One set of categories that is closely looked at and scrutinized each year during awards season are those of the feminine variety. From here it is less about who ultimately comes out on top than how great the movie year was with strong roles for women. Two of the biggest hits of the year, Bridesmaids and The Help, focused almost entirely on their female casts and each have good opportunities to make it into the final round. The Best Actress and Supporting Actress categories are already solid enough to support five ladies in each without looking forward. But with nine more weeks of movies to be released through the annual awards season, there are those to consider on the horizon and those we wish could stick around a little longer while these fields almost set themselves.
Despite The Help ironically making the African-American maids supporting characters in a story that is supposed to be about giving them their own voice, there should be little speculation that Viola Davis will be considered a lead for the film while her co-star Octavia Spencer is focused elsewhere. As she is in the movie for more than eight minutes this time, this is already talk that she could be the front runner. But competition and their juiced-in storylines are going to make it tough. While I was ready to give Michelle Williams every award imaginable for her work in Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz (a Toronto fest premiere that was just picked up for 2012 release by Magnolia), it will have to wait for her guaranteed third nomination for what is, inarguably, the best portrayal of Marilyn Monroe we have seen yet in My Week With Marilyn. Almost every performance (male or female) should be looking up at Williams' work here, but the contenders are still coming.
You want to talk career-best work? Wait until viewers get a peek at Charlize Theron in Young Adult from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. Theron strips off all the Monster makeup and delivers a performance of such wonderfully nuanced emotion and humor that it will be impossible to ignore. How often can someone on screen carry a film while audiences are simultaneously loathing them, fearing their next move and yet always feeling sad for them throughout? It's a great piece of work that deserves potential nods for Cody, Reitman and co-star Patton Oswalt as well, but the prevailing spotlight will be on Theron.
And if we are talking makeup and real-life caricatures, it has taken all of 16 seconds of footage from The Iron Lady teaser to convince everyone that Meryl Streep is in line for her all-encompassing 17th nomination (and 14th for lead.) Need we remind everyone she has not won since 1982? Maybe the storyline develops as the battle between the overdue. Streep vs. Glenn Close who with Albert Nobbs might have a chance to be 0-for-6 in the Oscar department. The Academy may have ignored her work as the male pirate in Hook, but they do love a good Linda Hunt turnabout even if Close looks like Robin Williams in the film. These three actresses, along with Williams, are likely to outperform Viola Davis in the forthcoming critic's awards, but it may be impossible to ignore that the Best Actress race could already be locked up.
It has certainly been quite the year for actresses under 30 and there have been a good handful that could easily have been in the conversation. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Liana Liberato (Trust), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Anna Paquin (Margaret), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), hell, throw in Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau). If people are really going to beat the drum for Jones to be a contender, watch Blunt's opening bathroom scene and then argue away. Plus we are still waiting to see if Zana Marjanovic is worth a mention in Angelina Jolie's upcoming In the Land of Blood and Honey. Olsen is the current flavor of the month as the cult victim in the just released Sundance entry and Jones' release is just a few weeks away, but there are many already looking towards the potential of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Though how much are we really expecting from the young actress known primarily for one scene in The Social Network and her expressionless work in her other lead roles in Tanner Hall and another remake, A Nightmare On Elm Street? With Noomi Rapace gracing the screen five days earlier in the Sherlock Holmes sequel, performance comparisons will be on the brain.
Rapace would be making waves in the supporting category though - if anyone had faith in Guy Ritchie to deliver a credible film. But here is a category wide open for the taking and the shifts could be fierce in the final six weeks of the year once the critics start weighing in. It seems inevitable that at least one of the five slots will be reserved for someone from The Help. Octavia Spencer may already be preparing pies for nomination morning, but there's a good chance she will be shopping for apples. And dresses. If there are two slots reserved for the film, it is the year of Jessica Chastain featured in no less than six films in 2011. Most impressive of all was probably her work in The Help, which also showcased her in a dual role as Bryce Dallas Howard. Vanessa Redgrave also had a heckuva year with three noteworthy roles including The Whistleblower and Anonymous, but it is her climactic monologue in Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus that have people buzzing her as maybe the one to beat. And if ensembles are going to have a player, Melissa McCarthy may be the one from Bridesmaids to make it past the Golden Globes into a category where comedy has found room for at least one queen.
Again, a solid collection of young ladies worthy of play here. It's a shame that the Super Elles, Fanning (Super 8) and Ellen Page (Super) will probably be forgotten about along with Anna Kendrick's wonderful turn in 50/50. However, it will be hard to argue not making room for two others very much in contention. Carey Mulligan has the Drive/Shame combo to choose from, with preference likely going to the latter for going toe-to-toe with Michael Fassbender in one-shots and her seemingly 26-minute version of New York, New York. Then we have Shailene Woodley, who is going to be getting showered with Breakthrough Performance Awards as George Clooney's daughter in The Descendants and it could be enough steam to make her this year's Hailee Steinfeld.
Those are the hot names for certain, but there are still plenty of wild cards out there. If the Weinsteins can get an across-the-board thing going for The Artist, then Bérénice Bejo could get in as the Vicki Lester to Jean Dujardin's Norman Maine. Screen time has never been an issue getting Judi Dench a nomination but does she have enough in My Week With Marilyn or J. Edgar to sneak in? Never count out a supporting player in a Woody Allen film, especially when it's good, and if Midnight In Paris can score a half-dozen nods, Marion Cotillard cannot be counted out yet. Nor can Emily Watson (War Horse) and Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), but their traction won't begin until sometime after Thanksgiving, when this category may just develop into a nail-biter.
The Awards Line will be back in two weeks to examine the men's race.
BEST ACTRESS NOMINEE CHANCES
1. Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) - 75%
2. Viola Davis (The Help) - 75%
3. Charlize Theron (Young Adult) - 70%
4. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) - 50%
5. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) - 50%
6. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) - 30%
7. Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) - 25%
8. Zana Marjanovic (In the Land of Blood and Honey) - 25%
9. Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin) - 15%
10. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) - 10%
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEE CHANCES
1. Octavia Spencer (The Help) - 75%
2. Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus) - 75%
3. Jessica Chastain (The Help) - 60%
4. Carey Mulligan (Shame) - 50%
5. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) - 45%
6. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) - 40%
7. Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) - 35%
8. Marion Cotillard (Midnight In Paris) - 25%
9. Emily Watson (War Horse) - 25%
10. Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) - 25%