OSCARS: Epic Battle In Banner Year For Lead Actresses

OSCARS: Best Actor Race Pits Veterans Vs. “Sexiest Men Alive”

The Best Actress race is hot this year.

That isn’t always the case as the paucity of realistic contenders in this category often reflects the lack of good roles for women in Hollywood. But the gods were smiling in 2011, providing killer parts for a nice mix of veterans, past nominees and winners and young stars looking for their first major recognition from Oscar. But as usual, Meryl Streep leads the pack. Here’s the rundown.

You know you are in a different league when people start saying it is high time you had another Oscar when you already have two at home. But Streep is indeed in another league and in fact only keeps breaking her own records. With 16 nominations — far more than any actor in film history — it has still been 29 years since she last won (for 1982’s Sophie’s Choice), and many feel that with her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher her time has come again. The New York Critics agreed, but she’s been in this position before and there’s stiff competition.

The stiffest competition for Streep  may well be coming from two-time nominee Williams whose multi-layered portrayal of screen icon Marilyn Monroe as she attemps to make a film opposite Laurence Olivier is a wonder, capturing three distinct sides of perhaps the most famous movie star of them all. Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing both this and The Iron Lady, has a real Solomon’s choice to make this year — which is why he is probably hoping for a tie.

As a maid in the civil rights era of the 1960s, Davis stood out in a remarkable ensemble cast, bringing dignity, humanity and pathos in nearly every scene. Is there anything this Oscar-nominated (Doubt) and Tony-winning (Fences) star can’t play? Adding further fuel to her cause; She would be only the second black actress to win in the category (after Halle Berry), and this film offers the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Close played the same role of a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive 30 years ago off-Broadway and won an Obie Award. After spending the past 15 years trying to bring it to the screen, she finally pulled it off. That is the kind of perseverance actors love, and it seems likely they will reward Close with her sixth Oscar nomination — her first in 23 years.

Theron won an Oscar for playing one Monster, and now she’s angling for a second as another. This time she gets to be her gorgeous self but in a risky, edgy role as an emotionally manipulative and immature woman nearing 40 who is looking to resuscitate a life that peaked in high school. She pulls out all the stops and socks home a three-dimensional portrait of a person who is clearly lost and looking to be found.

Swinton won an Oscar for Michael Clayton and famously gave it to her agent, Brian Swardstrom. Well, he is in the running for another one in this tough-as-nails drama about a haunted mother of a monstrous kid. Swinton produced the film and delivers one of her most complex and troubling roles. She lost Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival to Kirsten Dunst, but with numerous nominations including SAG, Globes and a National Board of Review prize, she’s making up for that quickly. But her small distributor only has so much money to spend on a campaign against bigger guns.


Stepping into a role initially made famous by another actor is never an easy task, but stepping into one made famous just a year earlier by Noomi Rapace is nearly impossible. Mara pulls it off about as well as anyone possibly could in David Fincher’s brooding English-language remake of the Swedish phenomenon that became a bestselling book trilogy and spawned three movies. Now can Mara do what even eluded Rapace and earn an Oscar nod for Lisbeth Salander?

She became a Sundance sensation as a former cult member trying to re-adjust to a new life and quickly overcame any negative connection to her more famous sisters the Olsen twins. A Critics Choice Movie Award nomination for the film over the non-nominated Close gives her some hope here, but the film may be too indie to compete in this year’s deep field of contenders.

As the Nobel Peace Prize winner who returned to bring democracy to Burma only to find herself under house arrest for 15 years, Yeoh brings class and a quiet power to a great woman and leader. The small profile for the late-year release means it is an uphill climb for the star, but just bringing attention to the plight of  Aung San Suu Kyi should be reward enough.

After winning the Best Actress prize at Cannes despite the controversy caused by her director Lars von Trier, Dunst would seem to be a frontrunner for awards this year but hasn’t gained traction — missing hoped-for critics awards and key nominations down the line including even the Indie Spirits.  An Oscar nod would seem at best a long shot at this point, but she can take solace in earning the best reviews of her career and that special Cannes “moment.”

