Unlike 2006, when Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz all gave showstopping performances, 2007 is not a bumper year for actresses.
Fortunately there were a handful of releases - Juno, Margot At The Wedding, A Mighty Heart, La Vie En Rose - which revolved around female characters, and some strong work from female stars such as Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett. Mike Goodridge assesses this season’s leading female players.
1. Marion Cotillard
La Vie En Rose
WHY Cotillard’s monumental performance as Edith Piaf is the kind of work that crosses borders and language barriers and could easily make her the first actor since Sophia Loren in 1962 to win the acting Oscar for a foreign-language film. Cotillard adopted Piaf’s voice, looks, singing style - even the haggard posture of her later life - to create a fully realised warts-and-all portrait of the legendary diva which compares favourably with Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles, Sissy Spacek’s Loretta Lynn, Diana Ross’ Billie Holliday and Judy Davis’ Judy Garland in the league of great musical biopic performances.
CHANCES The film, and of course Piaf herself, were popular enough in the US to engage the interest of voters who tend to pass over foreign-language performers. Cotillard has been mentioned as an awards favourite ever since the film opened in May; her performance leaps from the screen and transcends the lacklustre biopic itself.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 0
2. Nicole Kidman
Margot At The Wedding
WHY In between megabucks studio movies The Invasion and The Golden Compass, Kidman did some of her most daring work since Dogville as the relentlessly neurotic, desperately insecure and witheringly critical Margot whose appearance at her sister’s wedding sets in motion a family weekend from hell. The actress dives fearlessly into her character, one of the most unlikeable of this or any year, yet still makes you understand what is going on behind the waspy superiority.
CHANCES Noah Baumbach’s film takes no prisoners and many have reacted strongly against its tableau of unpleasant characters. Nonetheless, few can help but admire Kidman’s bravery in taking the role and her enduring popularity could score her a third Oscar nomination.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 2, for Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Hours (2002). She won for The Hours.
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 3, for To Die For (1995), The Others (2001) and The Hours (2002). She won for The Hours.
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 7, for Billy Bathgate (1991, supporting actress), To Die For(1995), The Others (2001), Moulin Rouge (2001), The Hours (2002), Cold Mountain (2003) and Birth (2004). She won for To Die For, Moulin Rouge and The Hours.
3. Ellen Page
WHY The fearless 20-year-old Canadian caught the attention of critics with precocious performances in independent movies Hard Candy and An American Crime. But she is set for mainstream adulation as Juno, in Jason Reitman’s comedy. Page is the heart and wise-cracking soul of the film, playing a teenager tackling an unwanted pregnancy. She is rarely off screen and gives an unsentimental performance that makes Juno all the more believable and ultimately moving.
CHANCES A smart and sweetly optimistic comedy such as Juno is bound to appeal to voters in a season of dark dramas, and few could resist Page’s unshowy charms. The Academy likes talented young actresses - witness nods in recent years for Kate Winslet (aged 20 when first nominated), Juliette Lewis (18), Keisha Castle-Hughes (13), Anna Paquin (11) and Abigail Breslin (10).
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 0
4. Helena Bonham Carter
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
WHY Bonham Carter is a revelation of sorts as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Not that she is anything but a fine actress, just that she is traditionally so refined that her star turn as the coarse, big-hearted pie-maker is surprising. The actress brings unexpected depth to her role, as a woman whose love for Todd, her tenderness towards her ex-husband and her protectiveness for the servant boy almost make her lovable but for the fact she is chopping up dead bodies in the basement.
CHANCES It is unlikely that a star turn this remarkable in a strong musical would be overlooked, so the all-singing, all-chopping Bonham Carter is an instant favourite; it is 10 years since her first and only Oscar nomination to date, for The Wings Of The Dove, and time for the actress to step back into the awards spotlight.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 1, for The Wings Of The Dove (1997).
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 2, for Howards End (1992, supporting actress) and The Wings Of The Dove (1997).
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 4, for The Wings Of The Dove (1997) and for TV work Fatal Deception: Mrs Lee Harvey Oswald (1993), Merlin (1998) and Live From Baghdad (2002).
5. Cate Blanchett
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
WHY Shekhar Kapur’s movie may have been one of the most over-directed souffles of the year, but Blanchett walked away unscathed with more glowing reviews for playing Queen Elizabeth I three decades after she has been made queen. As decisive and imperious as she is in her public life, Blanchett’s Elizabeth is vulnerable and kind in her personal life, and the actress straddles this emotional range with her customary self-possession.
