Emma Stone. Natalie Portman. Meryl Streep. Amy Adams. Isabelle Huppert. Annette Bening. Emily Blunt. Ruth Negga. Taraji P. Henson. Hailee Steinfeld. Jessica Chastain. Sally Field.
Five of those women are going to be nominated for Best Actress, leaving seven great performances out in the cold, which is a shame, but also impressive in that there were that many award worthy performances from women in lead roles this year! Often in the past, the Academy has been scrambling to find five worthy nominees, so to have a year where there are twelve worthy of a Best Actress nomination is something worth celebrating. Does it mean there is a change coming in the business? Maybe, but more likely it is a fluke that so many great performances came in a single year, we will know and understand more next year.
Since TIFF the frontrunners for the Oscar have been Emma Stone for her lovely performance in ‘La La Land’ and Natalie Portman for her for the ages performance in ‘Jackie’. Both are young; Portman has an Oscar for Black Swan (2010); Stone is beloved in the business; Portman is widely respected as a true artist; Stone proved herself to be a triple threat. Of the two there is no question Portman gives the greater performance, capturing every nuance of Jackie Kennedy to the extent it is less a performance than an incarnation of the woman herself. Stone is terrific, no question and I love her work; she acts, she dances and she sings, but in twenty years it will be Portman we would be still discussing.
Out of TIFF also came Isabelle Huppert, an acclaimed French actress in ‘Elle’ in which she gave a demanding performance as a rape victim lashing back at her attacker. Perhaps best known to American audiences, if at all, for her work in Heaven’s Gate (1980) the massive flop from Michael Cimino, the over sixty actress suddenly became a national icon from France, an artist of the highest order, setting her sights on her first Oscar nominations. She has been the critics darling winning the triple crown (LA, NY, National Society) and seems headed for that first nomination, but she was not nominated by SAG and that matters much more you know.
Amy Adams also exploded out of TIFF along with her film ‘Arrival’, as a Best Actress and likely Best Picture contender. As a linguist brought in by the military and government to learn to communicate with aliens Adams exudes intelligence, but more, precisely what was needed in the film, humanity. An Academy favorite, she gave the film something beautiful and deserves to be in the race.
Meryl Streep gave another great performance this year and indeed could be nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins, though I have a hunch, something nagging at me that says she might not be there. As good a performance as it is, the work is not among the greatest of her career, and just because she is good, does not mean she has a reserved spot among the five nominees. Another veteran who could be in the mix is two time Oscar winner Sally Field for ‘Hello! My Name is Doris’, but I worry not near enough people have seen the film which is too bad because it is among her best performances. A third veteran, one still without her Oscar is Annette Bening, who should in all honesty have a couple already, could be a nominee for ’20th Century Woman’, and if nominated could grab the sentimental vote, which has carried more than one winner to the Oscar, most recently Julianne Moore.
A few months ago Ruth Negga was a shoo-in for her work in ‘Loving’, but she has fallen off, dramatically and might or might not slip in. Not even discussed until a couple of weeks ago was Taraji P. Henson for ‘Hidden Figures’, but now she is very much in the mix…that is how fast it can change. Henson has the added advantage of having her film being a bonafide box office hit, and widely admired by the audiences and critics. Indeed, that could help her immensely.
In any other year they would hand the Oscar to Jessica Chastain for her intensely focused performance in ‘Miss Sloane’, in which she is remarkable as a lobbyist in Washington who takes on the big boys on a gun bill. She all bit breathes fire in the part and you cannot take your eyes off her, but I doubt she makes the cut this year, though nothing would make me happier if she did. She is the future of American acting, she more than any other actress has what it take to be as great as Streep.
Emily Blunt came out of nowhere to be nominated by SAG for Best Actress as ‘The Girl on the Train’ but does that mean anything for the Oscars? Historically SAG has had a wild card from time to time, and this could just that, but it is a wild card you must take seriously.
And finally Hailee Stenfeld, the revelationary actress from True Grit (2010) is back better than ever, stronger than ever in ‘The Edge of Seventeen’. As a teen in high school dealing with all the angst in high school, but also she is among the most self centered young women we have encountered in movies. The universe revolves around her, just ask her.
So, here’s the list of my final five after considering all the factors in play:
Taraji P. Henson