Oscar 2014, Best Actress: Who’s Due?

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Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Oscar nerds know that a performer does not always win for their best performance. There is a game of catch up played by the Academy that can sometimes last for decades. The best example is when Jimmy Stewart was passed up for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939. He won the next year for an almost supporting performance in The Philadelphia Story, beating Henry Fonda’s far superior work in The Grapes of Wrath. It took Oscar 41 years to even nominate Fonda again, when he won for On Golden Pond.

Another example was brought up in a discussion with a guy the other day. We were talking about Denzel Washington movies, and that he won for Training Day. “That’s because they screwed him over for Malcolm X,” the guy said. There is some truth to that, I think, and I asked him if he remembered who beat Washington that year. “Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman!” Yes, and that was for one of Pacino’s hammiest performances. But he was due.

There are a couple of actresses in this year’s hunt that could be seen as due. It may not be about who was best this year, but who deserves it based on their career achievement. Here are my guesses, in alphabetical order:

Amy Adams, Big Eyes: Adams, only 40, has been nominated five times already. She seems to be loved by the Academy, but not too much, as she’s never won. She’s fast approaching Deborah Kerr territory, and Kerr didn’t win until she got an honorary Oscar in her old, old age. This role is in a Tim Burton film, and while those aren’t Oscar magnets he has directed one Oscar winner (Martin Landau in Ed Wood).

Julianne Moore, Still Alice: The favorite right now. Moore has been nominated four times without winning, but is older and probably more respected than Adams. She’s in two movies this year that have drawn interest, Maps of the Stars and Still Alice. In the latter she plays a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe she should start writing her speech now.

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl: The film itself may drop a bit in the Best Picture race, as most see it as a good entertainment but nothing more, but Pike should be on everyone’s lips come nominations. It’s a pleasure to watch an actress play good old fashioned psychotic evil, and Pike nails it.

Reese Witherspoon, Wild: Witherspoon produced Gone Girl, and I’ve spent some time imagining her in the role of Amy, and I think she would have been great. But she’s in this film about a woman who undergoes changes while hiking the Pacific trail. Witherspoon kind of disappeared from good films after Walk the Line, and she seems to be back in a big way.

Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars: I have to take a risk somewhere, and it’s here with Woodley, who has been impressing critics with her roles. She was snubbed for The Descendants, but headlined two major box office hits this year, including TFIOS, where, of course, she played a girl with a disease.

Other possibilities: Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Emily Blunt, Into the Woods; Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year or The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby; Hillary Swank, The Homesman; Anne Hathaway, Interstellar. 

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

4 responses »

  1. Re: Witherspoon, I discussed this in another thread recently, but I think her film career has been off-track since around 2001 (Walk The Line being a bit of an exception). The success of the inane Legally Blonde was a bit of a turning point for her and she’s largely been wasting her talent since then. I think the lack of quality in her recent film work will be a hindrance towards getting a second Oscar.

    Or put another way, Amy Adams has had the career since the mid-2000s that Witherspoon should’ve had. Adams took a long time to get quality work, as recently as 2002 she was playing a one-note bimbo in a Matthew Perry/Liz Hurley film ‘Serving Sara’ (seen it, it’s pretty bad). Yet, perhaps because it took her longer to break through than Witherspoon, once she broke through in the mid-2000s she hasn’t let it slip and had an excellent decade of work

  2. Actually, Marco, an actor having a comeback from lousy movies is catnip to the Academy. Just look at Mathew McConnaughey. Would you have imagined five years ago that he would ever win an Oscar? I don’t think Witherspoon will win, but I think she’s solid for a nomination.

  3. The difference with McConnaughey is that he hadn’t won an Oscar whereas Witherspoon already has, but I take your point. Probably Hillary Swank (who’s managed to waste Oscar wins twice) is a closer example of what could occur with Witherspoon.

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