Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday Oscar Spotlight: Best Actress

It still feels too early to start ironing out real Oscar predictions, and therefore I’ve decided to take a brief look at the acting categories, one per week, throughout October and November. Many buzzed-about films have yet to be seen, and more may still emerge in the next two months. For now, here’s a brief rundown, sight unseen in some cases, of the likeliest contenders at this point. Please feel free to add your own thoughts as well as to point out any actors I may have missed in the comments section.

The breakouts:

Lesley Manville (Another Year)
This frequent Mike Leigh collaborator steals the show in his latest film, coming out in late December. The biggest problem facing Manville is that she may be considered a supporting actress (I might classify her there). If she’s definitely placed in one category, she should be nominated, and Ruth Sheen will likely be in the opposite category, though I don’t think Sheen will get nominated if she’s deemed a lead. Manville is extraordinary, though, so watch out for her.

Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
This nineteen-year-old actress carries her summer film on her shoulders, just as her character carries her family all by herself. If the film is remembered, which it should be thanks to screeners being sent out two weeks ago, Lawrence has a pretty great shot as the only real young breakout actress of 2010 in this category.

The wild card one-time winners:

Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice)
Berry’s entrance into the Oscar race bears a disturbing similarity to Sandra Bullock’s late-breaking buzz last year and Hilary Swank’s sudden upswing at the last minute for “Million Dollar Baby.” I haven’t found a trailer for the film, but apparently Berry plays a woman with multiple personalities, which may be just the thing to bring him back into the awards fold after winning on her first try back in 2001 for “Monster’s Ball” and not returning since. We’ll have to see; I don’t think it will amount to much.

Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong)
This film won’t be out until the tail end of December, and the trailer makes it look like a weaker version of “Crazy Heart,” which of course won Jeff Bridges the Best Actor Oscar this past year. Now, Bridges is a much stronger thespian than Paltrow and also hadn’t yet won, which Paltrow did back in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love.” I don’t think this film will be a hit, but Paltrow could surprise and do well.

The lighter roles:

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Bening is a three-time nominee and has been eclipsed the past two times by Hilary Swank (see below for the possibility of another faceoff). She’s the definition of overdue, and given the fact that Kate Winslet won this award two years ago, I think that she is a good bet to win. Her performance is fresh and funny, and her other role in “Mother and Child” this year is a plus both because it’s another demonstration of good work and also because it’s not nearly as good as this role, which should impress voters. Count her in.

Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs)
Hathaway broke through in 2008 with her magnetic dramatic performance in “Rachel Getting Married,” and I’m hard-pressed to believe that this comedic follow-up, as the one woman who can resist Jake Gyllenhaal’s womanizing charms, will present her second nomination. It’s worth noting that the first, more serious part can serve as a gateway nomination that will enable Hathaway to be recognized for less challenging work. I’m doubtful that the timing (and the film) is right at this point.

Diane Lane (Secretariat)
Perhaps I am misclassifying this film in the “lighter” category but it’s definitely a less harrowing drama than some of the others. Many have praised Lane’s performance, and her inclusion in the race will depend on how positively and warmly her film is received by Oscar voters (probably pretty well). Sandra Bullock’s win last year is definitely a plus for her.

Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right)
Moore’s toughest competition is actually right in her own film: Annette Bening. While Moore has delivered powerhouse performances in the past, this one can’t hold a candle to Bening’s superior work. If the film is beloved enough, and if Moore earns a Golden Globe nomination where there is less competition, she may have a shot, but it’s been 19 years since this category has had two nominees from the same film, so her place is not assured by any means.

The inspirational women:

Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham)
Hawkins came so close to an Oscar nomination two years ago for “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and while her latest performance isn’t quite as fantastic in every way, it’s still a great turn that will likely net her some votes. It’s not a forceful a role as might be necessary to garner her acclaim, but I still think she has a good shot as the reluctant real-life leader of a struggle for equal bay in 1960s England.

Hilary Swank (Conviction)
Swank, along with Sally Field, has only two Oscar nominations and two wins. She also beat out Annette Bening both times. This year, Bening inarguably gives the stronger performance, and Swank’s film didn’t score well with critics, as opposed to her previous two vehicles. At least it did better than last year’s “Amelia” (which I, and only I, would argue is a stronger film), but it still may not be enough to put Swank back in the running for a third go at the gold.

The returning veteran:

Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Nine years ago, Kidman was hot stuff, earning buzz for not one but two movies (“Moulin Rouge” and “The Others”), ending up with a nod for the former, and then winning the next year for “The Hours.” After being snubbed for “Cold Mountain” the following year, she’s been out of the race and the spotlight. Now, she’s back in what appears to be a devastating drama, and given the goodwill many voters likely have for her, this may be her reentry into the awards scene.

Time for a second nomination?

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Aside from Bening, Portman is the surest thing in this category. Darren Aronofsky has previously directed two performers (he’s only made four films) to Oscar nominations, and Portman will be the third based on the buzz for her performance and the quality of the trailer for Aronofsky’s trippy thriller about a ballerina. She may even be able to beat the elder Bening, though it’s worth seeing the film and seeing how it does before making that call.

Naomi Watts (Fair Game)
After a strong role in Bening’s other film “Mother and Child” earlier this year, Watts is back in this Friday’s “Fair Game” as real-life outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Kate Beckinsale, and future nominee Vera Farmiga, garnered buzz but no actionable nominations for the fictionalized version of the story from a few years ago, “Nothing but the Truth,” and the real story may have the right stuff if it’s taken seriously enough and does well. It could earn Watts her first nomination since 2003.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
The “Brokeback Mountain” actress is back with another contender after being ignored for “Wendy and Lucy” two years ago, opposite 2006 Best Actor nominee Ryan Gosling. This romantic drama about a relationship could be a good vehicle for Williams to break into the lead category, and it will likely be more optimistic and populated by people than her last effort. More thoughts once I’ve seen the film.

The foreign role:

Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)
After being snubbed in 2001 for her marvelous performance in “The Deep End,” Swinton was nominated – and won – for a supporting turn in 2007’s “Michael Clayton.” Last year, she was in the running for “Julia,” and now, she’s off speaking Italian in the beautiful “I Am Love.” The film wasn’t submitted by Italy for Best Foreign Film and may fare well in the technical categories, and it would be cool if Swinton could earn some accolades for her performance. It’s highly unlikely, but here’s hoping.

Come back next week for a look at Best Supporting Actor or take a look at Best Actor!

1 comment:

Meme said...

I have to say I disagree about Julianne Moore's performance not being as good as Annette Bening's. I saw the movie in theaters and walked out thinking ONLY of Julianne Moore's character. So, of course, I was so shocked to hear that people were pegging Bening over Moore for Best Actress. When it finally became available on iTunes on Tuesday, I bought it and watched it again. Yep, still completely Julianne Moore for me. It IS definitely the best performance from Bening in some time (possibly her best ever), but I hardly think that constitutes giving her Best Actress over a consistently superior Moore.

Plus, I have to admit it irks me that Bening hasn't really done any promotional work for this movie. How can she get Best Actress when she didn't even do a big part of her job as an actress?