The Best Actress race at the 88th Oscars is hands down the most interesting category to watch this year.
As it is with every category, there are names who we’ve come to expect to be honored namely, Cate Blanchett– who is stellar in virtually every performance– and Jennifer Lawrence– who at 25 has been nominated three times in the last five years. This isn’t to say that these actors aren’t deserving; Lawrence and Blanchett are two of the most consistently excellent actors working and are often recognized seemingly every time they appear on screen.
The pre-Oscar buzz for Best Actress centered around performances which were ultimately ignored for the this particular honor. Both Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) were ultimately nominated for Best Supporting Actress for performances deserving of the Best Actress nod. While hardly a “snub” it does speak to the number of highly regarded performances turned in the field of competition this year.
It also opened the door for some new names to be recognized– Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn and Brie Larson for Room.
Ronan– who was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Atonement— has been waiting to breakout for years. Well I’ve been waiting for her to breakout for years in the sense that people other than me should know her work and how to pronouce her name correctly (it’s Seer-SHA in case you were wondering). Like many actresses in Hollywood her age, she’s had her turn on the posters for young adult themed sci-fi and female centered action movies. The pop culture stickiness of these movies lacked at the box office which is hardly her fault; she was excellent in both examples– The Host and Hanna.
Her nominated turn in Brooklyn is hopefully a sign for things to come for Ronan, who checks all the boxes for someone who should be balancing indie movies and blockbusters (she was up for a role in the new X-Men movie, but it ultimately went to Game of Thrones Sophie Turner), now has the chance to prove that solid performances in interesting stories sometimes outweighs formulaic Oscar-bidding roles.
The same could be said for Brie Larson, who is quietly amassing one of the best resumes in movies. You probably recognize her as the love interest in both 21 Jump Street and The Gambler (am I the only person who saw that Marky Mark movie last year?), but as she displays in Room, she has the gravitas to handle the heaviest of topics.
Following her stint as Jonah Hill’s crush in 21 Jump Street, Larson turned in a criminally under appreciated performance in Short Term 12 playing a supervisor at an at-risk teen shelter. She followed that by stealing the show in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon (another movie I’m pretty sure only I saw), and again in The Spectacular Now opposite Miles Teller.
In Room, Larson tackles the heaviest role of 2015 with grace, passion, and gravitas. From Wikipedia, here is the set-up off the movie:
24-year-old Joy and her five-year-old son Jack live in a squalid shed they call Room. They share a bed, toilet, bathtub, television, and rudimentary kitchen; the only window is a skylight. They are captives of a man they call Old Nick, Jack’s father, who abducted Joy seven years ago, and routinely rapes her while Jack sleeps in the wardrobe. She tries to stay optimistic for her son, but is sometimes overcome with depression and is suffering from malnutrition. She allows Jack to believe that only Room and its contents are “real,” and that the rest of the world exists only on television.
Despite the horrific setting and stomach-turning premise of the movie, Larson tackles the complexity of the role head-on and stays grounded for both her character’s son in the film and the audience watching. You just can’t take your eyes off of her.
It’s strange to think think that we were saying the exact same things about Jennifer Lawrence in 2010 after her stellar performance in Winter’s Bone. That role got her the X-Men reboot, which got her The Hunger Games, which got her more box office success than any actress walking the planet today.
Hopefully similar success isn’t far off for both Ronan and Larson. Either could take home the statue on February 28th and either would be the most deserving pick in the most deserving category on the ballot.