As is often the case with Awardswatch and our Gold Rush Gang, the Best Actress race is usually our best category and we’ve been solid with our predictions so early in the year that we often go 4/5 right out of the gate. Barring shifts in release dates, we can zero in on roles and performances in any given year, think about the current political climate at the time (or better, at nomination time) and really nail it. This year is seeming no different as our list of contenders is down to six vying for those five slots. That isn’t to say there won’t be a blind spot as the Oscar race continues but taking a look at this list, I feel pretty good that we’re again looking at four of the five eventual nominees.
Cate Blanchett in Carol still holds onto her #1 position in the Best Actress race, not to anyone’s surprise. Even though she lost the Best Actress prize at Cannes to her co-star Rooney Mara, it still keeps her and the film with a secured, high profile. Plus, Blanchett’s collection of Oscar nominations and wins are not to be trifled with. Right behind her though is still Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, another actress who has gathered Oscar nominations and a win that put her at the table even though we have yet to see even a production still from the movie. The trailer is supposed to drop in two weeks, right in the middle of the voting month here, so it will be really exciting to hear the hyperbole thrown once it does. The presentation and tone of the trailer will be our first inclination on how director David O. Russell will be treating this material, the story of a self-made millionaire single mom. If it comes across as too comedic we could see her numbers here drop a bit. But if it leans more dramatic she could overtake Blanchett. After all, she’s only two points behind her this month.
But then there’s Carey Mulligan in Suffragette. With a new trailer that proved to be a big hit, predictions for her and the film overall have increased tremendously. It’s also a hot-button issue that feels timely despite taking place nearly 100 years ago. The voting rights and women’s right factor could play right into the hands of Academy voters as both issues are front and center in 2015/2016 politics right now. Add to that the possibility of the first female president of the United States next year and we’re looking at a convergence of Oscar proportions that could net Mulligan a win.
Rounding out the list are the most recent Best Actress winner, Julianne Moore (Still Alice) in Freeheld, Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) in Brooklyn and 2015 It girl Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. While Moore seems like an easy bet for the true story lesbian cop drama, there is a possibility her role could be supporting. Her co-star Ellen Page brought this material to life and it’s been her passion project for quite some time and that could propel her into the Lead category. Not to put too fine a point on it, but is the Academy ready for so many lesbian roles nominated at the same time? We do know that Freeheld‘s distributor Lionsgate can be an excellent Oscar player (see Crash) but they also have Sicario (and a potential Best Actress push for Emily Blunt), Genius (a push for Nicole Kidman, likely in Supporting) and Miss You Already, which could net Drew Barrymore her first Oscar nomination. With Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn has the powerhouse Oscar player Fox Searchlight behind it. The recipient of the last two Best Picture wins (Birdman, 12 Years a Slave) plus the tech haul from The Grand Budapest Hotel this year, Fox Searchlight must be feeling kind of bullish on their Oscar game, and rightfully so. Ronan seems like their best shot at a Best Actress nomination but they do also have Demolition, A Bigger Splash and Youth to think about. Those films feature pushes in other categories, which could spell good luck for Ronan here. A limited release in early November also bodes well.
Then there’s Alicia Vikander. It seems that in 2015 you won’t be able to turn around and not see Vikander in one of her starring roles on screen this year, she has EIGHT films. She’s making Jessica Chastain seem like a slacker this year. Co-starring with current Best Actor champion Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) in The Danish Girl could be her ticket to the Dolby. But, will it be in Lead or Supporting? There is still much debate about this and we probably won’t see much clarity until the fall. Focus Features, which is distributing the film, also has Suffragette so balancing a Best Actress push for both Vikander and Mulligan could be a delicate task. Plus, since Suffragette has solid contender in Supporting Actress with Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, placing Vikander there presents its own challenges. Add to that, The Danish Girl and its extremely hot topic of transgender people (it’s about Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first openly transgender persons) could prove to be the unavoidable choice. Regarding Vikander, it could all hinge on the point of view of the film.
Now, a list this short doesn’t mean we aren’t aware or aren’t considering a wealth of other possibilities. Lily Tomlin could see a return to Oscar (after 40 years) in Grandma, from Sony Pictures Classics. With the last two Best Actress winners under their belt, don’t count her, or them, out. The film’s August release date doesn’t feel great, it’ll miss out on the major festivals, but Tomlin will remain a contender. Never, ever, ever count out Meryl Streep. Her comedy/drama music pic Ricki and the Flash also comes out in August but with 19 nominations and 3 wins under her belt, pretending the Academy is ever ‘over’ Streep is at your own peril. Sandra Bullock is, or could be, a contender if Warner Bros. decides to release Our Brand is Crisis this year but no word on that as of yet. We’re also looking at Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years to possibly earn her first Academy Award nomination and Elle Fanning could find Academy love in Three Generations (which will undergo a name change soon), in which she plays a transgender teen.