This year’s assembly of Best Actress nominees includes women with varying Oscar history. Both Brie Larson and Charlotte Rampling are receiving their inaugural Academy Award nomination. Between the remaining nominees, they have been nominated for a combined ten Oscars, including three wins. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:
WINNER: Brie Larson (Room)
This year, I 100% expect Brie Larson to take home the Oscar for Best Actress. My posts are never meant to be a predictor of the winner—they are merely my own personal favorites. But this year, the best performance by a leading lady in my eyes will most definitely line up with the Academy’s vote. Brie Larson has already blown the competition out of the water in a range of award shows this season, winning Best Actress at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice, and Screen Actors Guild. She was simply the best, and I am excited to see this up-and-coming actress get her due. In Room, Larson plays “Ma,” a kidnapped mother who goes to any length to ensure the safety of her 5-year-old son Jack, in spite of their imprisonment in a 10 ft. x. 10 ft. “room.” Jack is a curious boy who becomes evermore skeptical of his living circumstances, and as he explores these curiosities, Ma’s once-successful sheltering of him against the outside world starts to wane in terms of effectiveness. This is a pivotal moment in Ma’s life as a mother—it is utterly heartbreaking. Ma must be strong, but at times she cannot hold back the pain and the tears—we as an audience feel for her. This is where Brie Larson takes the cake—she is unrelenting in her exposition of a nurturing mother that will do anything to protect her baby boy. As with my review of Room, I do not want to reveal too much about the film’s story. But trust me on this—Brie Larson’s gut-wrenching performance has paved the way for the 26-year-old actress to take home the gold on Sunday. Larson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
- Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
This Oscars season, my blog has been void of any mention of Brooklyn, John Crowley’s Best Picture-nominated period piece; this is because in my opinion, it was not that memorable of a film. However, one bright spot for Brooklyn was its leading actress: Saoirse Ronan (her first name, as Ryan Gosling recently pointed out, is pronounced like the word “inertia”). In Brooklyn, Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irishwoman who immigrates to Brooklyn, NY, during the 1950s. After making the move, Eilis initially suffers from severe homesickness, crying often. However, Tony, a young Italian boy from the area, later courts her at a local dance, and this helps Eilis adjust to her new surroundings. However, due to some tragic news, she is forced to return temporarily to Ireland—she and Tony elope first, though, without anyone knowing. Once she is back in Ireland, she is repeatedly setup on dates with an eligible bachelor in town, and quickly, Eilis’s world seems more confusing than ever. This movie was sweet, and a lot of that has to do with the nimble performance by Ronan in the lead role. I was wildly impressed with her range. Upon falling for Tony, she delineated all of the expected butterflies-in-your-stomach-type feelings with beauty; additionally, she absolutely nailed every vulnerable moment of her character’s life when she is struggling to cope with her move. At just 21-years-old, Ronan already has two Oscar nominations, and Brooklyn was the perfect example of the remarkable abilities she possesses. Ronan was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Atonement (2007), which made her the seventh youngest actress to have ever been nominated in that category (13 years, 285 days).
- Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Just like Saoirse Ronan’s Brooklyn, 45 Years is another film that has not been mentioned yet this season on my blog. To be honest, the only reason I even saw it was because Charlotte Rampling was nominated for Best Actress. I love British films (they are often my favorite), but this one came and went pretty unremarkably for me. With that said, however, I was quite impressed by Rampling’s performance. Although she is expected to finish dead last in the Oscar race, I think her talents are being starkly overlooked—it was incredibly tough for me to decide between her or Ronan for my No. 2 spot. In 45 Years, the 70-year-old Rampling plays Kate, a woman planning a major celebration in honor of her 45th wedding anniversary with husband Geoff. However, during the final stretch to the big day, the two receive news that authorities in Switzerland have recovered the body of Geoff’s first love who died in a hiking accident before he and Kate ever met. This is the backdrop for the film’s story, and Rampling was unbelievably honest in her role. Geoff spends the days leading up to the anniversary celebration looking at pictures of him with his long-ago love and talking about her incessantly. Kate is visibly shaken but tries her hardest to keep any emotion suppressed, which she does not succeed at most of the time. Rampling’s performance is not showy or filled with vividly emotional moments. But the subtle nuances with which she evokes her emotions paint the perfect picture of her character’s inner struggle. With every look or glance, Rampling is effective. Rampling has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
- Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Carol is getting a lot of attention, as is understandable—it is a good movie. But for me, it simply was not great. The lion’s share of Carol’s praise has been heaped upon its two female stars: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. I wrote earlier this season about how Mara’s performance really did not do much for me, but Blanchett’s was more believable—the latter was definitely the far superior performer in the film. Carol is set during the 1950s in New York City, and it tells the story of Carol, played by Blanchett, as she meets and ultimately has an affair with a woman, Therese Belivet, played by Mara. This movie really bored me, and the only thing that caught my attention at all was Blanchett’s acting. I have long believed she is one of the top three actresses currently working in Hollywood, but in Carol, my belief that she did a good job is limited—I didn’t really think it was Oscar-worthy. Yes, her character is engaging in an affair with a woman that was incredibly taboo for the time period, and yes, Blanchett’s emotions throughout as her husband fights her tooth and nail for the custody of their daughter in light of her lesbian tendencies are skillfully evoked. But for me it was nothing memorable. It was just a good, seasoned performance from a veteran actress. Ten years from now, I will have totally forgotten about this role. Blanchett has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Aviator (2004) and for Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine (2013).
- Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
To think, just six months ago, I was talking about how much I was looking forward to seeing David O. Russell’s latest film, Joy. In fact, I ranked it No. 8 on my Fall Preview. I was deeply let down. This movie sucks. It just does. It didn’t make me care about the story. It didn’t make me care about the characters. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence did an okay job, but even she couldn’t save it. In Joy, Lawrence plays the real-life titular character, Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two struggling to find her place in the world. She eventually invents the Miracle Mop and hits it big on QVC. I love Jennifer Lawrence. She is definitely the brightest actress of my generation, and I know she is going to continue to have success for the duration of her (hopefully) long career. With that said, her nomination in this category is entirely misplaced. She did not have to do anything that spectacular in this role. She was the same Jennifer Lawrence we have seen for a few years now. And I do not mean she evoked the same acting qualities—I mean she was playing the same character. All of her roles are beginning to blend together for me, and I do not find that worthy of another nomination at this time. Lawrence won the Golden Globe this year for Best Actress in a Comedy, which I think the Hollywood Foreign Press gave to her because of her likability. I usually hold the Academy to higher standards than the HFP, but this year it appears it too threw Lawrence a bone for an average performance. I hate talking bad about Jennifer Lawrence because I loved her in Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the Hunger Games films, but in Joy, she did not pave any new lanes. It was all the same stuff. Ehh. Lawrence has previously been nominated for three Oscars, winning for Best Actress for her starring role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
Actresses snubbed in this category: Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Carey Mulligan (Far from the Madding Crowd), and Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars).