Analyzing the chances of this year's Best Actress nominees isn't made easy by the list of recent winners. Belying the argument that Oscars often go to big box-office performers are the past three winners: Kate Winslet for The Reader, Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose, and Helen Mirren for The Queen -- not a blockbuster in the bunch. But things might go a little differently this year, as this is the tightest of the six main contests...
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
What looked like – and pretty much is – a predictable, standard drama of the heartwarming variety was the surprise hit of late ’09, due almost entirely to Bullock’s indefatigable charm. She may be rockin’ the wuhst Suth’n aick-cent since Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War, but there’s a definite feeling that Sandy’s turn at Oscar has finally come.
PROS: Genuinely well-liked in the Hollywood community, Bullock’s already won a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for this film. Frankly it’s not as impressive a turn as her small part in Crash, but there’s no denying her momentum is at a career high right now.
CONS: Her resume between Crash and Blind Side includes Miss Congeniality 2, The Lake House, Premonition, and The Proposal. Last year’s All About Steve practically destroyed her career all by itself. By rewarding her for this, does the Academy set her on the road to more serious performances, or get embarrassed by her future choices, a la Helen Hunt or Gwyneth Paltrow?
ODDS OF WINNING: 5 to 1.
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
What was originally pitched as the capstone to Christopher Plummer’s varied and (mostly) august career – playing Leo Tolstoy in his twilight years – has instead effortlessly morphed into more critical hosannas for Mirren as his wife, with Plummer relegated to the supporting category. There’s nothing the woman cannot do, something the Academy recognizes and appreciates.
PROS: Another pitch-perfect performance in a period piece about the wife of a Great Man, never a bad combo when it comes to awards. Won Best Actress at the Rome Film Festival for this role.
CONS: Just won the Oscar in 2007 for The Queen. While nominated for this film by most of the major bodies, has not brought home anything beyond the Rome award. Plus the film itself is pretty inert.
ODDS: 25 to 1.
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Another young British up-and-comer, Mulligan’s role was pretty much the whole show in An Education, and she ran with it. Currently one of the busiest young thespians in the business, with prestige pics Never Let Me Go and the Brighton Rock remake on the way, not to mention the Wall Street sequel and, possibly, the My Fair Lady remake. Clearly a talent to watch.
PROS: She’s been nominated for or won almost 20 awards in connection with An Education and, until Bullock and Streep started gaining notice, seemed practically a shoo-in. It’s quite possible that she still is.
CONS: Despite her long list of credits (both completed and to-be-released), she’s still not a recognizable name or face to most. Until her career defines itself a bit more, the Academy may be hesitant to reward her at what’s still such an early stage.
ODDS: 4 to 1.
Gabourey Sadibe, Precious
The movie has split opinion almost down the middle, but everyone agrees that Sadibe, in her first major role, is simply amazing. Her relative inexperience onscreen is actually a plus in Precious, allowing her to inhabit a difficult role with uncommon sensitivity and grace without resorting to actorly tricks.
PROS: The lightning-in-a-bottle possibility is very real here, a one-of-a-kind performance that may stand the test of time, even if Sadibe never makes another movie. “Brave” is an adjective too often employed by the Peter Traverses of the world, but there’s no better word for Sadibe’s performance.
CONS: The suspicion of this being a one-off will be a negative for some voters, who are more forgiving with suchlike in the supporting category (Haing S. Ngor, Linda Hunt). That the movie, never an easy sell to begin with, has sputtered at the box office doesn’t help.
ODDS: 4 to 1.
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Having outlasted the growing self-parody of her early years as a “Pick an accent, any accent” mimic (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice, A Cry in the Dark, et al.), Streep has settled comfortably into simply having a ball onscreen, blithely raising the material and her co-stars to her own level and – post-Prada, at least – smiling most of the way. As noted in the Best Picture analysis, viewers of J&J wanted more of her Julia and much less of Amy Adams’ Julie.
PROS: She’s on a roll with both critics and fans; you have to search high and wide to find naysayers in the crowd, who even grudgingly allowed her her fun in Mamma Mia! And for someone regularly called “the greatest living film actress,” how come she has “only” two Oscars?
CONS: With this, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and It’s Complicated, has she gone to the frothy well once too often?
ODDS: 3 to 1.