Off the Carpet: Meryl Streep and Viola Davis head up a tight but lacking pack of Best Actress contenders
After barreling through the gentlemen looking like Oscar possibilities the last two weeks, today we move on to the ladies. And immediately, I have to take note of Mark Harris's latest column at Grantland, dedicated to the supposed insanity of considering Meryl Streep the frontrunner for her still unseen performance in "The Iron Lady." And it reminds me that there is some clarification needed for those who eagerly scout prediction collectives like those at Gold Derby and Movie City News.
Here's the thing. Not everyone who places a contender at the top of a list of predictions this early is saying, "This is the person to beat." How do I know that? Because that's not how I play it. In pointing to the Gold Derby crew (which includes our own Guy Lodge), Harris offers up a smart nugget concerning the prospect of Streep winning the Oscar this year that Anne and I just mentioned on Friday's Oscar Talk podcast: "It's bad guesswork…[Streep] has lost more Academy Awards than any actor in history."
No doubt. But if you ask me to rank things in the early stages, I look at it as "most likely to be nominated," not "frontrunner to win," and I believe a number of others do as well. So, with that in mind, Streep has been in a position to win more Academy Awards than any actor in history. That, I think it's fair to say, is good guesswork.
Anyway, looking out over the rest of the field of leading ladies, I see a number of interesting performances and a vibrant cross-section, if not an especially "Oscar" cross-section. At the top is Viola Davis, who is pretty much agreed-upon across the board for her work in "The Help." It's fair to say, at the end of the day, it could be her Oscar to lose.
Not far behind is Michelle Williams, who I wrote about at length this morning. This kind of role is an Oscar showcase to say the least, but it's a refreshingly dialed down performance that I wouldn't call a sure thing in the field, but I think she'll get there.
Still to come is Charlize Theron in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult," which will be a bit of dark comedy to go against the otherwise sincere grain of the category. That will go a long way for her chances, but she's in an area of the field that is kind of elastic at the moment.
Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs" offers a rich and understated portrayal that, make no question, is in danger of flying too low. The film needs to be seen by a considerable amount of people, but I think actors who do see it will respect the work.
Threatening to leap into this fray is Rooney Mara, who really stands out in the recently released four-minute trailer for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." One wonders if she can succeed when Noomi Rapace, who took on the role in the 2009 original, came so close but ultimately failed to secure a spot.
A pair of Sundance portrayals could build up some steam and cash in on hot-new-thing goodwill in the form of Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy") and Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"). The former will have a loving push from Paramount, but the latter is undeniably the more textured and accomplished portrayal. They'll be trading off breakthrough performance awards all season long.
Going back to Cannes, Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" was the talk of the festival, until Kirsten Dunst came in and nabbed the best Actress prize for her work in Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia." Both are still in the hunt but they lurk on the fringe hoping for some passion bases to get them there.
Things start to fade a bit after that. Michelle Yeoh in "The Lady" makes so much sense on paper, but it's left to be seen what kind of a campaign can be mustered on her behalf. It will take a robust one, as it always does. Similarly, Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur" may have her champions in the press arena, but it'll take some doing to make sure voters see the film rather than lazily default to more visible contenders.
Jodie Foster flies off the rails in Roman Polanski's "Carnage," but if there are enough voters who appreciated how committed she clearly was, she could be someone to watch. Similarly committed though on the other spectrum of comedy is Kristin Wiig in "Bridesmaids," who is rallying supporters in the wake of all that post-Emmy Best Supporting Actress talk for co-star Melissa McCarthy. But we all know how that's going to turn out.
Emily Watson has her best shot in a while in "Oranges and Sunshine," while Kristin Scott Thomas is part of Harvey Weinstein's already lead actress-heavy stable in "Sarah's Key." And Focus has two slim chances in Adepero Oduye ("Pariah") and Mia Wasikowska ("Jane Eyre").
And that's pretty much (liberally) the field. I think it's a race between six or seven contenders at this stage, and indeed, I'd put Meryl Streep at the top of the list of likely nominees. Why? Because I'll take the odds on 16 nominations all day every day.
(NOTE: The Contenders section is coming. I promise! Really close.)
How do you expect the nominations for Best Actress to turn out? Have your say in the comments section below!