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Open Up the Best Actress Oscar Race: Five Locks and Eight Must-See Performances

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 5, 2013 at 3:40PM

As usual, there are more viable men hustling after a Best Actor slot than women in contention for Best Actress. (My current predictions are here.) 'Twas ever thus, as the myopic film industry continues to chase the male demo and sequester "soft" relationship movies to the indie realm. Which means that many worthy films don't make it to the top of Academy voters' screener piles. How many film panels and Q & As have you seen with a row of men in suits and one woman in a frilly frock and impossibly high heels? Women in film are often a supporting afterthought.
American Hustle poster 3

1. Now that one of Variety's Ten Actors to Watch, Brie Larson, has won the Best Actress Gotham Award and an Independent Spirit nomination for her breakout lead role in writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton's SXSW jury-prize winner "Short Term 12," perhaps distributor Cinedigm will step up to a proper award campaign for the 23-year-old actress. Larson is exceptional as Grace, a supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers who is facing past demons as she confronts an abused teen girl as well as her own pregnancy. Much of her best acting is in silent reaction shots; she also popped in two 2013 supporting roles, in "Spectacular Now" and "Don Jon."

Short Term 12
Brie Larson in 'Short Term 12.'

2. Breakout French actress Adele Exarchopoulos was so good, along with her more experienced costar Lea Seydoux, in "Blue is the Warmest Color," that the Cannes jury wanted them to share the Palme d'Or for the first time with their director. Abdellatif Kechiche, a proud man, has engaged in a rather unattractive back-and-forth with his actresses, who he perceived as critical of his demands during an extended improvisation over five months of filming. In any case, actors recognize how brave these two actresses were in this intimate lesbian romance. 

3. Oscar regular Amy Adams, who has earned four supporting actress nominations since 2006's"Junebug," gives her richest lead performances to date in "American Hustle" as complex conwoman Sydney Prosser, who is fiercely fighting Rosalie (Jennifer Lawrence) for her husband Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). Adams has to rapidly morph between playing American Sydney and her fake persona as the British Lady Edith, who tortures her conman partner by flirting with an FBA agent (Bradley Cooper). Clearly, this David O. Russell set was not necessarily fun for Adams, as he placed his actors under extraordinary pressure to summon up their performances on demand as he shouted instructions at them. Many of the principals weren't thrilled with the experience, but the results are extraordinary.

Berenice Bejo in 'The Past'
Berenice Bejo in 'The Past'

4. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss has spent much of her career in top-notch television, from "Seinfeld" to "Veep." Now that her family is older she has broken out in Nicole Holofcener's best and most accessible movie to date, "Enough Said," a relationship comedy about two Los Angeles divorced parents. Louis-Dreyfuss is funny and moving as a masseuse who navigates the shoals of a relationship with a gentle man (the late James Gandolfini). Unfortunately, the Academy tends not to reward comedy (unless it's Woody Allen, David O. Russell or James L. Brooks), relationship two-handers, "chick flicks," and TV stars. Why penalize this gifted actress for her years in TV? She's a movie star now. Fox Searchlight is fighting this uphill battle and may have to settle for a Holofcener writing nod. 

5. "The Artist" supporting actress nominee Berenice Bejo took home the Cannes Best Actress prize for her role in "The Past" as a beleaguered woman caught between her current fiance, her ex and their daughter. "The Past," written and directed in France by Iranian Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation") is a long, complex family drama that will most likely be a strong contender for the best foreign film prize, as it may not be seen by enough members of the actors branch. Sony Pictures Classics will work its magic, however. 

Paulina Garcia as "Gloria"
Paulina Garcia as "Gloria"

6. French-born American transplant Julie Delpy is one of the most gifted women in film today--a writer, director and actress. Her collaboration with director Richard Linklater and co-writer and co-star Ethan Hawke over 20 years and three movies has been rewarded with one screenplay Oscar nomination, and the writers may see the worth of the "Before Midnight" script as well. But it's Delpy's acting that energizes and drives this movie, which may not be seen by enough people. 

7. Chilean actress Paulina Garcia gives one of the year's most powerful solo performances in the official Chilean submission, "Gloria." She carries the movie as a lonely divorced middle-aged grandmother looking for love and--she thinks--finding it. Heart-breaking, vulnerable, sexy--this performance must be seen.  

8. Because Jennifer Lawrence will nab a supporting nomination for "American Hustle," she will be overlooked for her second go-round playing archer-fighter-rebel Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." She's tough but fragile, damaged by the horrors she has endured, a survivor of war who seeks to protect her family, and doesn't know how to choose between her two loving swains. Lawrence does not deserve to be consigned to popular Young Adult blockbuster purgatory. 

Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

This article is related to: Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Brie Larson, Hunger Games: Catching Fire , American Hustle, Philomena, August: Osage County, Gravity, Gravity, Sandra Bullock, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Julie Delpy, Julie Delpy, Blue Jasmine, Judi Dench, Before Midnight, Awards, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Oscars

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.