Early in the season, it became apparent that this would be a much stronger year for the usually light Best Actress race. In fact, the women definitely appeared to be matching the men for a competitive and dense lineup of great roles this time around. Add to that the unusually large number of terrific parts for veterans such as Maggie Smith, Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin, and it seemed, for a brief moment, highly likely that the older contenders were going to dominate. But in typical Oscar fashion, that wasn’t to be. None of those names made the final list, and the vets are repped only by 69-year-old Charlotte Rampling, with two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett taking a second spot. The rest of field are all actresses in their 20s, demonstrating the strength of the current generation, and it looks like the battle is going to be fought among them this year.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared Cate Blanchett might be splitting her votes between two great performances: disgraced news producer Mary Mapes in Truth and a society woman caught in a love affair with a young sales clerk in the 1950s- set lesbian drama Carol. The former never caught on, but Carol proved just the ticket to bring Blanchett back to the category she won just two years ago for Blue Jasmine. SAG, BAFTA, Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations are also hers this year, but a third Oscar so soon after winning her second seems unlikely.
Playing a loving and concerned mother trying to make a life for her 5-year-old son while confined to an 10-by-10-foot room in the first half, and then a complex daughter in the second half, Larson is the front-runner in this category. Larson made this highly difficult balancing act look easy, winning the hearts of Oscar’s acting branch and scoring her first nomination in her 20s. She’s also won at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and SAG, with BAFTA ahead. This looks to be the one to beat.
Lawrence—already an Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook and now the youngest four-time nominee in Academy history—landed another meaty role as Miracle Mop creator and Home Shopping Network star Joy Mangano. She brought humor, heart and grit to the first real drama she has ever had to carry alone, or one that didn’t also include a bow and arrow, at least. But for someone who clearly has it all, will the Academy want to go there again so soon? Plus, hers is the film’s sole nomination, so it’s an uphill climb, despite a recent Golden Globe win.
Surprisingly, the British Rampling—winner of the Silver Bear at Berlin, the European Film Award and LA and Boston film critics’ Best Actress—missed out on a BAFTA nomination, but then came roaring back with her first Oscar nom in a very long career. Rampling could have a shot for her luminous performance, but this is the film’s only recognition from Oscar. The question is, will voters actually get all the way through their screeners in this brilliant but slow and deliberate dissection of a marriage in crisis?
In a year in which immigration has become such a hot-button topic, Ronan’s lilting turn as an Irish émigré to New York in the early ’50s, who must choose between two countries and two men, puts a human face on the issue. The movie, understandably, has won hearts and minds and recognition from SAG, BAFTA and the New York Film Critics for Ronan, who has now gained her second Oscar nomination since Atonement when she was just 13. She could be the spoiler here, especially with the expert Fox Searchlight mounting the campaign.