2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Actress (Sept. 16)
It’s amazing how little we still know about the 2014 Oscar race in the post-Telluride/Venice/Toronto landscape. Sure, films like Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ made strong showings on the fall film festival circuit. But with so many films yet to screen – from ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Foxcatcher.’
Here’s where I think we stand at this early stage in the race. We’ll have more movement as the New York Film Festival ramps up on Sept. 27. And movies like ‘Rush’ and ‘Prisoners’ have a chance to screen for mainstream audiences. Large box-office openings can only help their causes. For the moment, here are the leaders in the Best Actress category:
Meryl Streep, ‘August: Osage County’
Welcome back to the party, Ms. Streep, who officially transitioned back to Best Actress (while her ‘August: Osage County’ co-star Julia Roberts shifted to Supporting). Having seen John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, I can tell you that Streep -- playing the manipulative mother pulling everyone’s strings during a reunion – is every bit the destructive force you’d want her to be. Does she have enough with win a record-setting fourth Oscar? She’s be a lock, if the Academy hadn’t recently thrown her a statue for ‘The Iron Lady.’
Cate Blanchett, ‘Blue Jasmine’
A lock. As crumbling ex-socialite Jasmine, Blanchett gives the finest performance we’ve seen from a Woody Allen performance in years (and possibly ever). The final scene, of Jasmine on a park bench, continues to haunt. Blanchett will be there on Oscar night for ‘Blue Jasmine.’
Sandra Bullock, ‘Gravity’
‘Gravity’ is a director’s film. Alfonso Cuaron’s technical accomplishment is mind-blowing. And yet, Bullock gives us the human portal we need in order to tag along on this spectacular ride. As fledgling astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone, Bullock anchors a free-floating space adventure, giving us someone to root for as Cuaron keeps flipping over his metaphorical tables. The whole movie’s a breathtaking experience, and I think Bullock can ride the film’s momentum to her second Oscar nomination.
Judi Dench, ‘Philomena’
Sometimes Oscar bait succeeds in catching the Academy’s attention. Stephen Frears’ ‘Philomena’ took Venice by storm, putting Dame Judi Dench on the Oscar map. She could stay there, though the role doesn’t challenge her the way Blanchett and Streep were taxed in their features. Dench plays a mother trying to locate the child who was taken away from her years earlier. Frears helmed ‘The Queen,’ which powered Helen Mirren to her Best Actress win. Could he do the same with Dench this year?
Emma Thompson, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
On paper, John Lee Hancock’s ‘Mary Poppins’ behind-the-scenes ride still feels like an Oscar contender in most major categories. And while Tom Hanks will steal Oscar’s focus – as most reputable A-list talents tend to do – we’re hearing from trusted sources that ‘Banks’ belongs to Emma Thompson and her portrayal of the skeptical, surly ‘Poppins’ author, P.L. Travers. If Hanks gains steam for ‘Captain Phillips,’ then Thompson could ride momentum for ‘Banks’ and earn a Best Actress slot. We’ll know more when the movie starts to screen.