Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, Naomi Watts

This year’s locks: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett

Very likely: Judi Dench, Emma Thompson

Possible: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Brie Larson

Unlikely: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The rundown: Last year, I wrote about how two highly acclaimed contenders who didn’t earn either Globe or SAG nods – one a foreign octogenarian and the other an unknown child – would have to defy historical odds to merit a nomination. And, though one of the would-be nominees I was rooting for was displaced, two of the Globe- and SAG-cited actresses were left off in favor of those two underdogs. Now, I’m not sure that can happen this year, but let me take a reverse approach to why two acclaimed lesser-known actresses, one of whose performances I’ve seen and once whose I haven’t, might make the cut. Sandra Bullock (Gravity) is a sure thing, there’s no getting around that, and that’s fine since she was pretty terrific. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) isn’t my cup of tea, but she managed to be nominated for a sequel no one liked because she’s usually great. Judi Dench (Philomena) is an awards magnet (this would be nomination number seven), but it’s possible that her film could falter in favor of something more serious. That’s doubly true for Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), whose film has been underperforming consistently when it should have been gobbling up awards. Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), whose nomination total exceeds any other performer’s and will continue to do so as she racks up more and more mentions, is in danger of putting off voters with an over-the-top performance, and I think she’ll be snubbed, especially since most didn’t love the film. Now, Amy Adams (American Hustle) is vying for a spot, but she’s only ever been nominated in the supporting race, and her film can be easily recognized elsewhere. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) would need a huge push to join her posthumous costar as a nominee. It’s been noted by Nathaniel of The Film Experience that a Best Actress list has never been composed of all previous winners, as the combo of Bullock, Blanchett, Dench, Thompson, and Streep would. Last year, the SAG list included all previous Oscar nominees. When the Oscar nods were announced, the two who had won Oscars before weren’t included, while the three who hadn’t were, and the other two slots went to first-timers. Statistics and records only mean something until they don’t. But, what if the people who recognized Riva and Wallis last year were open to two other possibilities who were completely fresh Oscar faces: Adèle Exarchupoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Brie Larson (Short Term 12)? I won’t have the opportunity to screen the latter until just before nominations are announced, so my enthusiasm will be understandably directed more at the former performance. But there is something wholly worthwhile about honoring new and innovative turns, rather than familiar faces - Thompson and Streep especially – delivering far from their strongest performances. Both getting in after last year would be something, so I’ll be cautiously overoptimistic and say that maybe Exarchupoulos can pull it off.

One possible crazy scenario: Despite just a Golden Globe nod and the fact that her film hasn’t even been released yet, Kate Winslet (Labor Day) earns her seventh nomination.

Forecasted winner: I think enthusiasm for the film will give it to Bullock no matter who’s ahead in the precursors.

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