CHANCES With two films last year and two films this year, Blanchett is fast becoming one of the most respected actresses in film today. Despite the critical and commercial failure of The Golden Age, she could walk away with an Oscar nomination, scoring the unusual but not unprecedented feat of earning two nods for playing the same role.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 3, for Elizabeth (1998), The Aviator (2004, supporting actress) and Notes On A Scandal (2006, supporting actress). She won for The Aviator.
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 3, for Elizabeth (1998), The Talented Mr Ripley (1999, supporting actress) and The Aviator (2004, supporting actress). She won for Elizabeth and The Aviator.
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 5, for Elizabeth(1998), Bandits (2001), Veronica Guerin (2003), The Aviator (2004, supporting actress) and Notes On A Scandal (2006, supporting actress). She won for Elizabeth.
6. Laura Linney
WHY Linney has never been better than in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, playing Wendy Savage, an overwrought woman engaged in a thankless affair with a married man and with delusions of being a playwright.
Although the film follows her reunion with her brother to care for their ailing father, Linney’s achievement here is to embody the confusion and neuroses of a single woman in her late 30s who has apparently missed the boat when it comes to getting married and having children, while also failing to achieve success in her career.
CHANCES Linney had no less than four films on release this year - the others were Breach, Jindabyne and The Nanny Diaries - but her performance in The Savageswas already being talked about for awards when the film had its world premiere at Sundance in January. A highly accomplished character actress perhaps best known for playing uptight or repressed characters, she could score recognition for this warmly emotional and slightly unhinged Savage.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 2, for You Can Count On Me(2000) and Kinsey (2004, supporting actress).
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 1, for Mystic River (2003, supporting actress).
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 3, for You Can Count On Me (2000), Kinsey (2004, supporting actress) and The Squid And The Whale (2005).
7. Julie Christie
Away From Her
WHY Christie gave a beautifully modulated performance as a woman descending into Alzheimer’s disease in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. From the opening scenes in which she prepares for her move to a nursing home to her total loss of awareness, Christie is heart-rending without resorting to cheap theatrics.
CHANCES The 66-year-old Christie does not take too many lead roles these days but when she does voters take note, as in the case of Alan Rudolph’s Afterglow in 1997. Away From Her is receiving renewed attention at year-end, and the iconic Christie is its most likely beneficiary.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 3, for Darling (1965), McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971) and Afterglow(1997). She won for Darling.
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 7, for Billy Liar (1963), Darling (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Go-Between (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973) and Finding Neverland(2004, supporting actress). She won for Darling.
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 2, for Darling(1965) and Shampoo (1976).
8. Angelina Jolie
A Mighty Heart
WHY In Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie just about rose above her off-screen celebrity - no small feat - and escaped into the role of Mariane Pearl as she searched for clues in the kidnapping of her husband in Karachi. Showing surprising restraint as the pregnant woman, Jolie gave a moving study in quiet desperation until news of Pearl’s murder pushes her into howling despair.
CHANCES The film was considered a box-office disappointment on its release in US theatres in June and many voters may have forgotten it, although Jolie’s performance could survive the test of time, especially since so few films this year revolved around a female character.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 1, for Girl, Interrupted(1999, supporting actress). She won.
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 3, for TV work in George Wallace (1997) and Gia (1998), and for Girl, Interrupted (1999, supporting actress). She won for all three.
9. Keira Knightley
WHY Knightley’s timeless looks and natural hauteur are well-suited to the part of Cecilia Tallis, an upper-crust young woman forced to face up to her unwitting affection for the housekeeper’s son in pre-Second World War England. As the story moves from sexual desire into war, unconsummated love and tragic loss, Knightley portrays sensitively Cecilia’s transformation from aloof beauty to doomed lover.
CHANCES Oscar and Globe nominations for Pride & Prejudice gave Knightley status beyond just the pretty star of Pirates Of The Caribbean. Atonement, again directed by Joe Wright, gives her further credibility - not to mention a sartorial elegance courtesy of the film’s much talked-about green dress - which she carries with apparent effortlessness.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 1, for Pride & Prejudice (2005).
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 0
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 1, for Pride & Prejudice (2005).
10. Jodie Foster
The Brave One
WHY The Brave One may have been slaughtered by critics with as much force as Foster’s character slays her victims in the story, but the double Oscar winner gave a performance which far outstripped her material and could land her a fifth Oscar nomination. As the bereaved woman who buys a gun and becomes an avenging killer, Foster made her character’s actions feel plausible even as the plot veered out of control.
CHANCES Foster’s chances might have been hurt by the performance of the film itself, which slid quickly out of theatres in September. But she is perennially admired by voters and her performance here is full of the kind of guts and pain that characterised her classic Oscar-winning performances.
PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS: 4, for Taxi Driver (1976, supporting actress), The Accused (1988), The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) and Nell (1994). She won for The Accused and Silence Of The Lambs.
PREVIOUS Bafta NOMINATIONS: 4, for Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone (1976, supporting actress), for Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone (1976, for newcomer), The Accused (1988) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991). She won for supporting actress and newcomer in 1976 and for The Silence Of The Lambs.
PREVIOUS GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS: 5, for Freaky Friday(1978), The Accused (1988), The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), Nell (1994) and Contact(1997). She won for The Accused and The Silence Of The Lambs.
Best Actress: Further Contenders
[s19] Amy Adams, Enchanted
[s19] Halle Berry, Things We Lost In The Fire
[s19] Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
[s19] Julie Delpy, 2 Days In Paris
[s19] Ronit Elkabetz, The Band’s Visit
[s19] Marketa Irglova, Once
[s19] Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
[s19] Keri Russell, Waitress
[s19] Tang Wei, Lust, Caution
SUPPORTING ACTRESS CONTENDERS
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not ThereThe chameleonic actress, already an Oscar winner for The Aviator, could be this year’s shoo-in in the supporting category for her gender-bending turn as iconic rock star Jude Quinn (aka Bob Dylan) in I’m Not There. Careening around the hotel rooms and parties of swinging ’60s London, Blanchett does not try too hard to affect a male impersonation, resulting in one of her wittiest performances yet.
Tilda Swinton, Michael ClaytonHaving morphed from avant-garde UK icon to leading Hollywood character actor, Swinton has made big impressions in recent years, and it finally looks as if she will see some Oscar buzz for her performance as general counsel of a major corporation crossing the line into criminality to protect her company. The contrast between the scenes of Swinton in private and in public (where she is clad in corporate armour) is striking.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot At The WeddingLeigh, no stranger to brittle, icy roles, is out-iced by Nicole Kidman in her husband Noah Baumbach’s dark comedy, and instead plays the sweet put-upon sister Pauline with a warmth and touching uncertainty that could win her a first Oscar nomination.
Emmanuelle Seigner, The Diving Bell And The ButterflyA veteran of films by Jean-Luc Godard and her husband Roman Polanski, Seigner is perhaps the most memorable supporting performer in Julian Schnabel’s film, playing the wife of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who struggles to cope with his infidelity even while she is supporting him through his devastating paralysis.
Jennifer Connelly, Reservation RoadIn the overwrought melodrama Reservation Road, Connelly stood out as a beacon of truth and calm, as the mother mourning her son’s death who realises she has to pull herself together for her family.
Jurnee Smollett, The Great DebatersThe 21-year-old Smollett shone in the cast of Denzel Washington’s stirring film about a black Texas college debating team attempting to make change in 1935. Playing the beautiful but hesitant female debater Samantha, Smollett steals plenty of scenes as she grows from nervous first-time speaker to self-assured champion.
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby GoneOne of the year’s breakout actresses (she is also in Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and Dan In Real Life), Ryan delivered a frighteningly vivid portrait of white trash in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone as Helene, the self-involved, drug-addicted mother of a missing four-year-old.
Michelle Pfeiffer, HairsprayPfeiffer glowered and scowled to delicious effect as the scheming glamour mom Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray and as the youth-obsessed witch Lamia in Stardust. Awards voters are more likely to recognise her for the former in which she also sang and danced, upstaging the likes of John Travolta and Christopher Walken.
Jennifer Garner, JunoGarner is the suburban woman desperate to be a mother, who makes a pact with the teenage Juno to adopt her baby. Garner plays the character with vulnerability and longing in direct contrast to her hardass gun-toting roles in Alias and The Kingdom.
Nicole Kidman, The Golden CompassLa Kidman is the perfect Mrs Coulter in the film of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass - all glamour, guile and hidden menace. Somewhere between Cruella De Vil and Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Kidman makes a great villain.
Kate Winslet, Romance And CigarettesWinslet has the cachet and the fanbase to score nominations - she has five under her belt already - but whether anybody actually sees her performance in John Turturro’s Romance And Cigarettes will be the deciding factor. Already over two years old, the film’s outstanding element is Winslet’s foul-mouthed Tula. It is Winslet like you have never seen her before.
Samantha Morton, Control
Emily Mortimer, Lars And The Real Girl
Marie-Josee Croze, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Tabu, The Namesake
Charlotte Gainsbourg, I’m Not There
Lauren Bacall, The Walker
Cheryl Hines, Waitress
Sigourney Weaver, The TV Set
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Catherine Keener, Into The Wild
Emily Blunt, The Jane Austen Book Club
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson’s War