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Oscars: Can Mary Elizabeth Winstead Sneak Into The Best Actress Field For 'Smashed'?

Awards
by Oliver Lyttelton
October 15, 2012 11:59 AM
19 Comments
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We've been looking in detail at the acting categories in recent weeks, and this week, we figured it made sense to examine Best Actress, given that one potential contender has her film arriving in theaters. Today sees the release of "Smashed," which sees "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" star Mary Elizabeth Winstead play a schoolteacher who comes to realize that she has a serious drinking problem, and sets about kicking the habit, even as it puts her marriage to her equally sozzled husband (Aaron Paul) at risk.

The film's been picking up strong reviews since it premiered at Sundance, and to generalize a little, there seem to be two kinds of people: those who believe that Winstead has a shot at a nomination, and those who haven't yet seen the film (this writer currently falls in the latter category, though if someone wanted to send a screener in the direction of London, we'd be grateful...). By all accounts, she's terrific in the film, marking a real breakthrough in her career, and Sony Pictures Classics seem to agree, as they're planning a major push for the actress.

Do they have a chance, though? The field has been deemed to be a weak one, but some heavyweights have emerged of late (Helen Mirren in "Hitchcock" shook things up a fair bit), and for all the praise that Winstead's attracting, the film still seems to be a little under the radar, which in the week of release isn't a great sign. Sundance darlings like Elizabeth Olsen and Felicity Jones arguably had more buzz last year, and neither were close to a nomination. Furthermore, SPC are fighting a battle in this category on several fronts (see below), and their attention will only be split further over the coming months. It didn't perform especially well this past weekend, either, with a screen average that suggested it's not going to be a phenomenon as such. That said, the film seems to be an easier watch than, say, "Martha Marcy May Marlene," so if they can get screeners out there, Winstead could make an impression; this is one category where almost nothing is fixed.

The one nominee that probably is fixed now -- and is pretty much the frontrunner to win -- is Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook." David O. Russell's TIFF favorite has been receiving praise across the board, not least for the young actress (nominated two years ago for "Winter's Bone"), and of the three acting nod possibilities in the film, her nymphomaniac grieving wife looks like the most locked in. She's doubly likely thanks to being the lead in "The Hunger Games," in which she doesn't just give a strong performance, but also became one of the disappointingly few women to carry a successful tentpole on her shoulders. A nod for 'Silver Linings' would be as much in recognition of that as anything else.

Also looking likely but not necessarily 100% sewn up is another of the Sundance '12 graduating class: "Beasts of the Southern Wild" actress Quvenzhané Wallis, who would become the youngest ever acting nominee (just beating "Kramer Vs. Kramer" star Justin Henry by a hair). We've got more to say about Wallis to come next week, but to sum up, we suspect she'll be a nominee but probably not a winner.

Festivals also provided strong contenders in the shape of Winstead's two Gallic Sony Pictures Classics classmates from Cannes, "Rust & Bone" star Marion Cotillard and Emmanuelle Riva from Michael Haneke's "Amour." Both performances are undeniably terrific, but we suspect, given the Anglocentrism of the Academy (the last time two foreign language nominees got in was 1976, when Marie-Christine Barrault of "Cousin, cousine" and Liv Ullmann of "Face to Face" lost out to Faye Dunaway in "Network") that only one will make the cut, especially as the same distributor is behind both. Cotillard is the bigger name, and the company are behind her in a big way, organizing tributes at Telluride, Gotham and AFI festivals, but won already, five years ago. Riva is less familiar to Academy voters, but is more obviously extraordinary in the part. Both are tough watches, and it's possible that both could get in, or neither, but our gut goes with Riva at this point in time; we suspect she'll get more support from the precursor awards and critics groups.

