Re-ranking the contenders in Best Actress

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As I’ve been mentioning over the last few weeks or so, with the festival season well underway and just about all of the major contenders for the Academy Awards having screened or about to screen, now seems like as good a time as any to move forward and take a look at the big eight categories to see what’s what in an updated/more expanded fashion. I did this with the major categories a couple of months back, but that was when almost everything was still speculation. We have some facts to go on now, so while much of this is still just an educated guess, I’m not completely relying on overt hunches this time around. It’s more of an even mix, depending on the film/director/performer in question, of course. Today I’m turning my attention once again to the Best Actress field, which is another category that won’t necessarily match up with Best Picture in any major way, but likely won’t be too far off either. Read on to see what I mean for this one…

One special note about Best Actress this year is that, on the flip side to best Actor, it’s a fairly barren race. Each of the ten women that I have cited as the ones with the best chance at a nomination have some chance at a nod, but only a few of them can realistically win. It’s going to be interesting to see if any surprise noms wind up shaking up this category when all is said and done…

Here are the ten ladies that I have in play for Best Actress currently, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point and time:

1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) – If you ask a dozen pundits who the frontrunner is in Best Actress, you’ll probably get one of about five answers (hint, my top five), but if you ask me, I think this could turn into a walk for Jones. It’s just a hunch, but Oscar loves their supportive wives, something this performance apparently does incredibly well. Jones in the sweet spot of the age the Academy enjoys honoring, so that doesn’t hurt too. We have a long way to go before anyone in this category starts to separate themselves from the pack, but at this juncture, I’m backing Jones ever so slightly.

2. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) – Now that folks are able to see Gone Girl, Pike has the potential to really become a threat here. People are split on if she can win, but I’m of the mind that she can. It’ll help that the movie is a hit and likely a Best Picture nominee, so there’s that. The better the film does overall, the more likely it’ll be that she can actually win the Oscar. If it winds up being just her and the screenplay, then the odds won’t quite be in her favor. Stay tuned…

3. Julianne Moore (Still Alice) – The late arrival to the party, Moore apparently has her best chance to finally win an Oscar in some time with this drama. Those who have seen it say she’s deserving of a victory, so that will really help her out, considering no one in the category is as overdue as she is. Her candidacy will potentially be helped by a qualifying run for Maps to the Stars too. I’m not quite ready to put Moore in the top spot, but she’s coming on fast.

4. Amy Adams (Big Eyes) – Once upon a time, Adams was thought of as almost a sure thing Best Actress winner for this role. Now, some aren’t even predicting her to get nominated. The performance is still basically sight unseen, so it’s all speculation, but the buzz certainly has died down. Once Big Eyes screens, Adams could potentially become a very viable winner again, especially considering how the Academy loves to nominate her. We just have to sit tight on this one a little bit longer.

5. Reese Witherspoon (Wild) – Most categories seem to have at least one potentially nominee who seems highly likely to crack the lineup but almost an afterthought in terms of winning. This year for Best Actress, Witherspoon seems to fill that role. Very few pundits believe she’ll win, but almost everyone is convinced that she’s going to get nominated in a walk, no pun intended. I can see her missing if a few of the below contenders really shine, but other than that…yup, Witherspoon seems set for a nomination here, as well as one for helping to produce Gone Girl as well.

6. Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) – The big performance of the lot that’s still an X factor and one that could shake up the race, we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to find out if Chastain is worthy of some real consideration here. Chastain is fast becoming another actress people think need a win sooner rather than later, so all eyes will be on this one. Her other contender The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby will help her out here, that’s for sure. She’s right on the cusp of forcing out one of the presumed top five in Best Actress.

7. Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) – If one or two of the above contenders falls off, mark my words…Woodley will be in heavy contention for what others will see as a surprise nod. In reality, this sort of nom should be considered more than it is, as the film showcases her in an awards friendly way, is a legitimate box office smash, and offers the Academy a chance to reach out to a different viewing audience than they normally do. To be fair, she’d never actually win, but you have to put Woodley in your top ten right now. She’s closer to getting in than a lot of folks think.

8. Emily Blunt (Into the Woods) – The other unseen X factor, Blunt will either vanish from our minds or threaten to crash the party. A lot will depend on how the musical is, but the race does potentially have room for her, I will say that. Having her co-stars (notably Meryl Streep) go Supporting helps her as well, so if Into the Woods is going to be in play in multiple places, Blunt could easily become someone right on the cusp of her very first nomination.

9. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) – There’s always a push to get Cotillard into the race again, and while she’s very good in this drama, I think she’s got an uphill battle ahead of her. It’s more likely than her similarly good performance in the forgetting period piece The Immigrant, but that role could help push her closer with this one here. I don’t think it’ll happen for her, but she’s not out of the race at all, not by a long shot.

10. Hilary Swank (The Homesman) – Before its debut at Cannes, Swank was considered highly likely to get nominated again for this movie. Then, the film more or less got a lot of decent but unspectacular reviews, taking it out of a number of categories. Swank is still a borderline contender, but I feel like it’s a bit of a stretch to consider her too heavily. I could be wrong, and I see the film soon so I’ll find out firsthand, but I think The Homesman’s moment has come and gone…

Next in line I’d have these ten contenders (just sans commentary here) for Best Actress:

11. Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
12. Anne Hathaway (Interstellar)
13. Keira Knightley (Begin Again)
14. Helen Mirren (The Hundred Foot Journey)
15. Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars) *Could go Supporting
16. Mia Wasikowska (Tracks)
17. Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
18. Robin Wright (The Congress)
19. Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins)
20. Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them)

Finally, here are ten more to give us a top 30 overall to cull from, just sans commentary as well:

21. Kristen Stewart (Camp X-Ray)
22. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle)
23. Zoe Kazan (The Pretty One)
24. Elisabeth Moss (The One I Love)
25. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive)
26. Reese Witherspoon (The Good Lie)
27. Shirley MacLaine (Elsa & Fred)
28. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)
29. Maggie Smith (My Old Lady)
30. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac)

Stay tuned next week for my updated look at the Best Supporting Actor race!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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