Thursday, August 14, 2008

Early Oscar Predictions--Best Actress

If you haven't figured out by now, I have a weird obsession with the Oscars that borders on pathological. I'll be posting a few thoughts on the state of the race (as I see it) in all four of the acting categories, as well as directing and best picture. At this point, much of it is speculation and we won't really have some concrete answers until at least September. There are some I feel confident about already, but when it comes to the sport of predicting Oscars, you never know what will happen and everything is for sale. This is true before the nominations are announced right up until the winners are announced.

Best Actress

If this were my personal wishlist, it'd comprise of...nevermind. I have to forget about my personal tastes, and consider those of the big O. Because we rarely see eye-to-eye, especially in the Best Actress category. In the past ten years, when I think about my ballot versus who Oscar nominates, the most we've ever had was a 3/5 match. But alas, the past is the past. Looking forward to the rest of 2008, I have a very hard time foreseeing a list that doesn't include at least one (if not more) of the following (in this order)

1. Meryl Streep in Doubt
Conventional wisdom says that if you have Streep in a lead role (one that isn't in an adaptation of a stage musical comprised of ABBA music) that Oscar prognosticators should pay attention. Both this performance and the project in show a lot of promise. Adapted from John Patrick Shanley's (Oscar winner for penning the screenplay for Moonstruck, dontcha know) award-winning Broadway play, some are predicting that Doubt will not only bring Streep's nomination total to 15, but will bring the actress her third statue. If the film's good enough, fine. Love the Streep. But I'd kind of like to see Winslet win her first, before Meryl gets three. Especially if she's more deserving.

2. Angelina Jolie in The Changeling or The Exchange
I almost didn't include Jolie, but the fact remains that the buzz for this performance and this film are deafening at this point. And it's directed by Clint Eastwood, a man who has taken (wait for it) five performers to Oscar wins, and another two to nominations (three if you include himself). Plus, she's having a good personal year and who doesn't want to see her up on podiums, gushing happily about Brad and the kids (I mean, I personally don't, but there are a lot of people who eat up that sort of thing.) Plus, people seem to forget that beneath the media frenzy and the world treks and the huge harem that Angelina Jolie is ultimately a talented actress. More talented than she receives credit for. And she was on the cusp of a nomination last year for A Mighty Heart. All of this makes the possibility for a nod for Ms. Jolie very good.

3. Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road
Yeah, yeah. It's been years since American Beauty. Sam Mendes has lost the magic. Depending on who you talk to, he never had it. But it's Winslet as a troubled housewife (something she does very well) based on a book that's beloved in certain circles. She's also being directed by her hubby and it reunites her with Titanic cast-mates Leonardo DiCaprio and Kathy Bates. Hopefully the Titanic connection will help overcome the fact that adult dramas about marital strife are a little elevated and not exactly rife for mass public consumption. But Winslet, a five-time nominee already, will probably be sitting pretty with a sixth, regardless of whether the film itself goes all the way to the final five. Consider that back in 2006, it seemed that Little Children was the film that time forgot. Heavily hyped as Todd Field's follow-up to his taught, intelligent debut In the Bedroom, this film puttered. It got a paltry release, and even though the Globes nominated it for best picture, they didn't even show a clip for it like they did for the other nominees! Yet despite all this, Winslet's name never left people's lips as a lock for a nomination...she's that good (though, to be fair, all the nominees that year were locks and had been for several months leading into the ceremony). Though, like Little Children, I see few people being enthusiastic about this film to the point that they'll give Winslet the statue. Where's the gimmick? She's not ugly-ing herself up. She's not playing a famous, recently deceased person. She's playing an attractive fictional character, and if the incredible Julie Christie-tease of 2007 is any indication, the Academy is done with that sort of thing...for now.

4. Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria
Follow my insane logic here. They will nominate either Emily Blunt or they will nominate Keira Knightley for The Duchess, or they will nominate neither. They won't nominate both. There's usually only room for one uptight, corset-y period piece in best actress these days (and honestly, it's kind of a category the AMPAS has been shying away from, save Cate Blanchett's inexplicable throwaway nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age). I'm predicting Blunt because she's been on the radar as one to watch since My Summer of Love, and she's the type of rising star who is bound to get herself a nomination one day.