Elsewhere, the trailer for "Hitchcock" has made clear that Helen Mirren is just as much a lead in the film as Anthony Hopkins, and indeed, her role as the director's long-suffering wife looks much more like awards bait. She's again a recent winner, so the nomination may have to be the prize, but unless the film stinks (and Searchlight moving the film into 2012 suggests that that's not their view at all), she'll likely make the cut. Unless Jessica Chastain ends up campaigning as lead for "Zero Dark Thirty" (unlikely...), most of the other yet-to-be-revealed fall films don't have lead actress-worthy roles (a sad state of affairs), but TIFF provided two potentials with Keira Knightley and Naomi Watts, in "Anna Karenina" and "The Impossible." The former was a presumptive frontrunner ahead of time, but the film may be too divisive to get anything but technical nominations. As for the latter, though we're not confident at the Best Picture chances of "The Impossible," it has some fervent fans, and Watts might be its best chance at a nomination -- it's certainly a more Academy friendly part than many out there. Both could still rally on release, though.

Not to be counted out, as ever, is Meryl Streep in "Hope Springs," but given that she won last year and that the film never caught on with audiences, she'll probably end up sitting this year out (only to come roaring back with "August: Osage County" next year, no doubt). Also in the veteran's club, and a little more possible, are Judi Dench in "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and Maggie Smith in "Quartet." Don't go placing bets just yet, though: Smith looks likely to be a Supporting nominee for 'Best Exotic,' while Dench's role was a less showy one: when the category was still thin, she had a better shot. Warner Bros. announced over the weekend that they were campaigning for Anne Hathaway's performance as Selina Kyle in "The Dark Knight Rises" in the Best Actress category. It has next-to-no chance of actually happening (though Hathaway was great in the role), but it's more of a way of clearing the way for a potential supporting nod for the actress in "Les Misérables" (a film which only Hugh Jackman is going lead for).

Pretty much out of the running at this stage are Viola Davis in "Won't Back Down" (which got poisonous reviews, and no one saw), and Amy Adams in "Trouble With The Curve" (again, the film underperformed, and Adams should be in for "The Master"). Others whose chances aren't much better than slim include Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams in "The Deep Blue Sea" and "Take This Waltz," and Ann Dowd in "Compliance." But worth keeping an eye on as a possible dark horse? Barbra Streisand in "The Guilt Trip" -- it's a part that seems guaranteed for a Golden Globes nomination, and if the film works, love for Streisand could carry over to the Academy.  But if we had to pick five right now:

Jennifer Lawrence - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Mirren - "Hitchcock"
Emmanuelle Riva - "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis - "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts - "The Impossible"

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19 Comments

  • Kate | December 2, 2012 5:30 PMReply

    Naomi Watts will win the Oscar, people can not stop crying when they see the movie

  • jazbond007 | November 16, 2012 4:48 AMReply

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed was amazing. A performance that elevates her career to a new level. I hope enough people see Smashed to give MEW a chance at an Oscar nomination. Smashed is actually one of the best movies of the year, due an excellent writer/director and Ms. Winstead's performance.

  • Alexa | October 22, 2012 7:02 AMReply

    Love MEW. Hope she wins the oscar!

  • Kent | October 19, 2012 7:44 AMReply

    Given that all critics are unanimous in anointing Lawrence as the Best Actress Oscar as early as now, I still think that the Academy should give the award to Cotillard to make up for the snubs for Nine and Inception --- and it wouldn't be so hard for them as Cotillard gave her second best performance since La Vie En Rose.

  • Marie | October 19, 2012 5:29 AMReply

    i really wish Jen Lawrence won! i'm sure she's incredible in SLP, her performance in Winters Bone is just unfforgetable for me. Marion is a great actress, she was excellent in Rust and Bone, but i'm fangirling for Jen.

  • Felipe | October 18, 2012 6:20 PMReply

    Marion Cotillard gave the best female performance of this year in Rust and Bone and she deserves not only being nominated but winning again. Her acting is wonderful, superb, brilliant so your five nominees is so strange and foolish. Lawrence doesn't deserve this award and Quvenzhané hadn't the psychology to create a rol and that is child exploitation. And in "Amour" Trintignant is better than Riva.

