I’ve already shared my picks for the actors who are likely to get nominated for Oscars on January 10. Next up, we have the lovely and talented actresses who will be riding all the early awards season talk to Oscar night on Sunday, February 24.
Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Always one of the more interesting categories, this year it’s especially strong with seven or eight performances that have been talked about throughout the year, some going back to Sundance in January or to Cannes in May. This is going to be an interesting race to watch going into Oscar night because there are two strong frontrunners, both younger women with recent nominations and growing profiles. It’s also going to be interesting to see who fills that fifth slot since it can go any of four ways going by the precursors.
1. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty (Sony)
A year after being nominated for her first Oscar for her supporting role in The Help, Jessica Chastain is already proving her worth as a lead actress headlining Kathryn Bigelow’s intense political thriller as a CIA operative on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
2. Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone (Sony Pictures Classics)
One of our favorite actresses is back in the discussion five years after winning an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose for playing a feisty killer whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident and relies on a ex-con fighter to help her. It’s an amazing performance that leaves you wondering how it was done.
3. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Co.)
Having already been nominated in this category for Winter’s Bone two years ago, the 22-year-old Lawrence gives an incredibly rounded performance as a young widow who helps Bradley Cooper get through his anger issues. Lawrence has become a bigger star due to The Hunger Games, so she’s offering the most starpower in this category despite potentially being the youngest nominee.
4. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour (Sony Pictures Classics)
The 75-year-old French acting veteran has only appeared in a handful of films Americans may have seen or heard of, but her performance as a dying woman in Michael Haneke’s teary drama (which will likely be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar) is one that has the best chance at sneaking in as a surprise nominee despite being snubbed by SAG and the Golden Globes.
5. Naomi Watts, The Impossible (Summit)
Having already been nominated by SAG and for Golden Globes and Critics Choice movie awards, this previous nominee in this category gives a jaw-dropping performance as the survivor of the 2004 tsunami of Southeast Asia and she seems like a shoe-in for a second nomination.
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock (Fox Searchlight)
Mirren has already received SAG and Golden Globe nominations for her performance as Alfred Hitchcock’s beleaguered wife, which gives her the best shot at taking the fifth slot, but the movie itself seems have less overall support then other awards season films and Mirren’s previous win (for The Queen) makes her vulnerable for Riva or Wallis to sneak in.
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight)
At nine years old, the star of this Sundance favorite (who was six at the time) has really impressed everyone whose seen it and has a shot to become the youngest Oscar nominee ever. The Academy has proven time and time again that they like giving young first-time thespians a leg-up so she also has just as good a chance for that fifth slot against the significantly older Mirren and Riva.
Our Personal Choice
Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz (Magnolia)
It’s a crying shame that this daring performance by the multiple previous nominee in Sarah Polley’s second feature just hasn’t gotten any ground as Williams plays a wife who has to decide on remaining loyal to her husband (Seth Rogen) once a better prospect surfaces.
This one is between Chastain and Lawrence, but I think Chastain’s victory here will be the Academy’s consolation prize for Zero Dark Thirty not winning Best Picture.
Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
This year’s race seems to be more about who will be graciously stepping aside for Anne Hathaway to win her first Oscar since it’s a performance that’s had a similarly immediate impact as Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls and Monique in Precious. Then again, this is also a category that often offers surprises, so maybe Hathaway shouldn’t count her chickens just yet.
1. Amy Adams, The Master (The Weinstein Company)
This three-time nominee has a really strong chance at making it a quartet for her second movie opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the wife of a religious leader who seems to have more control over his empire then he’ll ever admit. Unlike the previous three times, Adams was snubbed by SAG which is somewhat disconcerting, but I don’t think that will matter much.
2. Sally Field, Lincoln (DreamWorks)
While some have criticized Field’s overwrought performance as the wife of the 16th President, as played by Daniel Day-Lewis, there’s little question that Field’s return to the big screen this year has been more than welcome. She’s been nominated and won twice in the lead category but not since 1985.
3. Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables (Universal)
There’s no denying that when Hathaway’s Fantine shows up in Tom Hooper’s musical as a single mother seamstress roughly 20 minutes into it, she immediately steals the film, especially with her showstopping rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” which brings the audience to tears.
4. Helen Hunt, The Sessions (Fox Searchlight)
Giving able support to John Hawkes’ transformative role as a paralyzed poet, Hunt’s daring performance has her disrobing, both physically and emotionally, and she should be an easy choice for the Academy following three precursor noms.
5. Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy (Millennium)
While I was not a fan of Lee Daniels’ Southern crime drama at all, Kidman’s previous nominations by SAG and for a Golden Globe seem to show support for her performance as a woman with questionable motivations who gets involved with a Death Row inmate played by John Cusack.
Dame Judi Dench, Skyfall (Sony)
If anyone is going to take out Kidman for that fifth nomination slot, it should be this six-time nominee, but as I mentioned when talking about Bardem for the Bond movie, it’s always a tough sell for this type of genre franchise, although the veteran actress is well respected and liked and the retiring of a classic film character like M could get her into the race.
Ann Dowd, Compliance (Magnolia)
While Dowd’s performance in this controversial Sundance thriller may be considered by some to be more of a lead, she’s already received support from the likes of the National Board of Review so she’s definitely in the conversation, although some may find the tough material makes the movie difficult to watch to appreciate her work.
Our Personal Choice
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister (IFC Films)
Having seen Lynn Shelton’s low budget semi-improvised dramedy a number of times now, it’s really astounding what DeWitt pulls off in a role that mixes humor with drama and really holds the whole thing together, although arguably, she’s the film’s co-lead along with Mark Duplass and Emily Blunt.
Barring any crazy last-minute surprises, Anne Hathaway will win her first Oscar for “Les Mis.”
Next up and sometime next week before the nominations, I’ll look at the director and screenplay race as well as do one last update on the Best Picture race.