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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oscar Preview: Best Actress

It's autumn and the prestige pictures are starting to be released, and have seen by many at film festivals. The names of potential Oscar nominees sprout on Oscar-ninny Web sites like bamboo shoots. As usual, this year the Best Actress contenders are fairly easy to call, as there aren't that many. There are some familiar names (but no Cate or Kate this year) and some newcomers on the short-list.

I see three actresses with virtual locks for nominations. They include the most nominated performer of all time, Meryl Streep, for her luminous portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia. It would be Streep's sixteenth nomination, a growing total that is just mind-boggling. She will have twenty-five percent more nominations than her next competitor, Katharine Hepburn, and before the age of sixty!

I also see two new names as being near mortal locks. Carey Mulligan, a young British actress, has been getting all sorts of terrific buzz for An Education. This category is kind to out-of-nowhere actresses, especially those from the British Isles. Her situation reminds me of Julie Christie in 1965 for Darling.

The third sure-thing is Gabourey Sidibe for Precious. This film, about an overweight teenage black girl in the inner city who suffers from parental abuse seems like a natural for award consideration. I'm not sure the film itself will get nominated, as it seems like it may be too gritty for the rarefied air of Best Picture, but Sidibe's Cinderella story-line will surely get her a nomination.

In the next tier are three actresses, two of whom are familiar Oscar competitors. Every five years, like some sort of Hollywood cicada, Hilary Swank emerges with a high-profile picture. She won both times, in '99 and '04, and she looks to be back this year with Amelia, a splashy biopic about the legendary aviatrix. Interestingly, each time Swank wins she beats Annette Bening, who also seems to be on a five-year cycle. She's back this year in Rodrigo Garcia's Mother and Child. If these two don't take the last two slots, it could go to Abbie Cornish, who shines in Bright Star.

Of course there are always surprises, and many times this category has performances in foreign languages. The two actresses who could sneak in are Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces or Audrey Tatou in the title role of Coco Before Chanel. As last year's nomination for Melissa Leo shows, actresses from very small indie pictures can also break into this category, and two names getting some attention are Robin Wright Penn for The Private Lives of Pippa Lee or Michelle Monaghan for Trucker.

Speaking of Cruz, she is also in the cast of the musical Nine, one of five women in the cast who are Oscar winning actresses (the others are Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard). I would imagine that most of these roles are too small for the lead category, but we'll see.

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