Trying to overcome the stigma of an early spring release and remaining a player in the race isn’t easy, but Wasikowska’s take on the famous Jane Eyre has its strong admirers and even earned her a standing ovation at a recent screening for the SAG nominating committee — but alas no nomination. A long, long shot at best, but her supporting role in Albert Nobbs gives her additional exposure to voters.

In real life she looks like a supermodel, but Oduye made a remarkable transformation as a young, tomboyish student on a journey of self-discovery in this compelling drama some may compare to Precious, but which really has its own style and rhythms thanks to writer-director Dee Rees. The problem for Focus will be to convince voters to put this post-Christmas release at the top of the pile of screeners.

Jones and the film won big in Sundance, but the tender romantic drama has barely registered a blip so far this awards season, although Jones has won “breakthough” awards from Gotham and the National Board of Review. She’s extremely talented but, despite Paramount’s best efforts, she’ll need more than those to break through at the Oscars.

Barkin is another actor’s favorite and star who has never been nominated for an Oscar. She took matters into her own hands and produced this riveting dysfunctional family drama and delivered some of her best work, but no one seems to be talking it up seriously in the Oscar race. It came and went theatrically pre-VOD, making this the most uphill of climbs for the deserving Barkin.

In terms of acting awards talk for Bridesmaids, it has been supporting player Melissa McCarthy and the overall ensemble (both in competition for a SAG Award) rather than its leading lady and co-screenwriter. But with a Best Actress-Comedy or Musical Golden Globe nomination and increased Oscar heat of late for her film, could this Saturday Night Live veteran pull off the biggest upset of all on nomination day and land in the top five? Wiig could have the last laugh.

  1. michelle williams – no. (where was the oozing sexual energy?)

    rooney mara – what???!!!. no.

    charlize theron – no.

    meryl streep – no. (margaret thatcher’s relevance?)

    viola davis – yes. (all the colors of the emotional rainbow).

  2. Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!

    She poured out her soul in that film and THAT movie should get an award!!!!

    I like Charlize and the film was great but the performance??? She reminds me of Sharon Stone playing Sharon Stone… like an ice queen for Gen x… Maybe that was the point of the role…or else she’s a great method actress.

  3. Davis played a nothing character, and for Close, the nomination for her filmic comeback is the reward. I don’t think Theron is going to get nominated for that film, and did anyone even seen Swinton’s movie? Look for Mara or even Dunst (another comeback) to sneak in.

    The race boils down to Meryl vs. Michelle.

    1. Swinton’s movie has been getting a lot of praise and critics attention, so yes I think that renders it “seen.” Davis did not play a “nothing” character– she’s the strength of The Help. Theron is fantastic in “that film”, so she has a strong chance of getting nominated. Did you even watch any of these films? You sound supremely uninformed.

      The only thing I do agree with is the race boils down to Meryl vs. Michelle with Williams’ taking home the prize.

  4. Surprised that Carey Mulligan wasn’t mentioned. Her performance in Shame was bold, complex, paced out and affecting. Way more difficult a role to pull off than, say, the rehash of Marilyn.

    1. Haha, did u not notice Fassbender in ALL of the posters and Mulligan in none of them “AMPAS member”

      Agree with u. She did a hell of a job and she also did in “Drive.”

  5. here’s what people should be asking themselves: “could anyone other than (insert actress name) have played this part?” when considering this, by far the most unique, interteresting and impressive performance came from Charlize. to me, she IS Mavis Gary and the entire film would be lost if anyone else even attempted it. not the case with every other name listed here. Streep is getting predictable, Williams is wildly overrated and clearly still receiving the “Heath sympathy” vote, and Davis was just ok (clearly a token move there). Wiig was amazing in Bridesmaids but the movie itself (which was just average) won’t have the juice to be a true Oscar contender (although I like her chances at the Globes).

    1. You really don’t think anyone but Charlize could have played that part? I think right off the top of my head actresses like Cameron Diaz or Jennifer Aniston might have even been BETTER suited to the part. There was something about Theron that just wasn’t clicking for me.

