Best Actress

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This year, the Best Actress category is absolutely packed with Oscar royalty.  These five women have combined for a previous 33 Academy Award nominations in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress:

WINNER: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in northeastern Oklahoma.  I have long believed that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress in the history of cinema, and even though Cate Blanchett is receiving all of the hype this awards season, Meryl Streep turned in a performance for the ages.  Meryl StreepShe plays a very complex, narcotics-addicted, cancer-ridden woman on the brink of all-out emotional breakdown, and only Streep could dominate a role like this.  From the scenes in which she is filled with pill-induced rage to the scenes of bitter heartbreak as she loses her husband, Violet permeates the screen in a way that makes you feel so deeply empathetic, and this is all due to an utterly amazing performance by Hollywood’s leading lady.  Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record seventeen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the title role of Jasmine Francis, a former socialite that is now forced to live with her middle-class sister in San Francisco after her husband is indicted in a pyramid scheme.  Cate BlanchettAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Woody Allen is the king of obsession in cinema, and in Jasmine, he has created his most neurotic character to date.  Blanchett is an amazingly talented actress with a distinguished filmography, but I simply could not see her owning a role like this; therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she absolutely, unequivocally dominated this performance inside and out.  Blanchett has already swept this category at nearly every award show, including the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, and rightfully so—her performance was probably the best of her career, and she is more than deserving of this critical acclaim.  Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004).

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Amy Adams plays the confounding Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly, the mistress and business partner of con man Irving Rosenfeld.  I have been an avid fan of Adams’s work over the course of her quietly dignified career, and this performance is probably my second favorite, right behind her portrayal of Sister James in Doubt (2008).  Amy AdamsAdams’s character in this film is miserable, but beautiful; she’s uncanny, but vibrant.  Needless to say, this is one of Amy Adams’s most complex roles of her career, but she uses the intricacies of her polished artsmanship to create a memorable character that dazzles in the wild world of the 1970s.  Amy Adams has previously been nominated for four Oscars, most recently for Best Supporting Actress in The Master (2012).

4. Judi Dench (Philomena)

In Philomena, Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life title character, Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long lost son who was taken from her fifty years ago.  Not too many actresses still working today can attest to a more illustrious filmography than Judi Dench, and just when you thought she could not turn up the volume for another Oscar-worthy performance, she does it.  Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe story surrounding this film is incredibly heart wrenching, but Dench took on the role with a remarkable amount of poise.  When she needs to be funny, she can be downright hilarious, and when she needs to show dramatic emotion, she collapses with tears—Dench is a master of her craft, and she expounds upon this skill in the most beautifully administered way in Philomena.  Dench has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).

5. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her first mission in outer space. Sandra Bullock I apologize to anyone who enjoyed this film and/or Bullock’s performance, but it is about to get extremely brutal in this post.  Gravity was one of the most over-hyped films of the year, and sadly, Alfonso Cuarón will probably win tons and tons of Oscars for this movie.  Yes, it was incredibly beautiful, but there was absolutely no storyline of any substance.  Also, I am appalled that Bullock is nominated this year.  Yes, she has become a great actress over the past few years, but this nomination is an utter joke in my opinion.  She floats around in space for an hour and a half—how that is worthy of an Oscar nod is clearly beyond my own understanding.  For the first time in a long time, I am overtly disappointed in one of the Academy’s nominations.  Sandra Bullock was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side (2009).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

Top 15 Films of the Year – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

This Is The End

Now that the Oscars season is officially back into action, I have once again compiled a list of my favorite fifteen films from the previous year.  Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2013” list, but today I am announcing the five “Honorable Mention” films that were nearly worthy enough for inclusion of my year-end list.  Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – This Is The End

This Is The End is a comedy film written and directed by Seth Rogen and long-time collaborator Evan Goldberg.  The film features a number of Rogen’s film buddies, includingThis Is The End 2 James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, playing fictional versions of themselves as the disastrous apocalypse takes place.  The movie was based on a short film called Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse (2007), and its feature-length adaptation was most definitely one of my favorites from 2013.  It was such a simple concept with a pretty distinctive plotline, and the performances by the actors were ridiculously humorous, keeping me entertained the entire time.  A vast amount of celebrities make hilarious cameos in the film, such as Rihanna and Channing Tatum, but my favorite was Emma Watson—but then again, I will support anything she is in!!  If you have not seen this movie yet, do society a favor and get to your nearest Redbox ASAP!!!  Okay, maybe that is extreme, but still, you will not want to miss this one.

