Best Actress

Best Actress NomineesOf the twenty actors and actress that are nominated for Oscars in acting-specific categories, only four have actually ever won an Academy Award. Two of those four are currently nominated for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard); therefore, I guess you can say this is the most accomplished acting category of the bunch this year. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

PikeAlthough she is not considered by experts to be in the hunt for the Best Actress Oscar, I still believe that Rosamund Pike gave the best performance by an actress in all of 2014. In Gone Girl, Pike plays “Amazing” Amy, a contemptuous wife who is reported missing by her husband on their fifth wedding anniversary. Pike is not particularly well known to American audiences, but I have been particularly familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End. Her claim to fame has long been key supporting roles, but in her inauguration as a true leading lady, Pike was on fire! The thing about Pike’s character is that she is one of the most complex women you will ever meet on screen. Thus, Pike had to evoke so many emotions at once to maintain her character’s inexplicable duplicity. I mentioned in my post earlier this month regarding Gone Girl that at times I found Amy “incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight,” but at other times I could not help but to desire “bashing (figuratively) her head in.” Pike nailed the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” nature of Amy flawlessly, and she is most deserved of my vote for Best Actress. Pike has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

MooreIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the titular character, a renowned linguistics professor who is shocked by an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before I get to Moore’s performance, let me briefly digress about my feelings towards her. For me, Julianne Moore is the equivalent to Tom Brady—she is wicked awesome (apropos to Tom Brady…New England…accent…get it?) at her trade, but for some reason that I cannot specifically point to, I just do not like her. With that said, I absolutely respect her ability to act (much like I respect Brady’s unparalleled ability to drop dimes on the gridiron). Okay, back to Still Alice. Moore’s portrayal of Alice in this film is heartrending. Despite the disease’s gradual diminishment of the physical capacity of Alice’s mind, she never ceases to fight. Moore depicts this relentlessness in soul-wrenching fashion, and at all times, she masterfully evokes the perfect combination of agony, vulnerability, and optimism. She is the odds-on favorite to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if she in fact does, it will be a warranted honor. Moore has previously been nominated four times for Academy Awards: twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven) and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights and The Hours). 

  1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

JonesIn The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde-Hawking, the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking. Jones’s performance will likely get overlooked in years to come (due to Eddie Redmayne’s likely Oscar victory this Sunday), but her innate portrayal of Jane was one of the more refreshing parts of the film—I loved Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, but Felicity Jones sufficiently held her own. The film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, so therefore, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Her performance differed in the first third of the movie compared to the last two thirds, but only in the substance of her character, not in terms of her acting skills. In the first third, she beautifully portrays the sheer innocence of love between Wilde and Hawking—it is charming, and she wonderfully delineates Jane’s adoration for Stephen without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the final two thirds of The Theory of Everything, she masterfully manifests the conflicted love and distress of the couple (considering Stephen’s ALS progression) with raw emotion—it is a perfect execution of Jane’s critical complexities. Jones has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

CotillardIn Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer. After returning to work from taking time off (due to an emotional breakdown), Sandra is laid off. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she is thrust into a position where she must approach each of her co-workers (one by one), and plead for them to vote for her to retain her job. The catch: if they decide to vote for her to stay, they must forfeit a €1,000 bonus. I wrote about this film on my “Honorable Mentions 2014” post, and aside from a solid screenplay, I credited Cotillard’s performance for the success of the movie. The story is as realistic as it gets (everyone can imagine being in a scenario like this), and Cotillard’s pragmatic approach to her portrayal is spirited and inspired. Her character is both sensible and wrought with emotion, and Cotillard gives a bravely humanistic voice to this troubled woman. Cotillard admitted to Entertainment Weekly that a second read-through of the screenplay was just the motivation she needed for the role: “When I read the script a second time I saw all the little beautiful details of her journey.” The veteran actress evokes subtle nuances in the exposition of her character, and it is definitely an exceptional performance worthy of Oscar praise. Cotillard was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La Vie en Rose (2007). 

  1. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

WILDIn her self-produced film Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real-life Cheryl Strayed, a woman so distraught by her mother’s passing that she ventures to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. During most of the film, Cheryl is the only character on the screen. This makes for the perfect opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to take full control over the direction of the film because its success hinges upon her performance. Although Witherspoon engrossed herself into the role with affecting command, I simply did not buy into her performance. It was unfortunate for me because I really do love Witherspoon as an actress—I greatly enjoyed her in Walk the Line and her portrayal of Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s Election is one of my favorite acting performances of all time. However, she did not convince me in Wild that she was channeling an Oscar-worthy performance. If you did enjoy her role in Wild, it is not an outlandish thought—most critics and cinema experts expect Witherspoon to challenge Julianne Moore for the Oscar. Witherspoon was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Walk the Line (2005).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Emma Roberts (Palo Alto), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

