Saturday, September 17, 2016

Oscars 2017: The State Of The Best Actress Race

Much like last year, Best Actress is looking to be the most exciting acting race. There are plenty of dynamic performances from actresses that have been seen so far this year yet there are still some sights unseen looking to make a dent in the race as well. I'll start off with my predicted Top 5:

1. Emma Stone, La La Land: La La Land is getting nearly unanimous praise wherever it goes from Telluride to Toronto to Venice where it won Best Actress for Emma Stone. Stone is coming off a previous nomination for Birdman and has a role that looks to play all of her best skills: She sings, she dances, she gets to be dramatic and possibly comical as well. 

2. Natalie Portman, Jackie: But Jackie which just got picked up by Fox Searchlight for a December release date also got raves at Venice Film Festival. What makes Portman such a big threat to Stone is that she's playing a real-life person, Jackie Kennedy, and while Stone may be sharing the screen with Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Portman IS her movie since she's the title character and reviews suggest that it's a strong showcase for Portman and is strong in other areas as well (Picture, Directing, Screenplay, Score, etc.). Some may feel she might be handicapped by the fact she's already won. But as previous two-time winners in this category like Hilary Swank, Jodie Foster, and of course Sally Field have shown us, when they like you, they really, really like you!

3. Viola Davis, Fences: Davis is one of the few sights unseen. If the movie delivers, then it'll easily be a Stone v. Portman v. Davis race. Mainly because Davis has something that is always a key factor: Narrative. Davis has the narrative of being overdue for an Oscar win after nearly beating Meryl Streep for Best Actress for The Help and the standing ovation she received when she won Best Actress at the SAG Awards that year shows how beloved she is by her peers and that they're aching to see her be rewarded. Also, she's playing a role she already won a Tony for on stage and when she gives interviews about her role in the film, she's talking about how she's in practically every scene, getting a head start on her campaign. She's got a lot going for her but the movie just has to deliver.

4. Amy Adams, Arrival: Amy Adams is also sadly overdue and is building a case for a 6th nomination with Arrival. While the film may be handicapped by the fact that it's a science fiction film, reviews do say that it is an emotional showcase for Adams who is said to carry the entire picture and she also has Nocturnal Animals coming out around the same time to boost her profile. 

5. Isabelle Huppert, Elle: Considered a legend and the Meryl Streep of France, Isabelle Huppert doesn't have an Oscar nomination to show for it. But that could change with Elle. Lately, we've seen a foreign language or at least Francophile contingent that got Emmanuelle Riva for Amour and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night in this category. Also, she has Sony Pictures Classics, which was behind two of the last three Best Actress winners, at her corner and she has two other films, Things To Come and Souvenir, hitting the festival circuit. Lastly, since she is the title character, her performance IS the movie. Usually, the acting branch likes films that hinge entirely on an actor's performance. So I think she will be this year's Charlotte Rampling. 

Dark Horses:

6. Ruth Negga, Loving: The buzz on her film has been rather quiet but she has gotten standout mentions from those that have seen the movie. Also, they do like to occasionally honor a discovery in this category (Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone, Ellen Page, Catalina Sandino Moreno, etc.).

7. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women: Yet another overdue actress, Bening has been inches away from a win before with Boys Don't Cry and The Kids Are All Right. This would be her 5th nomination but the film itself is a bit of a mystery so we don't know what kind of role she has. But she is building an overdue narrative and she is Hollywood royalty since she's married to famed legend Warren Beatty. Never discount those within the "In" crowd.

8. Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures: The film recently screened 30 minutes of footage with such positive praise that Oscar pundits like Scott Feinberg from The Hollywood Reporter have it predicted to compete for Best Picture. That could easily bode well for Taraji P. Henson who is a previous nominee for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and is on a bit of a hot streak thanks to TV's Empire. Also, it's based on a true story and has drawn comparisons to The Help which was a strong acting play with Viola Davis nearly winning Best Actress and Octavia Spencer winning Best Supporting Actress. I'd say keep an eye on her.

9. Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: Whenever Meryl has a movie out, we sort of have to talk about her being in the Oscar conversation. I'm not as high on Streep as other pundits are because Best Actress is looking so competitive and the film itself kind of came and went. So it hasn't stuck around long enough to build any buzz. But this is Meryl Streep we're talking about here. They even nominated her for her divisive work in August: Osage County and The Iron Lady which she won her 3rd Oscar for. No doubt she is adored.

10. Emily Blunt, The Girl On The Train: Now onto someone who's been on the cusp of her first nomination. She's been in the mix before with The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, Into The Woods, and even Sicario. Yet no such luck. But this looks like a role to really sink her acting teeth into. It's certainly a very baity role as she plays a woman suffering alcoholism whle downplaying her natural beauty. But due to the film's pulpy nature, it'll need strong box office AND positive word of mouth to overcome its genre limitations like Gone Girl did. If it can achieve those, Blunt may finally be all aboard to the Dolby Theater.

Keep An Eye On These Five:

11. Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane: Already a 2-time nominee, Chastain is clearly beloved by the AMPAS. The film also has timely subject matter and judging by the title, it looks like it'll revolve solely around her character. The character might seem too cold and unsympathetic for voters to embrace but her character in Zero Dark Thirty was quite unsentimental and she still was a strong competitor for Lead Actress. So Chastain might overcome the cold factor.

12. Sally Field, Hello, My Name Is Doris: A likely play at the Golden Globes for Best Actress-Musical Or Comedy but still a reminder of how good she is in this sleeper indie hit that came out early this year. The fact she's already a 2-time winner in this category doesn't hurt.

13. Marion Cotillard, Allied: A previous Oscar winner who could be in play for her first nomination for an English language picture. The film is also set in WWII which is one of Oscar's favorite subjects. She could end up being pushed in Supporting but we shall see.

14. Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers: The film could end up just being populist sci-fi. But J-Law does have her fans in the AMPAS, having almost won a second Oscar in a row for American Hustle and scoring a 4th nomination for the divisive Joy. Her overall hot streak likely hasn't cooled off yet.

15. Rebecca Hall, Christine: Her distributor, The Orchard, may be too small and the film in general may be too dark. But she is playing a real-life person (something voters often recognize) and we've seen performances in films by small distributors appear in certain precursors (Brie Larson in Short Term 12 landing Critics Choice, Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back landing SAG, etc.). So I think she'll likely be in the mix somewhere.

What do you guys think of this amazingly competitive Best Actress race? Is there anyone you think I've missed or would like to see be in the conversation? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!