Oscar Preview: Who’ll Be Back? – Part 5

On our message board, the UAADB (Unofficial Academy Award Discussion Board), we have an annual tradition where we look at the year’s Oscar nominees in certain categories and try to decide if the individual will make a return to the Oscars at some point in the near future. There’s also a bonus round for predicting what non-nominated talent who was a major competitor during the given year will soon become an Oscar nominee.

I’m turning that concept into a 7-week feature for Cinema Sight. In addition to the acting and directing categories that our posters typically cite, I’m going to throw in Animated Feature brining the category count to six plus an additional week for the bonus round.

For week 5, let’s look at the Best Actress nominees.

Best Actress

Emma Stone – La La Land

(2 Nominations {2014, 2016}, 1 win {2016})

Emma stone began her career on TV in 2005 with a handful of guest roles for the next two years before landing a regular role on the short-lived series Drive. She was nineteen years old. That year, she also made her big screen debut in the Jonah Hill-Michael Cera comedy Superbad. From there, she had prominent roles in a handful of throwaway movies before co-starring in Zombieland opposite Woody Harrelson, Oscar nominees Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin and future Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg. That was 2009, but her biggest break of all came in the lead role in the acclaimed Easy A in 2010, the first performance where she was frequently mentioned as a potential Oscar nominee.

Over the next six years, she would appear in numerous prominent films, coming close to an Oscar nomination again in 2011 for The Help, yet it wouldn’t be until Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s exploration of the fleeting nature of fame, Birdman, that she would score her first Oscar nomination. Her second came just last year for the film that would ultimately net her an Oscar.

La La Land showcased all of Stone’s many talents and provided her with a career-topping accolade at 28. Where does such a young talent go from here? She’ll have plenty of opportunities to impress Oscar voters with her work and a future Oscar nomination is all but guaranteed. A second win is likely. Her first shot at that comes this year with the release of the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis biopic titled after the match itself: Battle of the Sexes. A nomination, at this juncture, seems all but assured. A second win so soon after the first would be a historical anomaly.

In 2018, she has two films on deck, only one of which has any hope at Oscar attention. The film that won’t be on Oscar’s radar, except perhaps in the creative categories, will be the latest Disney animation adaptation Cruella. As the titular villain, Stone will get to flex her malicious muscles, something she hasn’t had much opportunity to do so far, but it could be more in line with what Angelina Jolie did in Maleficent, bringing the character humanity. It won’t matter, of course, because the film just isn’t Oscar’s style.

What is closer to their style is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite starring opposite Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in this period biopic, which also stars Nicholas Hoult and Oscar winner Rachel Weisz. Lanthimos’ previous films haven’t been Oscar friendly exactly. While his Dogtooth scored a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it was elsewise absent from the Oscar nominations. His latest film, The Lobster, was obscure and strange enough that it merited consideration for Best Original Screenplay, but came nowhere near any other Oscar categories in spite of excellent work from Weisz and Colin Farrell.

I wouldn’t expect much from Lanthimos’ film in terms of Oscar nominations for Stone, but it showcases that wide variety of roles she’s been interested in playing. It may not bring her a fourth Oscar nomination (after a third for Battle of the Sexes), but it won’t be long after that before it should happen again.

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

(1 Nomination {2016})

With the second longest screen acting career of the 2016 acting nominees (second only to Jeff Bridges, Isabelle Huppert has been turning in acclaimed performances for the vast length of her 35-year career. With two TV credits in 1971, Huppert had her first film appearances at the age of 19 in three films released in 1972. With a career starring in French-language films of varying noteworthiness, her first Oscar flirtation came in 2001 when she unanimously won the Cannes prize for Best Actress in The Piano Teacher.

That role won her several critics prizes, but Oscar is very elusive and she was ultimately not nominated. Although she has received plenty of attention for her work, it took the role of a rape victim seeking vengeance on the perpetrator to finally secure her an Oscar nomination at the age of 63. That’s not the case in France where she has received sixteen César Award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) nominations and two trophies for La Cérémonie in 1995 and for her Oscar-nominated performance in Elle.

Now that she’s on Oscar’s radar, could should make more appearances? Certainly. I think it’s possible she receives one other nomination before the end of her career, but they’ll have to give her an honorary Oscar because I doubt she’ll ever win a competitive one.

A look at her upcoming slate of performances may give us an idea of how soon that second nomination might come. She has seven films so far listed for potential 2017 release, each either completed or in post-production (with one still in pre-production). Barrage was the first released. It stars Huppert in a supporting role as the lead character’s mother who has cared for her daughter. It may be high on dramatics, but it doesn’t sound enough like a potential international hit.

The first of her two completed titles is Claire’s Camera about a part-time high school teacher and writer. Not enough is known about the film to determine if it’s a great opportunity for Huppert, but director Sang-Soo Hong will at least guarantee it gets seen widely outside of France, especially since it premires at the Cannes Film Festival. The second is Michael Haneke’s Happy End, which also premieres at the Cannes Film Festival later this year. Haneke is well respected in the film community and if the family drama set against the European refugee crisis can wow audiences at Cannes and net Huppert an award, it might end up on the Oscar radar this year, at least in terms of Foreign Language Film, but perhaps for Huppert as Best Actress.

On the post-production front, there are three films. Eva with Huppert playing a mysterious woman when a playwright is stranded in a chalet during a violent snowstorm. It’s listed as a romantic drama, and while the Academy loves them, it may not provide enough of a punch to get their attention. Not much is known about Madame Hyde, the second film on her post-production list. Her director, Serge Bozon, is a prolific filmmaker, but his awards success is negligible. Then there’s Coco Before Chanel director Anne Fontaine’s Marvin, which also has limited available information. None of these films seem likely to gain Oscar’s attention.

The final film on deck for Huppert in 2017 is The Sleeping Shepherd, currently in pre-production. Co-starring Willem Dafoe, the film, about an art thief who has almost two-billion dollars worth of art burned by his mother, sounds like a comedy, but is listed as a drama. Director Frank Hudec has no real history as a director, so it’s uncertain whether he can translate the stars’ charms into success, but it’s another kind of film the Academy tends to ignore.

Ruth Negga – Loving

(1 Nomination {2016})

Although she’s had a decent film career, Ruth Negga has been a far more prominent presence on television. Receiving her first credit in a guest appearance on Doctors in 2004, Negga has made regular appearances on TV with numerous guest runs throughout the 2000s and 2010s with her first series regular role not coming until 2016 in the series Preacher.

Negga is best recognized to legions of Marvel fans thanks to her 17-episode run on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Alongside these myriad roles, she’s shown up on film several times since 2004, but it wasn’t until her lead role in Loving that the wider film community began to take serious notice. Embodying the role of Mildred Loving, half of the interracial couple that fought miscegeny laws with the 1967 Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia.

It’s a potent case and the film, though well received, managed no other nominations but hers and even she wasn’t thought to be a sure thing against mounting campaigns for Amy Adams and Annette Bening. She won out, which gave her a unique and prominent position in the Oscar race even though she was destined to lose.

This would be one of the most likely cases this year of an actor making a mark and never showing up again. With her thin acting filmography, the lack of projects in pre-production or post-production, and a dedication to her role on Preacher, it’s probable that we never hear from Negga at the Oscars again. Stranger things have happened, but everything surrounding this nomination, this film, and this actress sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. She’ll certainly become an Academy voter, but a two-time nominee is a difficult prospect to believe in.

Natalie Portman – Jackie

(3 Nomination {2004, 2010, 2016}, 1 win {2010})

Even the great working actresses of today have done time on television in some form or another. Julianne Moore had a stint on a soap opera, Glenn Close and Kathy Bates are doing extensive TV work. Even Meryl Streep has an Emmy (or two) to her name. Natalie Portman hasn’t seemed to have given much consideration to the prospect. So far, she has limited her television appearances to two, one a guest appearance on Sesame Street and the other a two-time voice appearance on The Simpsons. She has one pending project on the radar, a miniseries called We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, so little is known that it would seem to be a throwaway role.

Portman got her cinematic break as the young Mathilda in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional at the age of 13. She parlayed that into a sensational string of youth performances with prominent auteurs Michael Mann (Heat) and Woody Allen (Everyone Says I Love You) before taking on the role of a lifetime as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. While it wouldn’t be her last franchise starring role, Portman has chosen instead to focus on small, intimate dramas.

While she worked steadily through the 1990s and 2000s, it was her performance in Mike Nichols’ Closer in 2004 that earned her the first of her three Oscar nominations. Her continued work took her before the cameras of even more auteurs like Milos Forman (Goya’s Ghosts), Won Kar-Wai (My Blueberry Nights), Tom Tykwer (a segment of Paris je t’aime), Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited), Jim Sheridan (Brothers), and eventually to Darren Aronofsky.

In Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Portman plays a fading ballerina struggling to earn a role that a much younger competitor is after. This twisted and transformative role brought her universal acclaim and a slew of critics awards that ultimately led to her first Oscar win on her second nomination. While she’s seldom worked more than once with a director, one of the key auteurs she’s given herself to twice is Terrence Malick, first in Knight of Cups and earlier this year in Song to Song, neither of which were very well received.

While Portman has attempted to shift behind the camera with her ill-received A Tale of Love and Darkness, she once again pulled off an incredible performance in the film Jackie from Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain. Larrain’s film explores the life of Jackie Kennedy in the days leading up to and immediately following her husband’s assassination. She received numerous awards for the performance and even made her third appearance at the Oscars, but she was no match for Emma Stone’s rise to dominance over the awards season.

Portman is very likely to be back. She’s only 36 and has plenty of opportunities in the future. She’ll also likely pick up a second Oscar at some point, but if Jackie wasn’t going to be the film, what else could possibly trigger her honorarium. Looking out at her immediate future, she has four films that have either released or are in post-production. Song to Song, referenced earlier, is one of those.

Beyond that is the vignette collection The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, a type of film that has never garnered Oscar’s attention. Next up is Annihilation by Ex Machina director Alex Garland about a biologist’s dangerous and secret expedition. The science-fiction thriller isn’t likely to pique Oscar curiosities. After that is Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. The film, about an American movie star whose correspondence with an 11-year-old threatens to destroy his career, would be more in line with the type of film Oscar voters recognize, but which isn’t likely to move Portman, whose specific role is unlisted, to merit a nomination over any of the other Oscar-nominated actresses in the cast.

While nothing immediately jumps out from her impending filmography, Jackie wasn’t on the radar when she won for Black Swan. Likewise, Black Swan wasn’t even a thought when Closer got her the first nomination. With Portman, who has shown a great acting resilience will be back, but it might be a few years before she finds the worthy vehicle.

Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

(20 Nominations {1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016}, 3 wins {1979, 1982, 2011})

With a career twenty Oscar nominations, it might almost be more interesting to look at the films for which wasn’t nominated for an Oscar than the ones she was. Streep made her big screen debut in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance in Fred Zinnemann’s Julia. Then, in the span of one year, she managed to earn both an Oscar nomination for her work in The Deer Hunter and an Emmy award for her performance in the miniseries Holocaust. Her career hasn’t let up since, earning Oscar nominations nine Oscar nominations over the next 12 years.

What is most striking about her nominations is that a large number of them have been for films that would never be considered great films. Although her Oscar wins for The Deer Hunter and Sophie’s Choice were both heavily lauded, her third win for The Iron Lady was for a great performance in a mediocre film, something that happens quite frequently with the actress.

Even the film for which she received her twentieth nomination this past year, Florence Foster Jenkins, was a respectable film that no one would consider claiming was great. The truth is, if Meryl Streep is in the film, its Oscar profile rises dramatically, whether it’s any good or not. As such, the question is not whether she’ll be nominated again, but whether she’ll win the ephemeral 4th Oscar. To date, only one actor has ever picked up four prizes: Katharine Hepburn. Only four others have done so besides Streep: Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Streep has already earned the most-nominated crown among actors and is presently just padding her lead so that none shall ever be able to overcome. While she has been quite busy over the last decade, her upcoming projects aren’t varied. In pre-production, but supposedly pushing for a 2017 release, is The Post, Steven Spielberg’s exploration over the Washington Post’s fight with the U.S. Government to publish the Pentagon Papers. That kind or project is sure to have Oscar voters salivating and Streep is likely to be in line for her twenty-first nomination.

In the filming stage, but no scheduled for release until Christmas in 2018 is Mary Poppins Returns with Emily Blunt in the lead. Streep is lined up to play Mary’s cousin Poppy. This sequel to the popular 1964 original should play well with families and with Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall at the helm, it’s certainly going to be a player with Oscar voters, I suspect Streep might struggle to gain traction in 2018. Not because the performance isn’t bound to be noteworthy, but for the fact that the original film, while an Oscar magnet, only received one acting citation: Julie Andrews, in spite of the immense popularity of her co-star Dick Van Dyke. That doesn’t mean anything. This is Strep after all. She could get an Oscar nomination for reading the phone book dramatically.

While only two films are on the radar, she has two potential Oscar nominations in the immediate future. Neither is likely to bring her a fourth Oscar, but if either of them were, it would be The Post.

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