Confession time: I have only managed to see one of the films nominated in the category Best Actress. That film is Carol, which I liked very much, and in which Cate Blanchett was her usual wonderful self. It is debatable whether she and Rooney Mara are both in lead roles, or indeed if Mara’s role is more central than Blanchett’s, but Blanchett is the one up for Best Actress. I would be perfectly happy for her to win, but she won’t. Since winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Brie Larson in Room has stood out from the pack. Larson subsequently picked up the Screen Actors’ Guild award and the BAFTA for Best Actress. Given the overlap of members between these institutions, I confidently predict that Larson will win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Of the other nominees, Blanchett won two years ago for Blue Jasmine but if she were going to win this year there would have been indications. Jennifer Lawrence may be an Oscar darling and I was genuinely surprised when she won for Silver Linings Playbook, but this does not appear to be her year. Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years is a left field choice, and Saiorse Ronan’s time will come, just not this year for Brooklyn.
What is striking, however, is that Best Actress is the only award I expect Room to pick up, despite its nominations for Picture, Directing and Adapted Screenplay. This is an annoying trend in Best Actress winning films – the only thing honoured about the film is its leading lady. Recent winners including Lawrence and Blanchett as well as Julianne Moore and Sandra Bullock were either in films that had no nominations beside Best Actress, or were in films that had multiple nominations but won nothing else. Indeed, the last time a film won Best Picture AND Best Actress was 2004, when Million Dollar Baby was the big winner and Hilary Swank took home her second Oscar. Interestingly, her first win in 1999 was for Boys Don’t Cry, a film that won no other Academy Awards and had no other major nominations. This is a depressing reminder of the paucity of films with major roles for women. Granted, Room is up for other awards, and much had been made of Mad Max: Fury Road’s feminist credentials, and Brooklyn is also a female-centred story. But the other nominees are all focused on male characters and traditionally male endeavours – finance, law/espionage, (space) exploration, survival, journalism. Meanwhile, the “women’s” films consist of a story of motherhood and a period romance, while Mad Max is an equal opportunities survival story. A Best Actress nomination for Charlize Theron would have been nice, but no such luck. The Best Actress nominees are largely in traditional female roles – mother (twice!), lover, wife, girl-becoming-woman. Lawrence as the entrepreneur in Joy is the more unconventional role, and applause to her for building a career in these distinctive roles. Congratulations to Brie Larson, but I wish the competition was more varied.