Starting today we're going to be doing a weekly feature rounding up the Oscar contenders for the top 6 categories: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. After that the major precursor awards will all start coming in, right around the first week of December- we'll get the various critics' awards, the Golden Globe nominations, the Screen Actor's Guild noms, and in January the British Academy Award nominations (BAFTA's). Finally, the Oscar nominations will be in on Jan 16th, but by then we'll have a pretty clear picture of who's likely to be nominated. So we start off today with Best Actress, where there's probably a good 7 or 8 candidates right now, with a couple of longshots on the outside, and at least three clear locks.
The first lock is Cate Blanchett, who ever since Blue Jasmine came out in June, has been touted as the immediate frontrunner, and has even been described as giving one of the best female performances ever in some reviews. The movie did pretty well at the box office for a Woody Allen film, and though she's a previous winner, she's never won in the lead category (she won Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for The Aviator). Blachett will be hard to beat, because she'll probably win a lot of critic's awards for this performance, but the second lock in this category is neck and neck with her right now and just as likely to win.
That's Sandra Bullock for Gravity, whose movie has made over $200 million and counting, along with garnering her the best reviews of her career in the lead performance. She totally carries this movie and is the only thing in it for the majority of its running time. Many think that if she hadn't won just 4 years ago for The Blind Side (which was kind of a popularity win in the first place) she'd be a complete lock or the win right now, ahead of Blanchett. I don't happen to think that matters though- Sandra Bullock is so popular with the public and in the industry that she could easily pull off a second win, as a kind of validation Oscar after The Blind Side. Plus, going back every decade in Oscar history you can find several people who won two Oscars in a short period of time (Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Jodie Foster, Hilary Swank, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, etc.) It's not uncommon if they really, really like you (as Sally Field famously noted). So if you ask me, I think she could easily win here, especially if the Academy wants to award Gravity in a bigger category than just the techs (I don't think its chances at winning Best Picture are all that strong).
The third lock is Judi Dench, a six-time nominee who received rave reviews at the film festivals for Philomena, which hasn't opened yet in the United States (it comes out on the 22nd). But Dench is a beloved veteran and if there's a chance to reward her she usually gets in, so I think she's a sure thing. The last two slots are where it's kind of an open field, as there are several viable contenders looking to get in. We've got Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, who right now looks the most likely to me, as her reviews out of London were wonderful, but the movie hasn't opened here yet, so there's a little bit of ambiguity surrounding its Oscar chances.
There's a wild card in Amy Adams for American Hustle, which hasn't been seen by anyone except at test screenings, so even though we know she's being positioned as the Lead Actress and she's a four-time nominee already, it's uncertain whether she can live up to the hype. And of course, there's perennial nominee Meryl Streep, who always gets in if she has a movie out, and this year it's August: Osage County, coming out in December. This movie got less than enthusiastic critical reaction, with some accusing Meryl of going over the top and even hammy, but frankly that kind of criticism doesn't hurt somebody like 17-time nominee Meryl Streep. If the Academy and/or the public likes the movie, she's in.
Now we come to the longshots. The first one is Adele Exarchopoulos, the 19-year old from Blue is the Warmest Color, who I'm starting to wonder lately might not be such a longshot after all. The Academy has nominated plenty of foreign language performances before (Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour) and the critics adore this performance (she may be winning a bunch of critics awards soon), so the only question is whether voters would sit through a three hour French film. But with all those hyped sex scenes in it, the answer may be yes for more people than I think. Other outside contenders are Kate Winslet for Labor Day (which hasn't come out yet but got pretty underwhelming reviews out of the film festivals), Brie Larsen for Short Term 12 (outstanding reviews, but such a small movie that no one really saw it and from a brand new studio that doesn't know how to run Oscar campaigns; her chances depend on critics awards), and Julie Delpy for Before Midnight (another small movie whose chances depend on attention from the critics, she's probably the biggest longshot despite stellar reviews).
As of right now, I'd say these are the Top 5:
- Cate Blanchett
- Sandra Bullock
- Judi Dench
- Emma Thompson
- Adele Exarchopoulos
It may be crazy to go with Adele over Meryl Streep (who could frankly knock out anyone besides Blanchett and Bullock), but usually there is at least one outsider in the category, so right now I'm betting on her. But this could all change as the critics awards roll in and we see who's got the edge.