Ranking the Oscar nominees in the incredibly competitive Best Actress category
There are some issues with this morning's Oscar nominees. There isn't a single acting nominee of color (!), one of the worst Bond themes of all time earned a nomination (yep, "The Writing's on the Wall"), and Carol, the #1 rated movie of 2015 according to Metacritic, was spared an Oscar nomination.
Fortunately, a few categories are incredibly exciting thanks to stiff competition. For my money, the greatest category in this year's running is Best Actress, which features five distinguished and varied performances from actresses at the peak of their craft. To torture ourselves, we've decided to rank them.
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
You can't blame Jennifer Lawrence for the majority of Joy's woes. Though it's a pleasant chronicle of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano's rise to fame, that's also all it is. Lawrence plays Mangano as a plucky, slightly sarcastic, and consummately endearing character, which makes you think director David O. Russell simply told Lawrence, "Be Jennifer Lawrence for me." The character finds herself up against tremendous setbacks (and her family members scold her -- in bizarrely literal moments -- for "following her dreams"), but those setbacks are often reconciled by the following scene. The stakes don't end up mattering, and we're left to absorb Joy as a serving bowl for JLaw likability. Joy is a comfort movie masquerading as a serious drama, and Lawrence's charm can't hide its middlebrow component.
4. Cate Blanchett, Carol
Everything in Carol is just so, and that means its actors are required to be as crisp, elegant, and faintly melancholic as Todd Haynes' pristinely photographed world. Cate Blanchett plays cosmopolitan '50s housewife Carol Aird, who has realized she's a lesbian years before the film begins. The most impressive thing about Blanchett's performance is how she combines the authentic poise of an urbane 1950s socialite (think What's My Line? panelist Arlene Francis) with the lived-in self-possession of a woman undaunted by her own truth. Though Carol functions more as a serene, evocative mood piece than as a springboard for its actors, Blanchett still serves up a vibrant inner-life decked out in fine period glamor.
3. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
I'm sad to rank Saoirse Ronan only third. She is mesmerizing in Brooklyn. Movies featuring lovely, august protagonists often seem like they're bending over backwards to make you fall in love with their heroine, but in the case of Brooklyn, a movie about a girl named Eilis Lacey in the 1950s who moves from Ireland to New York, I felt no such manipulation. Brooklyn locks you into Eilis' decision-making -- her fearfulness on the voyage to America, her romantic insecurity, her burgeoning confidence, her moral queries, and her shifting value system. This is a movie that connects you to a thinking woman, allows you to sympathize with and question her choices, and leaves you feeling like you met somebody special.
2. Brie Larson, Room
If you're looking for dynamics, Brie Larson's performance as Joy Newsome in Room has it all: maternal staunchness, urgent scheming, incredible warmth, shocking tumult, and one of the most emotional reunion scenes you will ever see on the silver screen. It is an Olympian triumph, this performance. Larson's most impressive feat in playing a woman trapped in an underground bunker is how she weaves in elements of traceable trauma at every turn: the franticness of her instructions to her son (the wonderful Jacob Tremblay), the shortness with which she responds to interviews, and several moments of unforgettable horror that register plainly on her face.
1. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
It's fair to call Charlotte Rampling's performance the subtlest work on this list. It's certainly the subtlest story: A woman's 45-year marriage shifts after her husband receives a startling message about his romantic past in the mail. 45 Years is a movie about the slow and painful way people can cope with their own distrusting instincts, and every note of Rampling's worry and regret registers on her unassuming, yet incredible face. Truly, she is the Lauren Bacall of Stockard Channings. Her indescribably emotive non-reactions propel this film. The film's climactic moment rests entirely on Rampling's shoulders and requires a pitch-perfect, devastating final look. Right before the credits roll, you're staring headlong into her brutal glance -- and its pain, terror, and crushing inevitability are astounding enough to warrant Oscar gold.