No. 17 – August: Osage County

August: Osage County is a film directed by John Wells with a screenplay by Tracy Letts.  Letts adapted this film, a tale about an Oklahoma family reuniting after the passing of a August Osage Countyrelative, from his very own award-winning Broadway play by the same name.  My viewing of the film was a case of first impression because I had never seen the play, but I greatly enjoyed the dark, twisted storyline of the dysfunctional Weston family.  The film featured some scenes that will most definitely live in my memory for a long time, particularly the family dinner scene and the scene where Julia Roberts cusses out her sister and mother over a plate of fish.  Speaking of Roberts, she did an absolutely phenomenal job in her role as Barbara, and that performance was one of the highlights for me; furthermore, Meryl Streep, the greatest living silver screen actress, lit the film on fire with her wildly erratic behavior as Violet, the pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family.  The combination of a dark, but amusing script and some fantastic acting performances is the reason this was one of the better films of 2013.

No. 18 – Rush

Rush is a film directed by Ron Howard with a screenplay written by Peter Morgan about the infamous Formula 1 rivalry between racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and NikiRush Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 1976 racing season.  As a sports fan, I am always on board to watch a sports-related film, but rarely do I come across one that is made with such an intricate filmmaking style as Howard’s Rush.  The sound was amazing, the cinematography was wildly intense, and the acting was top-notch.  I have rapidly become a big fan of Chris Hemsworth, and in this movie, he truly spreads his wings and establishes himself as a rising dramatic talent in Hollywood as the real-life James Hunt.  But my favorite performance from the film was Daniel Brühl’s role as Niki Lauda.  If you watch any interviews with the real-life Lauda on YouTube, you will see that Brühl absolutely nailed the accent.  His portrayal of the Formula 1 driver was spot-on and award-worthy, and I was relatively disappointed that he was snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  I bought into everything on the screen when I watched Rush, and I would highly recommend this film.

No. 19 – Mud

Mud is a coming-of-age drama written and directed by established indie-filmmaker Jeff Nichols.  The movie is about Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a criminal on the run, and hisMUD-13103-PS.JPG friendship with a couple of 14-year-old boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who happen upon Mud’s hideout on a small island in the Mississippi River.  Matthew McConaughey had probably the best acting year of any performer in Hollywood, and although he is receiving widespread acclaim for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, his outstanding performance as the mysterious Mud is definitely not one to overlook.  Even with solid performances from McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Sam Shepard, Mud is highlighted by a breakout performance from Tye Sheridan.  Although he was just 14-years-old during production, Sheridan gave an exceptionally mature performance in his role as Ellis.  Even though Sheridan did not receive any major award nominations, his performance was the best part of Mud, and I expect great things from him in the future.

No. 20 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski about the search to find two young girls that are abducted from their neighborhood in PrisonersPennsylvania.  Guzikowski’s script is dark and menacing, and each actor makes the most of the mystifying plot.  There are some first-rate supporting performances from Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, but Hugh Jackman steals the show with an extraordinary performance as a father willing to go to all lengths to find his daughter.  Last year, I voted for Jackman as Best Actor for his role in Les Misérables, and once again this year, he gave a performance that I truly felt was worthy of acclaim.  Even though he was ultimately not nominated for any major awards, he still gave a brilliant performance, and Prisoners is a frightening film you do not want to miss.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'oLast year, each of the five women in this category had been previously nominated for at least one Academy Award, combining for a total of eight previous nominations and three Academy Award wins.  This year, however, the Best Supporting Actress category is made up of mostly Oscar rookies: Sally Hawkins, Lupita Nyong’o, and June Squibb are each receiving their first Academy Award nomination.  The other two nominees, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts, have combined for five nominations and two Oscar wins.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) 

