by Jim Keller
First, an apology to the one or two of you who read this column regularly and who don’t mind that it’s virtually devoid of science, for my hiatus since May. But luckily, I’ve returned in time to begin the first of a four part Ones to Watch series. As was the case last year, each edition will examine some of the more tangible roles heading down the pipeline and the pedigree of the actors who inhabit them–some of whom may find themselves vying for a top spot come Oscar time. This installment focuses on some of the leading ladies who may find themselves in this year’s Oscar race. Before we get started, let’s review some of the names that appeared in last year’s column and how their Oscar season (or lack thereof) shook out.
Anne Hathaway originally appeared under lead actress, which was subsequently amended to supporting—she went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Les Misérables. Sandra Bullock was also a one-time hopeful, but since her film, Gravity, was pushed back, she too was pushed back, and appears again in this column. Marion Cotillard narrowly missed a nomination for Rust and Bone after having appeared in this column, she returns again, this time for The Immigrant. Finally, Carey Mulligan appeared last year for The Great Gatsby and unless you’re living under a rock, you know that film was pushed back to this year, but Mulligan likely will not figure in this year’s Oscar race.
THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – August: Osage County (director: John Wells):
FYC: In the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play of the same name, a family overcomes its differences when its alcoholic patriarch goes missing and its members unite to find him. Set in Oklahoma in August (go figure!), the film concerns itself with Violet Weston (Streep), the family’s cancer-suffering matriarch who has developed a drug addiction, along with her daughters and a live-in caretaker hired by Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shephard). The mouth-watering plot is exciting enough–add Streep to the mix and, wow! She needs no introduction, having won three Oscars—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011, respectively) and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). She’s been nominated a whopping 17 times and is a force to be reckoned with on and off-screen. I could go on, but suffice it to say, the only thing standing in her way (outside of the requisite competition) is the director, who has only helmed one other feature film, The Company Men (2010).
AMERICA’S SWEETHEART: Sandra Bullock – Gravity (director: Alfonso Cuarón):
FYC: Bullock portrays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer who becomes the lone survivor of her first space mission after debris crash into the shuttle during a spacewalk. Following the mission, Dr. Stone desperately tries to return to Earth and reunite with her daughter. Accompanied only by George Clooney, who plays veteran astronaut and commander, Matt Kowalsky, the film suggests something along the lines of 127 Hours (2010), which put forth a serious case for James Franco to win in the Best Actor category, largely due to the film’s “one man show” aspect. We’ll have to wait and see if this is the case here, but I don’t think anyone can forget Bullock’s Best Actress race in 2009 with Meryl Streep where Bullock walked away with a win for The Blind Side.
THE RISING STAR: Bérénice Bejo – The Past (director: Asghar Farhadi):
FYC: In this French drama an Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. When his wife (Bejo) subsequently begins a new relationship; her husband is forced to confront this cold reality upon his wife’s request for a divorce. Bejo turned a lot of heads as the “silent” partner in The Artist (2011) and went on to earn a Supporting Actress nomination for the role. Given the silent film showcased only a fraction of her abilities, when she was cast in The Past, many became curious as to what she might unleash. This curiosity was quelled at the close of this year’s Cannes Film Festival when she won the Best Actress award. The film also vied for the Palm d’Or and won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. Iranian Farhadi directed, Best Foreign film winner, A Separation (2011) which, netted him a Best Writing, Original Screenplay nomination in 2012.
WORLD’S GREATEST MOM: Kate Winslet – Labor Day (director: Jason Reitman):
FYC: In this adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel set in 1987, a depressed single mom, Adele (Winslet) and her son unwittingly offer a wounded, frightful escaped convict a ride. As police search the town for him, the two gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited. Winslet excels in taught dramas and there’s no reason that she wouldn’t do well here. This brings to mind Revolutionary Road (2008) and Little Children (2006), the latter of which earned her a Best Actress nomination and the former, which should have. Both of these were adapted from the novels that preceded them. All together Winslet has five nominations under her belt—two in supporting (Sense and Sensibility in 1996 and Iris in 2002) and three in lead (Titanic in 1998, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2005 and the aforementioned Little Children), as well as a leading win for The Reader in 2009. Reitman began his own laundry list of credits beginning in 2008 with a Best Director nomination for Juno and racked up three more in 2010 for Up in the Air (Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Adapted Screen play).
THE FOREIGNER: Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant (director: James Gray):
Here French actress, Cotillard, portrays Sonya–an immigrant woman tricked into a life of prostitution, until a magician (Jeremy Renner) tries to save her and reunite her with her sister, who is being held on Ellis Island. Having won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for La Vie En Rose, Cotillard soon became a household name and she gave a searing performance in last year’s Rust and Bone—as I mentioned previously. Her role in The Immigrant, which also competed for the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is said to be one of her best—though critics said the same of her performance last year. Gray has enjoyed previous success on the Palm d’Or circuit with The Yards, We Own the Night (2000 and 2007, respectively), and Two Lovers (2008).
THE NEW YAWKAH: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine (director: Woody Allen):
FYC: This film follows a fashionable New York housewife to San Francisco where she reconnects with her sister after a life crisis prompts the visit. Details on this one are under lock and key, but the film’s trailer reveals Blanchett as a well-to-do woman trying desperately to hold it together in the midst of whatever darkness plagues her. The Australian-born actress is perhaps best known for her Oscar-nominated performance as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998)—a role she went on to reprise in 2007 for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which earned her a second lead actress nomination in 2008 and put the cap on a string of three Best Supporting Actress nominations (The Aviator, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There, 2005, 2007, and 2008, respectively). An early screening of the film at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) had the audience talking up a storm about her performance and with Allen at the helm, that comes as no surprise.
There are several other leading performances to be seen this year and the clock has just started on a race that is sure to be full of ups and downs and surprises all around. The Academy can be a fickle beast, so there’s no telling for sure what it will choose as the top contenders of the year, but for now, the list will grow and shift as a clearer picture begins to take shape.