roberts (which it looks like there’s a strong chance of…)? Any chance the response to the performance/film itself pushes Roberts back into the Lead discussion?

    • Joey Magidson

      Unlikely. We’ve discussed this on the podcast before, but Streep in supporting could hurt his other horse there in Oprah, so it wouldn’t make sense for Harvey…

      • Adam Slater Lawrence

        I didn’t mean the campaigns, I mean there’s an outside chance the voters could put Roberts in the different/proper category – Remember Winslet going lead for The Reader despite Weinstein’s supporting campaign? Not likely, but if the reviews are all the same as the ones on this website…

        • Joey Magidson

          They would have to feel very strongly about Roberts and somewhat indifferently about Streep. The problem with that is then they’d likely both wind up missing out on nominations since voters would be splitting their votes, essentially voting for Roberts and Streep in both categories. It’s actually a scenario I’ve thought about and contemplated predicting…

  • kailor

    I just donot see Bullock beating Blanchett at this point. Mostly because I feel there are more detractors to bullock’s performance than there are to Blanchett’s. Even those who donot like Blue Jasmine single Blanchett out while I have heard those who like Gravity who doesn’t necessarily think Bullock was all that outstanding.

    1. Blanchett
    2. Bullock
    3. Adams
    4. Thompson
    5. Exarchopulos

    Hopefully Meryl Streep’s legion of army won’t hunt me down and skillet me into an Oscar statuette and proclaim I am a Meryl hater.

    • Joey Magidson

      I don’t see Bullock winning either, but we’ll see…

  • Phillip Milner

    Bullock getting a nomination would be agonizing to see. Her performance in Gravity really wasn’t that exceptional. Definitely not bad or anything, just not deserving of a nomination by any means. Id rather give a nomination to Moretz in Carrie than give it to Bullock. The category is “weak” by the standards of previous years though.

    • Joey Magidson

      Definitely a minority opinion, but a perfectly valid one to have…

  • Danny

    People should also consider Léa Seydoux she is a much bigger star in france then Adele and she did transform herself way more then Adele to

    • Joey Magidson

      Oh she’ll get consideration, just in Best Supporting Actress. Stay tuned for me to discuss her heavily in a few weeks when that article goes up…

    • kailor

      Yes she is fantastic in Blue Is The Warmest Color, but she does have less screentime and has less to do than Adele Exarchopoulos. With Supporting so thin, she could pop up as a surprise. Though I think she will need to show up at the very least with the critics awards.

      • Joey Magidson

        Indeed (keep in mind, the title in many parts of the world for the film is Adele: Chapters 1 & 2), though I think Exarchopoulos will need to get in for Seydoux to get in as well. They both definitely deserve it though…

  • kailor

    Remember at the beginning of the year when we all thought that this category would be probably the strongest and competitively stacked with so many unprecedented potential contenders. Then Diana turned out to be royal hot mess and The Weinsteins kept hiding Grace of Monaco from us and Blanchett basically came in like a tornado and blew everyone in her path by summertime with Cottilard and Chastain getting their films moved to 2014. Soon Osage County proved to be more like Doubt then less Streetcar. Now it is probably the most boring of the 4 acting races with only at most 6 or 7 real contenders.

    • Joey Magidson

      There’s always a category like this each year, but yes, had a few of the now 2014 releases remained, things might have been a little more spread out…

      • kailor

        Sadly this year has been an overall great year for females but performances like Delpy, Bejo, Gerwig, Louis-Dreyfus, Garcia, Burdge, Woodley, & Larson have little shot in the race despite how great they are in their respective films. Even when performances fall off as we know, voters will still look at the big name contenders usually rather look elsewhere at other performers who delivers more dynamic and nuanced performances. Although this year has had its share of great roles for women, it is sad that the race for Lead Actress sadly will not reflect that notion.

        • Joey Magidson

          Most likely not, indeed. Hell, one of my favorite performances is Zoe Kazan from a Tribeca Film Festival flick called The Pretty One, and that’s not even coming out it seems…

          • kailor

            She has been so overlooked. I knew she had no chance last year for Ruby Sparks as well. Such a sad oversight last year.

            • Joey Magidson

              Don’t even get me started on how underrated she is…

  • markjohnsonpresents

    Great analysis! I’d probably only swap Woodley and Louis-Dreyfuss’ spots, but neither is likely to happen anyway. It will be interesting to see if they’ll be able to sneak an under-30 in this time around with so many great veterans at the top.

    • Joey Magidson

      Much obliged…and that’s where I see Exarchopoulos making her move…

  • Eric Brown

    Likely:
    Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine
    Sandra Bullock- Gravity
    Emma Thompson- Saving Mr. Banks
    Kate Winslet- Labor Day
    Meryl Streep- August In Osage County

    Likely, But Not Out Of The Question:
    Brie Larson- Short Term 12
    Amy Adams- Amercan Hustle
    Judi Dench- Philomena
    Julie Delpy- Before Midnight
    Shailene Woodley- The Spectacular Now

    Wild Cards:
    Greta Gerwig- Francis HA
    Vera Farmiga- The Conjuring
    Sophia Nelisse- The Book Thief
    Angela Bassett- Black Nativity
    Jennifer Lawrence- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

    • Joey Magidson

      More or less…

  • Kim

    Is there any way Sandra Bullock wins again?

    • Joey Magidson

      There’s a small chance, yes…