  • Athena | October 16, 2012 1:24 PMReply

    KATY....jeeez, calm down!....you're working yourself into a lather. Also, it's great that you are that much of a fan of Cotillard, well, make that SUPER FAN, (she's a very good actress) but, considering that Jennifer Lawrence has received nothing but rave reviews from actual critics, I think it's clear that Lawrence is excellent in Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence has a great batting average for giving terrific performances and I'm really looking forward to Silver Linings Playbook. If Winstead can get some momentum going for her campaign, then that's wonderful...but, it won't be for a win... but right now, a nom would raise her profile and that's exactly what Winstead needs. I truly believe that this year, the Best Actress Oscar will go to Jennifer Lawrence, and by all accounts, it will be well deserved.

  • KT | October 16, 2012 9:58 PM

    " Also, it's great that you are that much of a fan of Cotillard, well, make that SUPER FAN..."

    And you aren't a super fan of J-Law the way you're gushing over her? Her performance in 'Silver Linings Playbook' wasn't that great...

  • B | October 16, 2012 11:34 AMReply

    Cotillard and Wallis are all wonderful. They're definitely going to make the cut. Lawrence should make it too. That leaves 2 spots... I just know that Winstead delivered a beautiful performance in Smashed. She's on my watch. The Academy needs to have more indie love, the snub on Elizabeth Olsen, Kirsten Dunst and Carey Mulligan (Shame) last year was an absurd!

  • coke | October 15, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    How that CAMPAIGNING thing work anyway??
    I don't quite understand...

  • Mikky | October 15, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    I agree with you when you say Marion Cotillard get big pushes from Hollywood. I think she will get in this time. She was on a lot of critics "predictions lists" before for "Nine" and "Inception" notably, but this time everybody is unanimous, she is all over the place, she was in every festival since Cannes (Except NYFF) and always got raves. And this time "Rust & Bone" is a very good movie from a respected director unlikely to "La vie en Rose" which was an awful movie. I think she will get a double nomination for this year "Rust & Bone" and next year "The Nightingale".

  • Katy | October 15, 2012 6:08 PMReply

    I think She is very good in "Smashed". It could be Oscars worthy actually. My two favorites performances so far are from Marion Cotillard in "Rust & Bone" and Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour". In a perfect world they would both get in and one of them would win but since the academy is not very happy when there is too much foreign actors in the field.
    I don't know exactly why Jennifer Lawrence is praised like that SHE IS HORRIBLE in "Silver Linings Playbook"! The movie is just a crowd-pleaser, nothing art-house! She uses a weird voice for appearing older than she is, and except talking fast and being a bit funny she doesn't do anything. If she get nominated for that I will be shocked! Ellen Page was twice on screen on "Juno" and has delivered a much stronger performance .
    Jennifer Lawrence is nowhere near her excellent performance in "Winter's Bone", that's a shame because I went to see this movie only because of her and DeNiro (BTW, HE is the remarkable one in "SLP"). Marion Cotillard is a previous winner so you shouldn't count her out. She will get the most buzz in the weeks to come with the "Rust & Bone" U.S release, her tributes, the Hollywood Award ceremony.

  • Marie | October 19, 2012 5:39 AM

    How you could see SLP already?? it isn't released nowhere at this time ..... absolutely everyone who could see it at TIFFF are unanimously praising Jennifer ....i understand that an actress can get a lot of hostility if she has the misfortune of having the lead role in a mega franchise, but come on , Jennifer Lawrence has nothing to do with KStew! She is extremely talented, a real acomplished actress.
    spite

  • Lana | October 15, 2012 1:06 PMReply

    I agree! She was awesome in Smashed. Her performance really touched me. I hope the Academy takes a good look at her work.

  • Jenna | October 15, 2012 12:47 PMReply

    I hope Winstead gets in, the film is really small though. Hopefully SPC gives it a good push and has a good campaign ready for her.

  • oogle monster | October 15, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    I can't imagine Marion not getting in... at least make up for the horrible death scene in TDKR.

  • DG | October 15, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    What about Elle Fanning in Ginger and Rosa? Last week you guys have an article on her being a contender thanks to the film being given an Oscar run but now she's not even on your list?

  • cory everett | October 15, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    She shouldn't be sneaking in, she's leading the field as far as I'm concerned. Probably the best female performance I've seen all year.

  • yer | October 15, 2012 12:19 PM

    False. That would be Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

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