In her first feature-length role, Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, a young slave in the South.  Although she is her master’s most productive slave, she is also the object of his sexual desire and physical abuse.  Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave takes an incredibly realistic look at the pre-Civil War era when slavery was prominent throughout the South, and while there are some incredibly powerful acting performances that set the film’s tone, none is more commanding than the 30-year-old Lupita’s.  Lupita 2There are times when you smile as Patsey enjoys some simple parts of life, such as making dolls out of cornhusks, but there are also times when you want to break down because of the evils being bestowed upon her by her master (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Sarah Poulson).  The vast array of emotions I felt while watching this film were truly illuminated by Lupita’s remarkable debut performance.  Even though Jennifer Lawrence had another amazing acting performance in American Hustle, it is hard for me to pick against Nyong’o this year, and in my opinion, the rookie actress is very much deserving of Hollywood’s highest honor.  Nyong’o has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the unpredictable wife of the lead character, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale).  Irving and his mistress (Amy Adams) are forced by the FBI to help set up a sting operation in order to take down corrupt politicians in New York City, but Irving’s often boozed-up, sun-burnt, stay-at-home wife may threaten the entire job.  I will buy into any role Jennifer Lawrence takes on, becauseJennifer Lawrence no matter what character she might play, she has proven that it will be played with an unparalleled level of wit, enthusiasm, and tenacity, and this performance is no exception.  Lawrence is quickly becoming one of the most successful actresses in the entertainment business today, and this nomination marks the third time in the last four years that her roles have landed her at the Oscars; if she wins, she will be only the sixth performer to ever win back-to-back acting Oscars.  While her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has helped garner her the title of “America’s Sweetheart,” Oscar-nominated performances like this one are cementing her place among the greatest young actresses in Hollywood.  Lawrence was previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Winter’s Bone (2010) and winning for Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

3. Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Julia Roberts plays Barbara, the eldest daughter of the Weston family.  When Barbara’s father commits suicide, she ventures back home to northeastern Oklahoma to reunite with her two sisters, her aunt and uncle, and her pill-popping mother (Meryl Streep).  I have never been a big fan of Julia Roberts, and it has been since her Oscar-winning role in Erin Brockovich that I have been even remotely impressed with her acting abilities.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with her on-screen display inJulia Roberts this film.  If it were not for a couple extraordinary performances this year by Nyong’o and Lawrence, Julia Roberts may have found herself taking home her second Academy Award.  She is great throughout the entire film, and the highlight for me was her foul-mouthed argument with her mother and sister over a plate of fish.  Julia is in rare form in this film, and this performance has definitely reinvigorated my interest in her career.  Roberts was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Steel Magnolias (1989).  She was also previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Pretty Woman (1990) and winning for Erin Brockovich (2000).

4. June Squibb (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the blunt, opinionated wife of Woody (Bruce Dern).  When Woody decides to journey to Nebraska in hopes of collecting a $1 million prize, Kate unsuccessfully attempts to convince Woody and his son (Will Forte) that it is allNEBRASKA a hoax and a waste of time.  This is my first encounter with Squibb as an actress, but she previously worked with Nebraska-director Alexander Payne on About Schmidt (2002).  I greatly enjoyed the black-and-white film and its simple, yet compelling plot, and one of the movie’s most obvious high points is Squibb’s character.  She curses at people and never shies away from arguing with her husband, and the single funniest scene in the film features Kate flashing the tombstone of one of Woody’s dead relatives.  The woman is a straight shooter, and I found her character extremely heartwarming and hilarious.  Squibb is the third oldest Best Supporting Actress nominee ever, and if she were to win the award, she would be the oldest acting winner of any kind in Oscar history.  Squibb has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

5. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Sally Hawkins plays Ginger, the sister of the ex-socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett).  When Jasmine is essentially kicked out of the high-class world,Cate Blanchette Sally Hawkins Andrew Dice Clay she moves in with Ginger.  Woody Allen is the king of creating neurotic characters, and he did so again with Blanchett’s disturbed character, but the best part of the film for me was Sally Hawkins as Ginger.  As a lower middle class mother of two, Ginger is struggling to deal with her sister’s erratic behavior and her own on-the-rocks relationship with her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and Hawkins delineates the character on the silver screen with particular brilliance.  I was pleased to see Hawkins receive a nomination, but unfortunately, the field is far too packed this year for her to take home a win.  Hawkins has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actresses snubbed in this category: Scarlett Johansson (Her) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street)