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

by Anne Thompson
December 5, 2013 3:40 PM
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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."


  • RobertManBottom | January 9, 2014 5:27 PMReply

    Yes, it seems that the field is just far too crowded this year to justify nominating Meryl, but whatever....i just don't believe that "the academy" has the guts to leave her out of it.
    (they're not a group of people who make the brave decisions, and....well, whenever they make a SURPRISING one, it tends to be more of a pandering concession.)

  • Jean paul | December 6, 2013 9:20 PMReply

    Good article, but Greta Gerwig in Frances ha and Julianne Moore in What Maisie Knew are missing.

  • Sonja | December 6, 2013 7:57 AMReply

    Well, I wouldn't call all of Meryl's 17 noms her "career best" performance. Is TIL one of them?
    I'd rank it #5 so far, but I was happy for her win, since she already has won for her career's best performance, Sophie's Choice, in 1982. Nothing can or will ever top that. Nothing.

  • Julia Chasman | December 5, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    Loved Paulina Garcia in "Gloria" but she will not be eligible because the film will not be released stateside by Roadside Attractions until next year. I think they thought about releasing it early to go after this nomination, but the field was so crowded already. I hope this film will get a Best Foreign Film nomination instead...

  • Aaron | December 5, 2013 7:51 PMReply

    "Best performance of their careers"?!?!?!? Isn't the nomination for best performances of the year? Bullock is so overrated in Gravity, I would not be surprised to see her or Dench, who gives a phoned in performance, both omitted from nominations.

  • For Your Consideration | December 5, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    Suzanne Clément, Laurence Anyways

  • Mayukh | December 5, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    Come on. JLaw over Greta Gerwig?

  • diana | December 7, 2013 12:26 PM

    I agree with you. JLaw in Catching Fire? That would be pathetic. There are a slew of powerful performances by a number of actresses worthy of a
    N Oscar nomination than Katniss.

  • eurocheese | December 5, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    Where's Greta Gerwig? Great year for the leading ladies all around though. I'd happily have a top 10 here this year, which is nice because this category doesn't even have a solid five many times. (Funny this year that both leading categories are so strong and both supporting categories are so weak this year.)

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