Sunday, December 8, 2013

Oscar Bait: Best Actress in a Leading Role

A Ranking of the Year's Most Enticing Awards Bait

In this installment of my new Oscar Bait feature, I’m covering the Best Actress race for this year’s Oscars, which is as hammy as ever.  If you missed Part I, in which I covered the Best Picture race as it stood at the end of October, I hope you’ll check it out here. 

The Best Actress race is always interesting for a few reasons.  For one thing, the Academy has a sordid history when it comes to diversity in this award – only one actress of color has ever won the award (Halle Barry, as I think we all recall), and it is also not often given to older actresses – for evidence of this confirmation, check out the below age distribution of the four Oscars for acting:

Those statistics make this year’s race pretty interesting, since 4 of my top 5 on the list are over 50 and the other is knocking at the door at age 49.  So maybe that statistic will be thrown out the window this year? Or maybe it means that I am overlooking the possibilities of a couple of younger ingĂ©nues, such as Amy Adams in American Hustle or Adele Exarchopoulos in foreign sensation Blue is the Warmest Color.

The other factor that makes my below-predicted list interesting and questionable is that it consists of all former Oscar winners.  That had never happened in any category in Oscar history until last year’s Best Supporting Actor lineup, making it quite anomalous if it were to happen again.  Yet when pressed, none of the fringe candidates for that 5th slot seem formidable enough to knock out Ms. Streep.  This is an ongoing situation I’ll have to monitor. 

For the time being, here are the official Oscar Bait rankings for Best Actress as of November, 2013:

(1) Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

This is really one of the baitiest performances in recent memory by an actress, and you know what? It’s an excellent one that deserves every bit of praise and awards it will get.  Woody Allen has directed 16 performances to an Oscar nomination, and 6 of those to a win.  5 of the 6 Oscar-winning performances in his films have been women.  Gotta give it up to the Woodster, the man knows how to direct crazy female characters. 

(2) Sandra Bullock, Gravity

A physical and emotional performance in one of the year’s most acclaimed and financially successful films, Bullock digs deeper than she ever has in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity without sacrificing too many of her quintessential “Bullock-isms.”  That last factor is important.  The Oscars love it when stars that have an established film-persona break character, without losing the things that make them a star in the first place.  I could cite numerous examples here, but Exhibit A is Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich.  The fact that this film will be vying to win the whole damn thing on Oscar night (unlike Ms. Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine) certainly gives SaBu an outside shot at stealing her 2nd leading actress Oscar. 
(3)  Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Don’t count out this Brit veteran who has been around the Oscar block a few times, with a win both in acting and writing. Remarkably, it’s been 17 years since she was last a nominee, but Ms. Thompson has still been as prolific as ever during that period, so it was only a matter of time before she would end up there again.   Her role as the persnickety P.L. Travers, writer of Mary Poppins, is sure to be entertaining and received well commercially.  I doubt she will win many critics awards for this role but she promises to rack up enough precursor nominations and perhaps wins to make her a viable contender on Oscar night.

(4) Judi Dench, Philomena

Ah, Ms. Dench.  The other Brit veteran in this year’s race.  Playing the amazingly baity role of a woman trying to locate her son that she gave up for adoption, Dench will still probably have a mountain to climb to beat the three contenders ahead of her. However, she is solidly in in place for a nomination at this point and with Oscar guru Harvey Weinstein backing her campaign, I’m not ready to count her out for the win, either.

(5) Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

I have no idea if Meryl Streep will be able to snag a nom this year or not.  Usually when she looks at a camera Oscar will shower her with praise, but her last few roles have been mightily hammy, and I’m wondering this will begin to show its wear with the Oscar voters this year.  I really have little interest in seeing the not-well-reviewed August: Osage County but I am curious to decide for myself whether this is a performance that will be worthy of a nomination, should she get one.