Best Actress 2015: History in the Making?

Photos via The Film Stage, Rosamund-Pike.net, Jessica-Chastain.com, Premier Filmek

Sometime in January, I grew tired of this years awards season. Everything seemed to have been determined for months before hand, and deservedly so – Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor, Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, and 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, even though that race got less and less sure by the end. But unlike last year, which was full of destructive politics and controversy which offered something new to talk about every day, by about two months before the Oscars, I was already getting excited and looking forward to what next year could bring out of boredom.

In recent years, the Oscars have slipped further and further into what they’re criticised for, even by host Ellen DeGeneres – nominating the same people, year after year, and rarely any new or young talent. If you go back a few years, you’ll find that nominations used to be given to a wider variety of films, with the screenplay categories being used to honour up and coming writers and their innovation, and filmmakers being nominated for Best Director, without their film being nominated for Best Picture. Simply put, the talent keeps skewing older and older by the year.

This story is continued in the acting categories. While it’s more likely for young, breakout performers to be nominated in the supporting categories, where all nominees in the field wind up being aged 40 or under every few years, a majority of the time, the concept of the Academy nominating the same, progressively older talent regardless of what they do year after year is alive and well in the lead actor awards. In the early years of filmmaking and awards, due to the newness of the art form, it was only natural that nominees were younger. But since the 1920s and 30s, one would be hard pressed to find a Best Actor field where all nominees are aged the big 4-0 or under, as the category is commonly the definition of a ‘Boys Club’ (according to The Wall Street Journal, the average age of nominees this year was 47). Generally, the ages of female nominees skew younger (the youngest Best Supporting Actress nominees are aged between 9 and 14, compared to Supporting Actor, whose youngest nominees are aged between 8 and 22), and the category has nominated its fair share of first-timers (Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe, and Jennifer Lawrence, to name a few), but are pushed to the back by faces that pop up every year and win once again are increasingly getting older and not turning in the best work (the average age this year was 55). The last time that all Best Actress nominees were under 40 was 1976, where Faye Dunaway took home the prize for Network, an occurrence that, maybe, could happen in 2015.

This early in the year, any number of things could happen between now and the big day – films can flop, drop out, be smeared out of the race (I darn hope I never see anything like 2012/13 again), or, on the best days, stars can be made, enter with a bang at festivals, and triumph, roaring into the race. But, regardless of the likelihood of me being completely wrong and 2015 ending up being another trotting out of the fixture nominees, here is my reasoning why this year has a good chance of being a knock out.

Photo via. Get-The-Look.fr

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes

Amy Adams is somewhat of a marvel – in 8 years, she has gone from contemplating giving up acting to earning five Oscar nominations, with the time between them getting shorter and shorter. Until last year’s American Hustle, which could have delivered a possible stinger upset if the Academy decided to turn the past 9 months on its head (if for some reason that the 99.9999999% probability that Cate Blanchett was going to win turned out to be wrong, Adams would have been the next choice), all her Oscar bids were supporting roles. She’s finally broken into the lead roles, and is at the top of her game with a role that just smells of Oscars (word is there’s a scene that is a courtroom painting showdown). Given her growing pile of accolades in a short amount of time, her leap up into Best Actress in 2014, and the fact that it’s argued she should have won long ago, look our for this year to be the year of Amy Adams.

FYI: If this scenario for next year happens, she’ll be the oldest nominee in the category, at age 40.

Photo via. Jessica-Chastain.com

Jessica Chastain as Miss Julie in Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie

2014 is shaping up to be a repeat of the whirlwind of 2011 for Jessica Chastain, who entered in a spectacular fashion with seven films that swept festivals and awards, and this year has The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, A Most Violent Year (which is slated to be an awards breakthrough for J.C. Chandor), and Interstellar. Her big lead acting bid though is in Liv Ullmann (who was nominated for Best Actress in the record-making 1976)’s Miss Julie. Classic literary adaptations are rarely Best Picture contenders, but their performers always have a good shot at getting nominations, and with her incredible track record that is already perceiving her as ‘due’ for an Oscar, controversial loss for Zero Dark Thirty in 2013, and her incredible year lined up, Chastain is eyeing at least one nomination in 2015.

