You know the deal by this point, so we'll get to it as quickly as we can. Every year, to draw a line under the awards season, we take a moment to look ahead at some of the possibilities for the films and performances that we could be talking about in the context of the Oscar race in the eleven months to come. We've already discussed the Best Picture and Best Actor possibilities, and now, we've picked out some potentials to succeed Cate Blanchett as the winner of the Best Actress Academy Award.
Last year, we did middlingly: we called Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock correctly, and highlighted Judi Dench in "Philomena" long before many were aware of the film, but we severely underrated Blanchett, and mostly disregarded Amy Adams. Plus, we picked Naomi Watts in "Diana" as a potential, and look how that turned out... You can see if we'll do any better this year below, and argue about our picks in the comments section.
The Top 5
Amy Adams ("Big Eyes")
Though she managed her first Best Actress nomination for "American Hustle" after four Supporting nods (in less than a decade), and despite some late momentum, Amy Adams failed to win her first Oscar this year, unable to overcome the Cate Blanchett juggernaut. But that means that the star is increasingly seen as being due, and that would be a powerful force even if her next role didn't seem like it would be an attention-grabber of its own accord. In "Big Eyes," directed by Tim Burton, Adams will play Margaret Keane, whose distinctive paintings were appropriated by her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), leading to the collapse of their marriage, and a courtroom battle that saw Walter claim she was crazy. It sounds like the kind of downtrodden wife-to-independent woman arc that Adams will do beautifully, and though Burton hasn't been awards-friendly for a long time, this project sees him reunite with the writers of "Ed Wood," which won Martin Landau an Oscar. Whispers are that Adams is terrific in the film (unsurprisingly), and she can't keep missing out forever, so she definitely seems like a force to reckon with in 2014.
Michelle Williams ("Suite Francaise")
Speaking of being due, there's Michelle Williams. The "Dawson's Creek" star has turned out to be one of the very best actresses of her generation, and has picked up three nods while still being barely into her thirties, and that's without taking into account films like "Wendy And Lucy" and "Take This Waltz," which deserved to fare better with the Academy than they ultimately did. She's teamed up again with The Weinstein Company, who earned her a nod for "My Week With Marilyn" a few years back, for the literary adaptation "Suite Francaise," and it promises to be potent territory, playing Lucille, a woman in occupied France who begins an affair with the German soldier who's taken over her village. Moral issues, World War II and having missed out a number of times worked out nicely for Kate Winslet in "The Reader" a few years back, and unless this misfires in a way that some of the films on the Weinstein's slate did this year (and it's worth noting that even "August: Osage County" received two acting nods), we could well see Williams in there, especially as she seems to be incapable of giving a bad performance.
Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl")
As with "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" a few years back, few roles of note recently have been more sought after than that of Amy Dunne in David Fincher's adaptation of thriller phenomenon "Gone Girl." It might sound from the title alone, to the uninitiated, that Rosamund Pike won't be in the film much, but a flashback-heavy structure means she's essentially a co-lead, and she'll certainly be present in the category. And unless Fincher's casting instincts have completely abandoned him, we could well see Pike following in the footsteps of Brad Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara, the leads in Fincher's last three pictures, to a nomination. It's a complex, multi-faceted part, and one that should give Pike a huge boost going forward. It's yet to be seen if the film proves to be awards-friendly, but for now there's every reason to think that the actress will be in the game this year.
Reese Witherspoon ("Wild")
It's getting on nine years since Reese Witherspoon won her Best Actress Oscar for "Walk The Line," and it's not been the best nine years of her career. There's been the occasional hit—well, one, "Four Christmases"—but more films along the lines of "Rendition," "How Do You Know" and "This Means War." However Witherspoon's definitely on the comeback trail, working with some top auteurs between last year's "Mud," and this year's "Inherent Vice," but her best shot at another nomination since the Johnny Cash picture comes with "Wild," the based-in-fact story of a woman who, after the death of her mother and the break-up of marriage, treks over a thousand miles across the Pacific Northwest. It sounds like it'll be something of a one-woman show (which has worked out well for James Franco and Sandra Bullock in recent years), and Jean-Marc Vallee, whose "Dallas Buyers Club" won two acting Oscars this year, is helming. The film looks to be one of Fox Searchlight's big prospects for the season, so definitely keep an eye on Witherspoon in the months to come.
Jessica Chastain ("A Most Violent Year"/"The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby")
It feels like it was only yesterday that Jessica Chastain turned up on the scene, and already she's had two nominations (for "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty"), and gives the impression of someone who's already a fixture in the front row of the Oscars. This time around, she's got not just one, but two chances for a nod. First up, her performance in three-hour, two-part relationship epic "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby" won raves when the film premiered at TIFF, and was picked up by The Weinstein Company, presumably to add to their awards slate. And though it's a fairly modest indie, and doesn't sound like a prime Oscar contender, neither did "Blue Valentine" at the time, but Weinsteins worked hard to get Michelle Williams a nomination a few years back. Even so, there's a back-up plan for Chastain: J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year," in which she stars alongside Oscar Isaaac. She could yet end up in Supporting rather than Lead, but if not, given her usual form, Chandor's track record, and the exciting-sounding material, it would be a role to bet on.