Award Watch 2011 :: Handicapping the actresses
"The Oscar Race Is On," trumpets the cover of Entertainment Weekly last week. That the cover features Natalie Portman looking far sunnier than she does in any moment in Black Swan only indicates that she is clearly become the front runner for the Best Actress trophy. (Sorry Annette Bening.)
But is it so cut-and-dry? Can Nicole Kidman pull a come-from-behind upset as the grieving mom in Rabbit Hole? Or will Julianne Moore beat Bening on her own turf for her performance as her other half in The Kids are All Right? There’s also newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, so fearlessly strong in Winter’s Bone, and Hailee Steinfeld, whose break-out performance in True Grit is more a leading actress performance if there ever was one. (Expect her, though, to be put in the Supporting category.)
So with the Golden Globes a week away and the Oscar noms on January 25, here’s our assessment of the acting races so far, beginning with the Best Actress and Supporting Actress categories. (To see our choices for Best Actor and Supporting Actor click here.)
Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)
Annette Bening is due. Over her nearly 30-year career she has given any number of award-winning performances, three of which she’s been nominated for in the past. She should have won a supporting actress trophy as the sexually charged con artist in The Grifters (1990) over Whoopi Goldberg’s hammy turn in Ghost, but the character was not the sort the Academy likes to honor. She was favored both times she was nominated for Best Actress - as Kevin Spacey’s status-seeking wife in American Beauty (1999) and as the famous actress facing a mid-life crisis in Being Julia (2004). Unfortunately both times she was up against Hillary Swank, who took home the trophy for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Bening will likely be nominated this year for her sympathetic performance as a controlling lesbian mom in The Kids Are All Right, which has already won her the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress nod. Ironically she may be up against Swank (as the crusading lawyer in Conviction), but faces her biggest challenge from Natalie Portman as the put-upon ballerina in Black Swan. Her hope for taking home the trophy will be that she is the sentimental favorite with a body of work that deserves to be honored, making her a favorite amongst older Oscar voters.
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
The major reason why Black Swan is such a compelling cinematic trip rests with Natalie Portman, who is so believable as Nina, the young ballerina thrust prematurely into the limelight when cast in the dual roles of the White Swan and Black Swan in a new production of Swan Lake. Portman trained for a year as a dancer to play the role - that and deft editing - make her a convincing ballerina; but it is the unsettling psychological dimension she brings to the role that makes her a front-runner for Best Actress. Being onscreen for virtually every moment of Darren Aronofsky’s eclectic backstage drama only enhances her chances. What may hurt is Aronofsky’s brazen use of horror movie techniques that some feel cheapen the drama. It may, though, simply come down to being a choice between Old Hollywood (Bening) and New Hollywood (Portman) - will sentiment win out over dazzling technique?
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Nicole Kidman has received some of her best notices in recent years as a woman coping with the death of her son in John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of David Lindsay Abaire’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play. The film has done well with critics as well, but will this movie (in the tradition of Ordinary People and In The Bedroom) catch on with Oscar voters? That she’s a favorite with the foreign press may give her an advantage with the Golden Globes. The big question is can she sneak in and pull an upset in February?
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Winter’s Bone has been an indie darling since it won the Best Picture at Sundance last January. It also did well enough with critics and the box office to be remembered at the end of the year. Much of its success has come with the fearless performance by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as the young girl from the Ozarks who must locate her errant, methamphetamine-making father to save her family from eviction. Like Hailie Stenfeld in True Grit, Lawrence gives a break-out performance that should guarantee her a nomination.
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
Since Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s drama about a couple whose relationship is in free-fall, started screenings at film festivals, there’s been talk of Michelle Williams’ riveting performance putting her in contention for the Oscar. Cianfrance’s film looks at a relationship during its early, happy days through its collapse years later. Playing opposite Ryan Gosling, Williams has received nothing but raves for her Method-styled approach to her role. An intense performance, but one that may end up being to discomforting for mainstream Oscar support. Like her fine turn in Brokeback Mountain (also nominated), Williams may be too real for her own good.
Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right)
As Annette Bening’s less-centered half in Lisa Cholodenko’s dramedy, Moore gives another first-rate performance. Her emotional final speech is the stuff that wins awards. Yet there’s only an outside chance that the four-time nominee will get the nod this year, unless she is pushed into the supporting actress category (which is unlikely). Like last year when Moore was so good in A Single Man, she is likely to be snubbed again.
Diane Lane (Secretariat)
When this inspirational sports drama hit the screen this past fall, there was talk that Lane might follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Sandra Bullock and make it into the final five as a determined Southern woman. The film, though, faltered at the box office and Lane’s chances have appeared to fade. Though she gives an Oscar-worthy performance.
It may be another match-up between Annette Bening and Swank for Best Actress if Hollywood embraces Swank’s fine performance as a woman who will stop at nothing to prove her brother innocence of a murder conviction. What may keep Swank from a nomination is that she is more earnest than compelling, though her Massachusetts accent is impeccable. And that surprise SAG nomination makes her the most likely to cop an Oscar nom (likely at Michelle Williams expense).