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, No. 12 – Philomena

Philomena - BP

Philomena is a film directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.  This film tells the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman who had her son taken from her while she was a teenager working at a Catholic convent.  For fifty years, Philomena kept this part of her life a secret, but after her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently fired journalist formerly with the BBC, he agrees to write a human-interest story about Lee’s desperate attempt to locate the whereabouts of her long lost son.  During the course of their search, Philomena and Martin endure moments of heartbreak and exhilaration, and in the process, they learn from each other about the true meaning of life.

Philomena is a wonderfully inspiring film, and it succeeds on more than one plane.  For starters, it is directed by Stephen Frears, a popular British filmmaker with an established repertoire of films, including High Fidelity (2000) and one of my personal favorites, The Queen (2006).  The movie looks similar to a lot of well-produced British films in terms of overt elegance and stylistic subtlety, and Philomena benefits from Frears’s graceful treatment.  Also, the screenplay, adapted by Coogan and Pope from Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, is witty, sad, exuberant, and tear-jerking in ALL of the right places, and this story is given justice on the screen because of its terrific script.

Philomena 2Notwithstanding the well-crafted filmmaking and scriptwriting, the film features two gifted acting performances: a stellar display by Dame Judi Dench and a striking performance by Steve Coogan.  Judi Dench has one of cinema’s most distinguished filmographies, and in Philomena, she gives another award-worthy performance in the titular role.  The story is about a woman that is tormented for fifty years about where her son might be, and Dench elucidates the character in an unbelievably powerful way.  She allows the viewers to see and feel each of her emotions, and this connection makes your heart break for Philomena in more ways than you could ever think possible.  Also, Coogan’s role as Sixsmith is not to be overlooked one bit.  I have only come across Coogan in the past in comedic roles, but in this film, his dramatic acting helps make the movie a success.  It probably helps that Coogan co-wrote the film, but his careful construction of the character’s on-screen mannerisms is certainly superb.

Philomena 1I greatly enjoyed this film, and as an independent production from England, it has not received its deserved attention; however, I was undoubtedly pleased with the number of Academy Award-nominations it received.  It is most definitely a hidden gem, but it is one that affected me emotionally while watching it in the theater.  Philomena is one of the most moving films I have seen in quite some time, and if you have not seen it yet, it will definitely be worth every minute of your time.   Philomena is rated R for some language.

Philomena trailer:

Academy Award nominations for Philomena:

Best Picture (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, and Tracey Seaward, Producers)

Best Actress (Judi Dench)

Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club