5. Dakota Fanning in The Secret Life of Bees
Okay. This is my total, out-of-left-field prediction, but hear me out. Fanning, like Blunt, is totally headed for a nomination one day and we all know it. The film is based on a kind of beloved (though somewhat facile and digestible) novel. The material is certainly there for the makings of the type of child performance the AMPAS usually nominates (when they do nominate children). Beyond that, I don't really have any other reason for this prediction (but those are pretty good reasons, right?) And to everyone who always predicts lineups at the beginning of the season full of already nominated (or winning) stars in big-bait roles, remember the Ellen Pages, the Keisha Castle Hughes's, the Catalina Sandino Morenos and the (God, I can barely type it) Helen Hunts (*shudder*). They aren't your usual Oscar-fare, yet they do get nominated...and sometimes they win.

Also in Contention:

6. Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
There are a lot of reasons why I didn't include Ms. Hathaway in the top five. Although things are kind of changing, the ratio of comedic performances to dramatic performances among Oscar nominees is still relatively low. Jonathan Demme may be an Oscar-winning director, but for every Silence of the Lambs, there are four or five Manchurian Candidates and The Truth About Charlies in his filmography. Translation: he doesn't have the best track record for getting actors nominated, both of late and in the grand scheme of thing. Why the title change? Dancing with Shiva was a great title! Finally, I really REALLY love Anne Hathaway and (in my twisted mind) I don't want to jinx her by putting her in the top five this prematurely. That being said, the trailer looks fantastic and the cast is a character-actor's dream (Anna Deavere Smith? I'm so there...) Plus, I'm really excited about the potential comeback of Debra Winger. Please return to us...

7. Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky
Two potential comedic nods in one year (Hawkins and Hathaway)? It could happen. It happened last year (Laura Linney and Ellen Page). Sally Hawkins is enjoying some very good early buzz for her performance. Plus, director Mike Leigh has a fairly good track record for getting nominations for his leading ladies (Brenda Blethyn and Imelda Staunton). There are obvious obstacles in place. She has to overcome the lack of name recognition and it's a small film. But stranger things have happened. We'll have to see how the year progresses, but honestly, Hawkins feels like a very likely bet.

8. Melissa Leo in Frozen River
I think this can happen if Sony Pictures Classics runs a thorough and aggressive campaign. Melissa Leo has a lot of hurdles to overcome. Often times, there are small releases early to mid-year with perceived strong lead performances that garner mumblings of Oscar buzz. And then, by year's end, they've all but faded from consideration. Case in point, Keri Russell in Waitress (a performance I wouldn't have nominated in a film I didn't particularly enjoy, but it's the same idea). In 2006, Gretchen Mol's very respectable star turn in The Notorious Bettie Page went wildly unnoticed. This could very well happen to Leo if the studio doesn't play its cards right. The iron is pretty hot right now, with Ebert giving the performance and the film his seal of approval (I have a feeling it'll end up on his top ten list). But it's an uphill battle for a (mostly) unknown actress.

8. Nicole Kidman in Australia
A nomination for her wouldn't surprise me for obvious reasons. Baz Luhrmann took her to her first Oscar-nominated role. But Academy hasn't revisited Kidman since her win for The Hours back in 2002. After her egregious snub last year for Margot at the Wedding, it doesn't look like they're too eager to rekindle their love affair with her. Unless Australia really impresses in a big way (and I'm hoping that it does--love Luhrmann) Kidman is not a safe pony to bet on.

9. Kerry Washington in Lakeview Terrace
I don't know why I read the synopsis for this film and thought it could hold Oscar possibilities for Washington, one of my favorite actresses. The trailer is ridiculous and it seems to be the Samuel L. Jackson show anyway. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. But who knows...the film may be a huge breakthrough for her and bring her to her first nomination...I can dream, right?

10. Julianne Moore in Blindness
The new Fernando Meirelles film didn't get the best buzz when it opened at Cannes earlier this year. This may leave Julianne Moore's chances dead in the water, unless the film sees some kind of resurgence. Remember that Babel opened to fairly mixed reviews initially, but had its awards flame reignited pretty much because of the Golden Globes. Plus, who doesn't want to see Moore finally win an Oscar?

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