Best Supporting Actress 2014

Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Last year, three of the five Best Supporting Actress nominees were Academy Awards rookies. This year, two of them are (Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone), and two others are only receiving their second nomination ever (Laura Dern and Keira Knightley). The other nominee is Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Arquette1Patricia Arquette gave the most surprisingly powerful performance of 2014 in Boyhood. Arquette plays the matriarchal Olivia, essentially raising her kids Samantha and Mason, Jr., all on her own. The film may be titled Boyhood (even though the first two-thirds of the movie should be called Girlhood), but Arquette gives an influential voice to women everywhere regarding “motherhood.” For Olivia, her single-parent circumstances make for an inherently uphill life struggle, and Arquette movingly portrays her character’s anxiety and heartbreak—this is most obvious in the scenes that capture the end of various failed relationships due to her partners’ physical abuse, alcoholism, and the like. In real life, Arquette had her first child at only 20-years-old, and the life experiences that flowed from that situation allowed her to give a proficient performance regarding the priority of being a parent and the many emotions that so radically change over the years. Arquette’s portrayal of Olivia was spectacular, and the vivid life that Arquette breathed into Olivia over the 12-year filming process was amazingly coherent and matter-of-fact. Arquette has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Emma Stone (Birdman)

Stone1In Birdman, Emma Stone plays Sam, the daughter of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a struggling film actor looking to stage a comeback on Broadway. Sam, recently out of rehab for addiction issues, acts as Thompson’s assistant. Although her attitude throughout the film is nonchalant and flagrantly detached, she is the one who truly cares for Riggan emotionally—this is why she turns out to be the sole voice of reason for Keaton’s complex character. Stone has a filmography filled with some of my favorite comedies (e.g., Superbad, Zombieland, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), but I have never really considered her a preeminent “actor.” Sure, she is fantastic in these funny roles but can she really “act”? Turns out, she can! Emma Stone is one of the best parts of Birdman, and it is that distinct voice and speech pattern that we all recognize from past performances that gives her character the invigorated audacity that it deserves. Birdman was a difficult movie for actors because of the “long-take” nature of the photography, but Stone accepted the challenge and owned her role. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the filming challenge, she said, “Every day was complicated. Every day was hard, but it also is the best feeling ever whenever you get to the end of the day.” Stone has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Streep1In Into the Woods, Meryl Streep plays the Witch in the silver-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical. Desperate to reclaim her youthful appearance, the Witch tasks the Baker and his wife to find three items that are needed for a special potion that will break her horrifying curse. Streep’s character has some of the better songs from the musical (e.g., “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight”), and she ultimately gives the best performance of the film. Not only does Streep have the most superior acting quality of the entire cast (which she utilizes marvelously here), but she also has one of the finest vocal sounds. She demonstrates tenacity by embedding gravitas and trepidation into her character, and this is manifested by Streep’s spectacularly talented vocal bravado. Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record eighteen 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).

  1. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)

Knightley1In The Imitation Game, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the real-life cryptanalyst who joined a team, led by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), tasked with breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II. I did not find The Imitation Game to be that great of a movie, and moreover, I did not find Knightley’s performance to be particularly memorable. The history of Joan Clarke as a member of Britain’s code-breaker squad during the Second World War is monumental for multiple reasons (particularly because she broke the glass ceiling in the process as the sole woman on the project), and it was a thrill to see this storied woman receive a voice on the big screen in a film that focused mostly on Turing. Other than providing the physical screen manifestation of this true-life character, Knightley did not do much else. Her emotion seemed forced throughout and her elocution of the dialogue was merely serviceable; for me, all Knightley provided was one more reason why I believe she is an overrated actress. Knightley was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. 

  1. Laura Dern (Wild)

Dern1In the Reese Witherspoon-acted/produced film Wild, Laura Dern portrays the real-life Bobbi Grey, the late mother of the lead character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Bobbi’s death from cancer is the event that sends Strayed into a frenzy, causing her to eventually venture 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. From the commentary on Strayed’s memoir that inspired the film’s production, it seems that Bobbi was an incredibly influential and important figure in Strayed’s life, and her death truly did affect Strayed in unimaginable ways. I wish her character had gotten the screen time to account for this key role in the main character’s life. Yes, we see multiple scenes with Dern raising her children and eventually suffering from cancer, but it was something short of average for me (like the entire movie, for that matter). Dern is a talented actress (the daughter of Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern), but I do not believe she was able to make her mark on the limited time she had on screen. I found it difficult to engage with the character, and the average performance made Wild even less enjoyable than it already was. Dern was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in Rambling Rose (1991).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar)