While the Best Actor category this year has been a super tight race between about 8 or 9 guys, the Best Actress race has been a bit looser and has allowed room for some lower profile performances to slip in. Well, “lower profile” is relative; there’s nothing here that will surprise a dedicated film lover too much, but I did depart from the predominant awards-season narrative in a couple places here.
- Julie Delpy – Before Midnight: Reprising her role as Céline for the third time, Julie Delpy once again impresses. After all these years she seems to have become really comfortable in this character and when she and Ethan Hawke are trading lines it has a sort of improvised immediacy. The Best Actor category was a little too stuffed for Hawke to have a place in it, but to some extent I feel like this award is for both Delpy and him.
- Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color: Adèle Exarchopoulos was mostly unknown outside of France before she starred in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, but that won’t be a problem for her going forward. In her role here she undergoes a pretty dramatic transformation and goes from being a confused teenager to being an immature young adult at a crossroads.
- Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen seems to be at his best when he’s making movies about women, possibly because his female characters end up feeling less like surrogates for their creator. The character of Jasmine in Blue Jasmine seems particularly unique. She’s a messed up chick who’s largely responsible for her own situation and yet still seems somewhat sympathetic because of Cate Blanchett’s performance.
- Sandra Bullock – Gravity: Gravity is essentially a one-person show, and those are usually good showcases for a person’s given talent. It’s exactly the kind of showcase that Bullock needed, because most of the garbage that she makes does not adequately showcase her range. Hopefully this will be the start of a Matthew McConaughy style career re-invention for her. Her character is really pushed through the ringer in the movie, and she proves to be up to the challenge.
- Brie Larson – Short Term 12: I feel like I must have underestimated Brie Larson in the past because her work in Short Term 12 was something of a revelation. She’s 24 years old, but she’s mostly been playing teenage roles up to this point. Here she almost feels like she’s playing someone who’s older than her real age, in part because her character has been through a lot in her life. The character has problems, but she’s also highly competent at her job and is constantly putting up a super-strong façade in front of the young people she leads.