Oscar Predictions 2014: Actress

Call it the innate sexism that exists in Hollywood, but many years, the Best Actress category is less interesting than the Best Actor category. This can easily be blamed on the fewer great roles for women in movies today. However, this year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Not only is this an incredibly strong field for the films they’ve appeared in, this is an incredibly strong field for the actresses themselves.

All five women in this category are previous nominees – some of them many times over. (I’m looking at you, Meryl Streep, with your list of nominations almost as long as your list of hairstyles over the years.)

Regardless, the Best Actress crop is a fertile one this year, featuring some fantastic performances in some really excellent films. As predictable as it might appear, it would be no surprise if things took a turn for anyone on this list.

Keep reading for a look at all five nominees for Best Actress along with my predicted winner in red

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Why She Was Nominated

Sure, Adams’ performance in American Hustle was a fine one, but it seems like merely appearing on the film’s poster was enough to guarantee a nomination this year (well, except for Jeremy Renner, who will likely be seen quietly weeping during the ceremony). American Hustle got a lot of love for its stars and filmmakers, and that helped Adams secure a nomination more than it would have if she appeared solo in another fine film.

Why She Might Win

She held her own against a powerful cast, and she was able to differentiate herself and be memorable against Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence, whose characters were more over the top. Adams didn’t try to top her co-stars, and she didn’t grandstand. Instead, she delivered a heartfelt and honest performance that stood out on its own.

Why She Might Not Win

Even though Adams isn’t the least-nominated actress on this list, her presence is muted here. This could be because her previous nominations were less memorable over the years, or it could be that she hasn’t won a gold statuette from the Academy yet. Adams feels like the most mainstream of the five in this field, which could work against her for the stuffy voting block. Plus, as helpful as it was to be part of the American Hustle nomination juggernaut this year, there’s a greater chance she can fade into the background while the film picks up other wins on Oscar night.

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Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Why She Was Nominated

If there’s any single performance this year by an actress that has been the monolithic focus of awards season on an individual film, it is Cate Blanchett’s in Blue Jasmine. While there have been other significant nominations by others involved in this film (such as Sally Hawkins for Best Supporting Actress and Woody Allen for Best Screenplay), the greatest focus has been on Blanchett’s command. Her performance alone was what kept this summer release alive in people’s minds when the nominations ballots finally showed up.

Why She Might Win

Not to downplay the work of the other actors in Blue Jasmine, but without Cate Blanchett, this movie would be nothing. Her performance was layered and complex, bringing more to life than the screenplay demanded. It’s almost a solo performance in the film, and it gave people a chance to both love and hate a character who is a horrible person and sympathetically deeply troubled at the same time.

Why She Might Not Win

Honestly, the biggest challenges Blanchett faces in this race have nothing to do with her at all. Dylan Farrow’s open letter to Woody Allen sparked another wave of controversy, possibly intended to ruin his film’s chances at the Academy Awards this year. Fortunately for Blanchett, the mud is mostly only sticking to Allen, and her chances remain relatively clean. However, this is one case where some news isn’t necessarily good news.

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Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Why She Was Nominated

I am a huge fan of Gravity, but Bullock’s nomination in this category is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Sure, she magnetized attention as the only performer on screen for most of the film, but this wasn’t exactly the transformative or intensely dramatic performance that usually gets a nomination here. There seem to be a few things at work on this nomination, which could be the industry’s love for Bullock, or that they’re simply happy to give her a nomination after she won for The Blind Side several years ago. It could also be the Academy trying to remain relevant by nominating a star from one of the top grossing films of the year, as they did in 1990 when Julia Roberts got her first (and undeserved) nomination for Pretty Woman. If there is any token nomination this year, it is this one.

Why She Might Win

With all of that said, Bullock does a fine job in this role. What appears easy to the audience is often painfully difficult for the artist to achieve. Bullock manages to be nearly the only character in the film, and she felt more natural in that role than Robert Redford did in his own similarly-themed but snubbed film All Is Lost. So with all the uncertainty about her performance in this movie, she was good, and the movie was a success partly because of her.

Why She Might Not Win

I don’t get the sense that anyone is stampeding to give Bullock another Oscar, at least not for this movie. In 2009, she had the support of The Blind Side behind her, and people really wanted to give that movie some awards. Gravity has been a moderate award contender at best, winning only some of the awards it could have rather than sweeping any category.

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Judi Dench, Philomena

Judi Dench in Philomena

Why She Was Nominated

Because she’s Judi Freaking Dench, that’s why! Seriously, does this woman need a reason to be given a nomination or an award? It helps that Philomena is an excellent film, built on two incredibly strong and generous performances from Dench and Steve Coogan. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Weinstein Company has no other serious contender like The King’s Speech or The Artist to throw their weight behind this year.

Why She Might Win

Again… Judi Freaking Dench. She owns this movie with a heartbreaking and emotional performance. Plus, and this tends to be a selling point for the graying Academy, she’s old. Dench has only won the Oscar once, and that was for a twelve-minute walk-on in Shakespeare in Love, so there’s plenty of people out there who want her to win for something a little meatier.

Why She Might Not Win

The age factor only seems to be a real selling point if this might be the last time an actor or actress will likely win an award, and though it hurts her chances this year, it’s nice to know that Dench isn’t going anywhere soon. Additionally, even though Philomena is a fine film, the nomination in this category seems almost like an afterthought: “Oh yeah, Judi Dench is nominated for this movie. Totally forgot about that one.” It’s a great performance, but it’s not one that tops many lists out there.

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Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Why She Was Nominated

Because she’s the John Williams of actresses. If Streep has been in a movie during a given calendar year, she’s likely to show up on some Oscar list somewhere. Plus, this was another middling Weinstein Company release, and Streep is their iron lady golden child. Prior to its release, August: Osage County seem primed to be the big awards film, but it never quite caught on in the popular market. Unlike American Hustle, which also has a fantastic ensemble, August: Osage County didn’t capture a lot of awards. However, it was a solid performance by Streep, and the only award-worthy one for her this year.

Why She Might Win

The odds for Streep to win seem mostly dependent on her performance more than anything else. She did a great job in the movie, and paired with Julia Roberts, has some of the more memorable moments in the film. Like her or not, there’s no denying that Meryl Streep took control of the nasty character that she played and made it her own.

Why She Might Not Win

August: Osage County was no The Iron Lady. Its caustic tones turned a lot of people off, and there was plenty of competition for the spotlight in the film itself. It seems odd to acknowledge this, but Julia Roberts bested Meryl Streep on screen in this film in terms of acting, and she’s the one that most people remember here.

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Who Should Win?: Amy Adams

When it comes to who deserves the Oscar most, I’m voting for Adams. While all the women did great work, it was Adams who broke the most from her typical character. She’s been walking a tightrope between art films and mainstream movies for years, and it’s a success for her in terms of image. I simply think that the Academy likes her enough to nominate her, but not enough to give her a statue. That needs to change, and her performance in American Hustle (and The Master and The Fighter and Doubt etc.) proves that.

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Oscar 2014


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