Sizing Up 2014: Best Actress

felicity_jones_shine_in_the_theory_of_everything_2014-t3We’re back now ladies and gentlemen (Happy Belated Turkey Day to you all as well) for part four of this annual series. This time around I’m going to be tackling the rather top-heavy Best Actress field. Much like last year, for many this is one of the more boring categories out of the majors as well as potentially the easiest to figure out, especially in terms of an ultimate winner. The victorious lady here won’t be too much of a concern for me right now, but I’m hoping 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 announcement, but this will represent where I think things currently stand, and it’s certainly a rather fluid list right now. 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 (plus last year I had all five eventual nominees in my Pole Position section, including calling eventual winner Cate Blanchett a lock for Blue Jasmine). 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 here 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 Rose Byrne for Neighbors, Charlotte Gainsbourg for Nymphomaniac (Volume 1 and Volume 2), Shirley MacLaine for Elsa and Fred, Audrey Tautou for Mood Indigo, and Robin Wright for The Congress. There’s some fine work in that field for sure, but they’re done here in Best Actress, plain and simple. No use crying over spilt milk though, so we can quickly move on to more likely women.

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first serious (or at least slightly more serious) grouping consists of ten females who are not out of the race completely this year, but have a rather long and arduous road to take if they want to really be in the thick of it at all. That in turn makes their candidacies rather unlikely, but not absolutely impossible. 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 true awards attention. By and large, the quality of their performance here 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. The actresses that fit this bill are as follows:

pdc_prettyone1Angelina JolieMalificent
Jennifer LawrenceThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Zoe KazanThe Pretty One
Anna KendrickHappy Christmas
Rachel McAdamsA Most Wanted Man
Michelle MonaghanFort Bliss
Elisabeth MossThe One I Love
Emma StoneMagic in the Moonlight
Tilda SwintonOnly Lovers Left Alive
Tessa ThompsonDear White People

A very 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 even minutely confident about them all and wouldn’t put any money on them. A long shot case could be made for Michelle Monaghan if you want to really stretch things, since her film is at least trying to put a campaign out there. Her odds are astronomical, but a few other places have written about her as a potential long shot, so there’s that at least. By comparison to these other hopefuls, she’s at least above them (though I’d love voters to actually consider Zoe Kazan‘s performance). They all are going to need lots and lots of help to make any sort of dent in the Best Actress race though, so you can almost totally dismiss them at this point.

The “Second Tier” Contenders

These actresses here in this particular group are more solidly in play for a nomination, but still 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, much like last year. 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:

scarlett-under-the-skinRosario DawsonTop Five
Scarlett JohanssonUnder the Skin
Keira KnightleyBegin Again
Gugu Mbatha-RawBelle (or Beyond the Lights)
Melissa McCarthySt. Vincent
Helen MirrenThe Hundred Foot Journey
Jenny SlateObvious Child
Kristen StewartCamp X-Ray
Mia WasikowskaTracks
Kristen WiigThe Skeleton Twins

Most years I like to state here that there’s a version of this 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 much better chances as always, so that kind of shoots that theory to pieces. Plus, you know, the top heaviness of this category, as previously mentioned. 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 no one comes close, but if you really want a pair to pin some long shot hopes to, I’d look at Scarlett Johansson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Both are in well regarded early releases (plus the latter has a recent release to provide a bit of a boost) that saw them heavily praised, so that doesn’t hurt. Johansson could show up on the precursor circuit a bit more than you might initial expect, but that doesn’t mean she’s actually going to get nominated. Voters aren’t nearly cool enough to go for Under the Skin, believe that. I’d also love a true consideration of Jenny Slate, but that probably is wishful thinking on my part…the same goes for Kristen Stewart as well.

The “Pole Position” Contenders

Here we are. These 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 most 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:

tfios-still-hazel--aAmy AdamsBig Eyes
Jennifer AnistonCake
Emily Blunt Into the Woods
Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (or Miss Julie)
Marion CotillardTwo Days, One Night (or The Immigrant)
Anne HathawayInterstellar
Felicity JonesThe Theory of Everything
Julianne MooreStill Alice
Rosamund PikeGone Girl
Hilary SwankThe Homesman
Reese WitherspoonWild
Shailene WoodleyThe Fault in Our Stars

Right now, there’s three of four women that are close to locks for nomination. Actually, only really Felicity Jones and Julianne Moore are actual locks (as well as being the two most likely to fight it out for the ultimate win in Best Actress), but it’s hard not to look at Rosamund Pike (who could be a dark horse contender to pull off an upset win) and Reese Witherspoon and not think that they’re in. As such, that basically leaves eight women to battle over one spot. At the current moment, I have Shailene Woodley taking that final slot, which earlier in the year provoked mockery from some of my colleagues. Well, not so much anymore, as you’d be hard pressed to find anyone (with perhaps one or two exceptions) who doesn’t have her in their top ten (or higher), particularly as she’s actually begun to campaign. If it’s not her, then next in line seems to be either Amy Adams, Jennifer Aniston, Emily Blunt, or Hilary Swank, though aside from Aniston, no one is particularly excited about those contenders and banging the drum for them. That leaves Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, and Anne Hathaway as the other possibilities, and they’re less than likely to take the final spot (particularly with Chastain having a better candidacy in Supporting Actress as well as both Chastain and Cotillard potentially splitting votes among the multiple eligible performances). As such, I’m actually feeling pretty confident about Woodley, at least right now. These pole position players are likely the only people truly in line to compete for the five slots, like I’ve said, but honestly, who really knows for sure?

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 as I like to say year in and year out, 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.

Check out the official Oscar Predictions for Best Actress!

Thoughts? How do you see Best Actress shaping up this year? Discuss in the comments!

What do you think?

Film Lover

Written by 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 the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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