      1. I think Diaz tried to play that part in Bad Teacher and we know how that went— really bad. So I agree with “new colonist”. Also, Aniston hasn’t impressed me since The Good Girl and that was worlds apart from Theron in this film.

  6. Marilyn Monore was never even nominated for an Oscar in her entire carrer, but the Academy is going to give Michelle Williams one for her bargain basement imitation of Monroe?

    I guess it wouldn’t surpirse me since the actors love handing out undeserved Oscars to their peers for lame personifications of other (and more talented) celebrities (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marion Cotillard excepted).

    Williams in no Monroe. Catherine Hicks did a better job playing Monroe years ago, but you simply cannot reproduce that magic. It would really be a slap in the face to Monroe for Williams to win.

    My money is on Viola Davis, not just for her performance, but as a remedy for not giving Cicely Tyson asn Oscar for “Sounder” in 1972.

    1. 1. Viola and Cicely are not the same person.
      2. Sounder was 40 years ago; the few voting members that were around at the time probably don’t remember this slight, and, if they do, certainly don’t let it effect their votes today.
      3. Stupid.

    2. Thank you, I am tired of the media and critic groups overpraising the very overrated Michelle Williams ( her performances are all the same ). Plus, she didn’t pull-off Marilyn Monroe.

      Any justice Charlize Theron would be nominated for ” Young Adult”. It is not easy to pull-off a irrating and soulless character.

    3. Viola Davis’ performance is soooo overrated. Even Janet Jackson can play this role much better than her. I don’t get the praise for her performance.

  7. Maybe this is just me, but i have a feeling that this years oscar might go to Viola. Taking away the performance for one minute and delving into the politics of awards. Halle was given an oscar ten years ago and I think that the Academy might feel that they have found the right actress of great repute (the whole( “i’m a trained Juilliard actress”, she always rubs in our faces, might come to play here) to give the gong. Again , the last oscars was deemed a “white-out” by the ethnic minorities, so the academy would be hoping to repair their face in their eyes, after all, it is because people watch the oscars that they believe that if they work and dream hard enough, they too would get the chance to be nominated along-side Meryl (for girls). Either her or they give it to Meryl, for Thatcher because as everyone is saying, she is over-due her third oscar, 30 years is a long time, even for the academy. Call me silly, but I also think that Adepero might have a chance, if as you rightfully said, the voters watched their screeners, although i know that Focus would have had a challenge with this picture because they were almost to an extent unknowns (well, except Kim Wayans, but even her is n’t really on the academy’s radar), this movie is playing like Precious (although critics beg to differ, some calling with “so much more than precious” -Kevin Jagernuth from The Indiewire’s Playlist, the site where you guys snatched Brian Brooks), but what Precious benefited from was that they had the clout of Oprah and Tyler Perry to ride on what ultimately brought attention and with the word of Monique playing a moster this film was one that played to the curiosity of the voters. But, having two African-American actresses competing for the same “Best Actress” slot would seriously repair their chances with the black public. Other than these, i really can’t predict who else, some might say Tilda and Michelle or Glen duh but i say that previous nominations in related awards (Golden Globes, Critics Choice etc) might help spot a trend but can’t ultimately say ” who will and who will not get a nomination”. However, I must say that in a very long time, this has been one of the most fun “oscar season” for actresses because ” women really gave fucking amazing performances this year, and not just over-emtional cryey ones, it varied, from Glen playing a dude but to overplaying it, to Viola showing that one can play a miad and play her with class and finess, to Charlize, who showed that you can be pretty and ugly at the same time, to Tilda, who gives one of the best facial performances ever, to Adepero to Michelle to Rooney etc. Ah! cant wait for the oscars!

  8. Mara did a phenomenal job, but her role wasn’t as challenging as some of the others like Thatcher and Mavis. It will be tricky to judge with the mohawk, piercings, makeup, tattoos, etc.

    Charlize saved that movie! There was no consistency in a couple other characters in Young Adult as well but it was well acted. If the quality of the movie was better, Charlize would be favored with Meryl. Good concept and premise, but too much thrown in from left field and the burden was laid on the actors to pull it off.

    Iron Lady wasn’t too hot of a film either and Meryl nails every role she has.

