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Awards Monitor: Best Actress Race

Awards Editor Rehna Azim takes a look at the key contenders for awards season’s Best Actress title.

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Rosamund Pike for A Private War

Playing acclaimed war correspondent Marie Colvin has to be a shoo-in to be nominated across the board. Many thought Pike should have won the Oscar for Gone Girl and this will give her extra leverage but she doesn’t need much help. She gives a tremendous performance here which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikeable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. Speaking to her editor at the Sunday Times (Tom Hollander) Colvin spits out a fierce line about her work in war zones ‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ We’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a true modern heroine.

Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me

Melissa McCarthy is proving to be the surprise dark horse of the awards build-up. Although she was nominated for an Academy award for Bridesmaids, her comedic persona doesn’t cast her an awards favourite normally. However, this is likely to change with Can You Ever Forgive Me? She’s wholly convincing in the role of Lee Israel a respected writer who, down on her luck, turns to forging the signatures of great literary wits of yesteryear on to letters which Israel writes in their signature style. Based on Israel’s memoir, the film sees McCarthy as a lonely (seemingly by choice), dowdy, ascerbic woman who exhausts those who attempt to get close to her. Superficially unlikeable, McCarthy envelopes Israel in a low key, dour magnetism which draws you into her world until you’re even rooting for her in her criminal escapades. (She’s ably assisted by Richard E Grant revelling in a campy, Quentin Crisp type role as her willing accomplice). Both bring a real heart to this film about two misfits. McCarthy is one to watch.

Nicole Kidman for Destroyer

Nicole Kidman is a veteran awards campaigner and she’s been doing the rounds for her role as a washed up, booze drenched cop in Destroyer. Forget the strawberry blonde, porcelain skinned Nicole. This is Miss Kidman with mottled skin, sans makeup, looking old with a terrible , botched Farah Fawcett brunette wig. She gets a few flashback scenes where she looks attractive but even then she’s drugged up and not movie goddess like but mostly she’s drab and lumbering with a low, raspy voice that tells you she’s lived hard. Whilst at the beginning of the film it’s hard not to think this is Nicole Kidman ‘uglified’ she’s too fine an actress not to pull you into her character and with the story building to a crescendo so does her performance. Kidman is alternately harsh and tender, lost and present, dead inside and very alert and alive. Nominations are likely.

Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman and Emma Stone for The Favourite

Their representatives may have worked work out a neat way of making Colman the lead and the other two supporting in a bid to get each actress in somewhere in the awards slots, however, I’m don’t feel there is a clear cut lead in The Favourite which is bidding to be THE favourite this season. All three are excellent in their respective roles but for me Rachel Weisz is the stand out performance of the three. However, it’s Olivia Colman who is leading the charge for this bawdy, funny Royal romp in which she is clearly enjoying herself hugely as the sexually demanding, petulant, capricious Queen Anne whose gluttony and excess hide more serious loss and no one can begrudge her the limelight. She’s fantastic as the monarch who unravels mentally and emotionally while playing benefactor to the scheming ladies at court, Weisz and Stone.

Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born

A Star is Born is still making big money. Audiences are loving the film. The soundtrack is selling like hot cakes. So where does that put Stefani Germanotta on the awards trail? There are those passionate fans of the film who would frankly give her every award going, including, probably the Nobel peace prize. Others are more restrained. Golden Globes nomination? Tick. A win for best actress in a comedy or musical yes, but no more. However, with dismal ratings in recent years, awards shows will want to draw the audiences in again. Who knows what Gaga would wear to the Oscars if she was nominated. Could BAFTA win new viewers by going Gaga? The stars look like they could be aligning for the Lady and nominations will be coming her way. Apart from the Globe, actual wins, however, are highly unlikely.

The Best of the Rest

Keira Knightley, Felicity Jones, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson. On paper each of these roles must have seemed like sure fire bets for awards and each is pitched as statuette bait but each falls short mostly because their respective films don’t pass beyond merely adequately entertaining. Knightley gives it her all in the titular role of unconventional French writer Colette but her all is never more than Keira Knightley in a pretty period drama. Davis is not on screen long enough to make a real impact as a wannabe heist gang leader in Widows and Jones can’t quite fit the big shoes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex. Emma Thompson in the Children Act as a High Court judge is he strongest of this group but is likely to be squeezed out of even a Bafta nomination. An Academy award nom is unlikely.

Joanna Kulig, Yalitza Aparicio. Kulig in the acclaimed Cold War and Aparicio in Cuaron’s much loved Roma are definitely the dark horses in this year’s actress race. I’ve been hearing nothing but emotional praise for Roma from voters leading me to think that Aparicio is likely to take the 5th spot in both the Bafta and Academy nominations. Kulig can’t be far behind.

Emily Blunt’s awards countdown started the minute she was announced as the new Mary Poppins. It was practically perfect casting, agreed just about everyone. Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her turn as the umbrella flying nanny and hopes were high for Emily Blunt even before anyone had seen even a single frame from the film. Blunt doesn’t disappoint. She is magnificent in the role and makes it her own when she could have just gone for an easy imitation. Her Poppins is more brittle, less saccharine, more like PL Travers’ vision but still recognisably Disney. A nomination is surely inevitable and some insiders I’ve spoken to aren’t ruling out a big Oscar win. I’m less convinced of that but I would be delighted for her if it happened.

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