Usually by this time of year, the Gold Rush Gang (and AwardsWatch as a whole) has Best Actress pretty figured out. This year, like with so many categories, is a little different. Yes, there are three rock solid locks in Brie Larson (Room), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and Cate Blanchett (Carol). Each represent films that are potential Best Picture nominees and each represent a different type of performance and actress that the diversity of this category provides this year. Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, Ronan was a child nominee (Atonement) now returning as a young woman, Larson will be a first-time nominee in a breakthrough. Currently, Larson and Ronan have been trading off critics wins like a fencing match; point for Larson, point for Ronan and so on. Ronan scored a major win with New York; Larson has shored up the lion’s share of regional critics wins. Both have SAG and Golden Globe nominations. Although Brooklyn and Room have nearly identical critical ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (98% vs 97%, respectively), Larson has the edge with her film being more embraced than Ronan’s in terms of Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations from said critics. It’s a tough match that will be determined by the Screen Actors Guild and the overall response from AMPAS on Oscar nomination morning. Often, Best Actress doesn’t correlate that much to Best Picture and often we see nominees being the sole representation for their film. That won’t be the case this year with this top three.
Outside of that holy trinity lies a melting pot of three actresses battling for two spots and a pair of performances that threaten to bleed votes from them. Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years comes to this Oscar race with a career of tremendous admiration and respect from cinephiles across the world for a career that has spanned 50 years, far outreaching any other actress in contention this year. Yet, she has never been an awards-friendly performer. She’s never received an Oscar nomination before, she’s never even been nominated for a BAFTA. Despite getting career-best notices and winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress prize, Rampling is fighting for this nomination. She probably needed more than just LA at this stage of the race to be secure (a SAG nomination would have done the trick) but she’s on the campaign trail and with Oscar PR guru Cynthia Swartz behind her, she could be looking at her first Oscar nomination.
That brings me to Jennifer Lawrence. I know it will devastate Lawrence fans but she might be fighting for a mere nomination this year. A far cry from the ‘eventual winner’ calls made by yours truly throughout most of this year. Although I loved the film personally, the overall critical response has been mediocre at best. She missed out on SAG and only scored a Golden Globe nomination (as did the film) because it was slotted in the Comedy category. Too bad, I think it’s the best performance of her career. Some critics and pundits seem to have had their knives out for Joy even before it came out and carved it up like a Christmas goose.
That then begs the question, will the massive success of Mad Max: Fury Road push Charlize Theron to a nomination here? The lack of enthusiasm for Joy and the sheer amount of buzz and critics wins for Mad Max could propel her into Sigourney Weaver in Aliens territory. One has to wonder if Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) hadn’t been slotted in lead at the Golden Globes (where they both got in) if Theron would have showed up there. I’m guessing yes, although Rampling could have also been the beneficiary there – or both. Which brings up the lead vs. supporting (yes, I know, again) conversation that could heavily affect this race. There will inevitably be AMPAS voters who will not buy the supporting campaigns for Mara and Vikander and vote them in lead. That will syphon votes from any one of the top 5 in this race, with Lawrence and Rampling being the most vulnerable. That’s what could open the door for Theron to surprise on Oscar morning and earn the Oscar winner her third nomination.
|Brie Larson, Room||48||1|
|Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn||41||2|
|Cate Blanchett, Carol||31||3|
|Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years||18||4|
|Jennifer Lawrence, Joy||10||5|
|Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road||2||6|
Follow the Best Actress race as the Gold Rush Gang sees it (and find out who voted for Theron over Lawrence) by clicking here.