Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Closer Look at the Best Actress Nominees

Continuing our look at all of the top category nominees is a race that is probably the least certain of all of them: the Best Actress category. Despite an eclectic group that ranges from sci-fi thrillers (Sandra Bullock - Gravity) to mental illness (Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine) to romantic conning (Amy Adams - American Hustle), the race seemed to have been locked since August and unlike 12 Years a Slave, the conversation hasn't shifted all that much. There are a few potential upsets for sure, but as a whole, this is just a matter of counting down the hours until the top name is rattled off and the acceptance speech is given.

It has been pretty common consensus over the course of awards season that Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) has this in the bag. She has won every major award for her role and with the acclaim of the performance being apart of one of esteemed director's Woody Allen's best, it very well looks to be the extra oomph necessary to make it to the awards night. That isn't to say that late comer Amy Adams (American Hustle) isn't posing any threat, especially with the profile of the film rising impressively with each passing week. Much like that film, she is the real threat here, among an otherwise list of duds.

This isn't to say that the overall category is a waste, but it doesn't reflect a lot of strong competition. Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) feels like she's only nominated due to an Oscar Bias that believes in her infallible career choices. To a lesser extent, even Judi Dench (Philomena) feels tacked on, if just because of her prestigious profile. However, where Philomena gave Dench fodder to work off of, August: Osage County highlighted the worst aspects of Meryl Streep, who brought down an otherwise intensely dark and enjoyable family drama. Either way, it isn't an exciting year for the category, but with every other category pulling their weight, that isn't going to be too much of a problem.

Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine

As far as early favorites go, Cate Blacnhett has been the most durable of every Oscar contender during this past year. Unlike those predicting a sweep for 12 Years a Slave, the Blue Jasmine performance has topped Best Actress wins for quite some time, only making an upset seem implausible, if just because of the odds. Her performance alone justifies all of the praise with an impressive mix of class, Woody Allen-scribed wit, and plenty of great elocution. It is a performance dense with layers and humor that carries an equally impressive film that reflects Allen's tendencies at his best in quite some time. Of the two fields in which Allen films win, they are usually in the screenplay and acting categories. This is likely to follow in recent footsteps of Best Supporting Actress winner Penelope Cruz for Vicky Christina Barcelona and continue to prove Allen's skill of getting unexpected performances out of great actors. It does help that Blanchett is also a past winner (Best Supporting Actress - The Aviator), and her acceptance speeches are only rivaled in hilarious greatness by Matthew McConaughey. She has it in the bag, which is impressive for one of the few films that came out before October (or the earliest that every Best Picture nominee was released).

ODDS: The only way for her to lose is if either American Hustle pulls an impressive upset, or that the recent resurrection of Woody Allen's notorious sex scandal causes voters to heed their vote towards a different performer. This seems unlikely, as there is nothing in Cate Blanchett's performance to suggest that.

Amy Adams - American Hustle

There is a strange fact that must be addressed: Leonardo DiCaprio has had five nominations in his career and is currently speculated to win an "apology" Oscar for the consistent snubbing. However, there is not a single piece of similar buzz building around Amy Adams, who also just received her fifth nomination not only in less time, but for a more diverse set of roles. In American Hustle, she mixes sexiness with conning in exciting ways that when played off of Christian Bale, results in some of the film's most enjoyable moments. It all depends on whether the Academy has grown weak on the Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) praise and decides to reward Adams something. Maybe it will be an "apology" Oscar like DiCaprio, but that doesn't mean that its for a terrible performance. It's quite elegant and fun and would embody a performer who somehow hasn't won yet. It could play off of the fact that each of director David O. Russell's past two films have won acting awards and if it keeps in tradition, Adams is most likely to pull ahead of the others. Since she also won the Golden Globe for this role, it makes her an even stronger contender.

ODDS: It could happen, but it all depends on how much love is given towards American Hustle. If it pulls an unlikely upset, she is guaranteed to win on the grounds of being a multiple-timed nominee. However, Cate Blanchett has been a towering force for too long for that to be the case.

Sandra Bullock - Gravity

It is technically impressive, but will the film's predominant character get her recognition? While the film has gotten incessant praise for its look, the performance turned in by Sandra Bullock has been more divisive. Some would argue that she is too incompetent or whiny. The issue is one that befalls every blockbuster the succeeds: the reluctant hero. If she were to simply survive, there would be no story. On the flip side, her performance is full of vulnerable intimacy. The film doesn't succeed as a whole without her showing a variety of emotions that capture the overall sense of loneliness and sometimes desperation. She is a triumphant character as a whole, and that is thankfully recognized with this nomination. With Bullock also being a former winner (Best Actress- The Blind Side), she does elevate her chances a little bit, but the race is pretty much between Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) and Amy Adams (American Hustle). It isn't to demean her performance, but the film's biggest strengths on Oscar night will be in the technical fields, not in its sole acting nomination.

ODDS: The performance is too divisive by even those who enjoy the film for it to be a runaway favorite, especially with two juggernauts capturing most of the conversation.

Judi Dench - Philomena

This isn't to take away the enjoyment of the film, but Philomena is a rather safe film. Where Nebraska added some excitement to senior citizens trying to achieve things, Philomena doesn't capture quite as much esteem. Judi Dench is delightful as usual, but the performance lacks enough charisma or compelling moments to make the nomination even logical. She carries a compelling story through intriguing territory that has already caused controversy with the Catholic Church. This may help it get into conversation, but Dench is also not someone who has been at the top of awards conversation for too long. Philomena's existence at the Oscars alone feels unexpected. The only chance is that she pulls an upset similar to her previous win for Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love. However, even that seems unlikely given her competition and the lack of conversation based around her performance.

ODDS: Very, very low.

Meryl Streep - August: Osage County

It is easy to determine what is necessarily wrong with Meryl Streep's Best Actress nomination. Her category seems to have been flipped with Julia Roberts, who actually carries the film in exciting ways. Along with the fact that Streep has been nominated 17 times and won 3 of those, she has enough prestige on her plate to even justify this nomination. She isn't even the best part of August: Osage County and instead rates alongside the more problematic. Her overacting skills attempt to make the film feel campy and a little insincere in ways that are thankfully compensated by her co-stars. The nomination doesn't make sense at all, speaking as it was already an exciting year for the Best Actress category with Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), or even a misplaced Oprah Winfrey (The Butler). It wasn't a weak year, but Streep's placement here feels too uninspired to even consider her a serious competitor at all.

ODDS: She is too decorated with nominations to take away any of the conversation that has been building around all of her competitors.

Is Cate Blanchett a lock for the top prize? Is Amy Adams going to get a boost from an American Hustle upset? Why is Meryl Streep taking away nominations from more viable selections?

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