    Haven’t seen Pariah but it’s going to be a tough decision. Good thing it’s just a popularity contest.

  9. My apologies for the typos. I just get on a roll with this stuff. For clarification purposes, I meant Glen did not over-play the dude,

  10. The battle is going to be iconic MT versus MM. Meryl Streep is truly divine as Margret Thatcher but the movie is as unfocused as Thatcher’s late life’s Alzheimer. After an hour, “Iron Lady” becomes repetitious and rather boring. Thatcher’s life story is poorly patched together by various events lacking explanations.
    Meanwhile, Michelle Williams brings Marilyn Monroe’s beauty and essence fully alive in “My Weekend with Marilyn”. (Hey, Golden Globes,this isn’t a comedy!)
    Williams embodies Monroe’s being without missing a beat in a wonderful coherent movie. The audience gets to experience the magic of MM because this former “Dawson’s Creek” star shows the appeal of Monroe by fleshing her persona as well as the person.
    A Special Mention goes out to the constantly brilliant Viola Davis, who, for my taste, teeters somewhere between supporting versus lead actress. Her turn will come.

    1. Wow. Wiig may not deserve to win a best category but she certainly gets laughs. She’s one of the few reasons to even watch SNL nowadays.

      Rooney Mara deserves a win here.

  11. Yes! Her performance in Dangerous Method was mind blowing. Much better than yet another Meryl Streep impersonation fest.

    1. Definitely not. It’s the hammiest Russian accent ever. Also, why is she the only one doing an accent in the first place? I’m worried for Anna Karenina.

      1. Cronenberg wanted her to do a Russian accent mixed with Mid-Atlantic. She was the only one bacause both Freud and Young spoke German so he chose to stay with regualr English, but went with an accent for Sabina because german was not her mother tongue.
        Don’t worry about AK they will all speak regular english.

    2. Yes, Knightley’s performance is underrated but not sure if she should walk home with it.

      Who else could portray real-life figures better than Streep? Her impersonations may look like an annoying attempt at perfection but you should consider she had a mediocre script. So did Charlize.

      Streep’s approach is far superior than… Garcia’s Che, or Leo’s Hoover.

  12. I’ve seen every performance in the list above except for Yeoh. My list of 5 would go Streep, Davis, Swinton, Theron and Barkin. Really, everyone on this list did great work. And I’d give the award to ELLEN BARKIN. Such a shame that no one saw Another Happy Day. Rawest and most affecting female performance of the year.

  13. and the oscar goes to……Viola Davis…..who took a underwritten role in a d/dw film based and a badly written book and made the film into something anyone can relate too…in other words…being just the help!

  14. Totally disagree w/Joe, Kristen Wiig was great, comedy is way harder than drama, very few actors can be funny. The Oscars rarely recognize comedic performances and that’s wrong, being funny is a very rare gift!

  15. meryl streep is hands down the best actress this year and deserves the oscar. period. No one else achieves what natalie portman did last year in black swan except streep.

  16. Charlize did an outstanding job playing a emotionally stunted, depressed, alcoholic woman. She deserves to be recognized.

  17. If the Oscars want to actually honor artistic achievement and not just be a marketing tool, then they need to give the statue to Kirsten Dunst. Kirsten created a performance that brought a face to the human experience of depression. It’s an example of a actor doing more with a role than just what was written, and her decisions will be studied for years to come. If only the movie was release during “the season” then it would have been more in mind.

  18. Michelle Williams still receiving the “heath simpathy” vote??? Really? I think three Oscar nominations (including this year, if happens) is too much for any kind of pity. The true is that Williams is one of the best and most versatile actresses working today, and the people who says she is overrated and always the same is prejudiced or uninformed… Wendy and Lucy, Brokeback mountain, Shutter Island, MWWM, Take this waltz, Synecdoque, Mamut, Land of plenty, Meek´s cutoff… Do your homework people!

  19. …and Blue Valentine, of course.

    Anyway, my vote this year should be for Kirsten Dunst but tired of people trashing Michelle Williams for reasons that have nothing to do with movies.

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