The Oscar Warrior’s Lead Actress Preview

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Hopefully you’ve already read our preview of the Leading Actor Oscar race here, so now let’s get to the ladies, because this year seems to be a far more crowded market than past years, giving the Academy possibilities to go in a lot of different directions.

Again, if you’re an actor of either gender and you’re playing a real person, either historical or from recent news, you stand a good chance at getting attention, and that’s exactly what is happening both with Michelle Williams’ portrayal of ’50s screen icon Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn and Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. What’s funny is that both these movies are being released by the Weinstein Company, which means that Harvey’s going to have to make some tough choices. Both movies took a similar approach in releasing an early photo of each actress in make-up and costume as the character they’re playing, just to show how similar they look to them.

Let’s face it. Meryl would get nominated for making a cameo in a “Jackass” movie and though few (if any) people have seen The Iron Lady yet, she’s a sure bet to get nominated for her reunion with Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd no matter how good or bad it may be. Williams could very well pull off the victory, having been nominated a number of times and playing a beloved Hollywood icon.

One of the biggest sleeper hits of the summer was DreamWorks’ The Help and one of the performances that really stands out is that of previous Oscar nominee Viola Davis as a maid trying to make a difference in the racist town of Jackson, Mississippi. There have been some questions about whether her role is more of a supporting one, but there’s no way one possibly couldn’t see she’s the co-lead along with Emma Stone, and Davis’ performance is one that drives the movie.

Glenn Close’s performance as a woman pretending to be a man to get work as a butler in the adaptation of George Moore’s short story Albert Nobbs, directed by Rodrigo Garcia, has been receiving mixed reviews–we haven’t seen it yet–but certainly, the actors in the Academy must appreciate Close enough to nominate her five times previously, twice in this category, and this would be her first Oscar nomination in 22 years.

More recently, Charlize Theron has joined a list of actors getting recognition in a Jason Reitman film with her performance in the dark comedy Young Adult, written by Juno‘s Diablo Cody. Again, we haven’t seen it yet but have heard from a number of our colleagues that it’s a real tour de force performance.

That’s five strong performances right there, but if any of the two above prove to not have what the Academy wants in an actress, then there’s a lot more actresses waiting in the wings, many of them who have already received rave notices out of the festival circuit.

The Academy loves to discover fresh new actresses and get them attention with nominations for their breakout roles, which was the case with Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria Full of Grace and Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider, a tradition that’s continued through Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone last year and both Gabourey Sidibe for Precious and Carey Mulligan for An Education the year before.

This year, they have a choice between two young actresses that they can try to honor in this sub-category with Elizabeth Olsen having a slight advantage for Martha Marcy May Marlene, mainly because like many of the actresses above, she was first discovered in the role as a girl on the run from a cult-like community at the Sundance Film Festival. Her competition in this category may be Rooney Mara, the star of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if she gives half as good a performance as Noomi Rapace did in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novels. No one has seen the movie as of yet, but Fincher has a pretty solid track record for getting actors nominated for Oscars following his last two films.

As far as Sundance debuts, we’re kinda partial to Ellen Barkin’s performance in Sam Levinson’s debut Another Happy Day, and though she’s definitely a longshot in the category, she’s also been doing the rounds all over town for weeks, and even stopping down in Georgia for the Savannah Film Festival.

As far back as Cannes in May, a quartet of actresses were getting industry attention, including previous Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton, who gives an unforgettable performance in Lynne Ramsay’s significantly more difficult movie We Need to Talk about Kevin, about a mother tormented by a son who seems to hate her.

Another one of the breakout stars from Cannes is Argentine actress Berenice Bejo in the silent black and white film The Artist, appropriately playing a young ingenue who becomes an enormous star after being discovered. The disadvantage of being a foreigner as well as more attention being given to the performance by Jean Dujardin may hurt her chances in this category, which may be why Harvey Weinstein will likely try to push her to the supporting category where she stands a better chance at getting recognition.

When Lars von Trier’s Melancholia premiered at Cannes, there was a lot of talk for the performance by Kirsten Dunst as a woman suffering from depression, but unfortunately, the movie itself doesn’t stand up to that performance and we don’t see Oscar voters sticking through the typical von Trier craziness to recognize Dunst. Similarly, Emily Browning’s daring performance in Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty also got a lot of notices at Cannes, but the movie’s sexuality may just be too difficult for sensitive Oscar voters.

Keira Knightley’s performance in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is easily the most memorable aspect of the movie, but again, it’s a movie that didn’t really deliver during festival season and who knows if Sony Classics will want to invest too much money into its awards chances over other options?

Similarly, buzz for Michelle Yeoh’s performance as Burma’s imprisoned democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson’s biographical drama The Lady got a lot of early attention and festival buzz, but again, we’re not confident that relatively new indie distributor Cohen Media Group can do what’s necessary to get the movie in front of voter and push Yeoh ahead of a very packed crowd of better-known actresses.

Next up, we’ll look at the two supporting categories, which are far more wide open than they have been in past years.

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