Photo via. Rosamund-Pike.net

Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s Gone Girl

Even when they’re not Best Picture contenders (see: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), David Fincher has a knack for giving actresses their breakout performance. Rosamund Pike is the kind of newbie Best Actress contender that the Academy tends to adore: working very hard for a long time in exceptional supporting roles in smaller but beloved films, building up quite a filmography (she’s featured in acclaimed films such as Pride and Prejudice, Barney’s Version, and An Education), before being given the ultimate breakout role in a big player from a regular awards fixture. The novel promises an absolute treasure trove of material to unleash Pike’s incredible range, and surely one of the most memorable performances of 2014. She’s got the Rooney Mara slot for a nomination, the younger, edgier and critical favourite pick that makes a career. Regardless of the awards attention the rest of the film gets, you can be assured that Rosamund Pike is the name that will be on everyone’s lips by the end 2014.

Photo via. Michelle-Williams.org

Michelle Williams as Lucile Angellier in Saul Dibb’s Suite Française

In a similar position to Amy Adams, having earnt three nominations in 8 years (two of which have been lead), Michelle Williams has tread the path of awards season many times, and is yet to go home with a little gold man. Acclaimed for nearly everything she’s in and seen as very overdue, Suite Francaise is shaping up to be a massive push for a win, promising to be her Sophie’s Choice style role (it’s not looking like a Best Picture contender at this point) that puts her at the top of early contenders. Williams is yet again similar to Adams in that both of their films are produced by The Weinstein Company, which may prove to make or break of their Oscar campaigns – if Harvey chooses to push only one, which seems like a possibility after having his fingers in too many mediocre pies this year, who will he pick? My money is on Williams in that case, Weinstein and her have a very big history with Oscar campaigns, and this film is smelling of him ferociously campaigning, stopping at nothing for a win.

…and what about that fifth spot?

When the other possible contenders are considered (I don’t think Carol will be ready for this year), there’s two that immediately stick out:

 Photos via. The Daily Mail

Carey Mulligan as Maud in Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette or as Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd

If I had written this post two months ago, I would have said Far From the Madding Crowd was the more likely option, but the focus continues to shift to Suffragette, which is currently in production in London. The film is shaping up to be a big presence in a few ways, including: it’s the first to focus exclusively on the Suffragette movement, along with being the first to shoot in the House of Parliament. On the other hand, it may not be ready for the 2014/15 awards season, so we may have to wait for the massive juggernaut this film might wind up being. Regardless, Carey Mulligan is going to have a good 2014. Ever since 2009, when she burst onto the scene in An Education, a role that earned her an Oscar nomination, Mulligan has done mostly supporting roles in films including Drive, Never Let Me Go, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Shame (which, in a perfect world, would have scored her some recognition). In addition to the potentially massive Suffragette, she stars in Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd. The material may be too classic for awards, but Vinterberg is hot property after The Hunt (look out for a potential Cannes smash)and the film is already being touted as “raw and revolutionary”. After not taking home one in 2010, which was seen even at the time to be outrageous, her continuously acclaimed work since,  and the notoriety of both of these big leading roles, Carey Mulligan is definitely one to watch in 2014.

Photo via. WhoSay

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild

Ever since her win for playing June Carter in 2006, Reese Witherspoon has slipped into the background, doing romantic comedies and dramas. But last year, along with her co-star Matthew McConaughey, there was a hint of a comeback present in Mud, something that seems to be continuing with Wild (she’s also a producer of Gone Girl). The solitary nature of most of the film screams utilising range, and with a script by Nick Hornby (Oscar nominated for An Education) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Dallas Buyers Club just earned Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Oscars, this definitely has the potential to be a big contender.


Of course, one could argue that there’s potential in Anna Kendrick in The Last Five Years and Meryl Streep in Into the Woods (you could argue a nomination for Streep for everything), but both films are more Golden Globes bids, as neither of them are the grand spectacles like Les Miserables that the Academy loves. Both promise to be a more Mamma Mia! or Nine situation than an Oliver! or Chicago.

Any number of things could happen in the next year, but presently, the two that have the biggest chance are Adams and Williams. Both are overdue, have a very big awards studio behind them, with very baity films and showy material.

Even though my head is telling me that the Oscars are 51 weeks away and “why the hell are you thinking about this in March”, this is a prospect that is definitely worth getting excited over, and will sure make for a very interesting awards season next year, which I cannot wait to chronicle.

– Ella

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3 thoughts on “Best Actress 2015: History in the Making?

  1. Nice article, though I hope there’re some other options come the next year’s Oscars – I would hope there’s some women in the mix who aren’t white/aged roughly thirty!

    1. Thanks Dave! Haha yeah, the early frontrunners are definitely not the most diverse crop. As I said, I’ll probably look like a complete idiot in a year for predicting this because they’ll be some big breakout etc, but I guess half the fun of predicting is looking back and going “what the hell was going through my head?”

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