It’s mid-November, which means it’s officially not too early to talk about the Oscars, and Steven Zeitchik at the Hollywood Reporter weighs in today on the Best Actress race — which is, he says, unusually shallow this year. There’s one sure thing — Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia” — and a couple of newcomers who are likely possibilities: Carey Mulligan in “An Education” and Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious.” Otherwise, he says, slim pickings. Maybe Abbie Cornish in “Bright Star,” though the movie didn’t find a wide audience; maybe Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria,” Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” (which nobody’s seen yet), Saoirse Ronan in “The Lovely Bones” (ditto), or somebody in the ensemble cast of “Nine” (though is there a star turn in that movie? No one knows yet). As usual, it’s been a year in which strong roles for women are few and far between.
I won’t argue with that, but I will throw out a few wildcard performances that Zeitchik doesn’t mention, any of which are deserving. (I’m also much more positive than he is that Cornish will turn up among the nominees.) Here are a few of my under-the-radar favorite lead performances by actresses this year, all worth a look if you missed them:
— Elle Fanning in “Phoebe in Wonderland.” Yes, I know she’s just a kid, but I can think of few performances this year more haunting than this one, as a little girl overwhelmed by her own imagination.
— Amy Adams, “Sunshine Cleaning.” Far better than her too-cute work in “Julie & Julia,” this underseen, quirky charmer showed Adams at her determinedly sunny best.
— Hiam Abbass, “Lemon Tree.” Abbass, seen recently in “The Visitor,” does beautiful work in this Israeli film about a Palestinian woman fighting to save her family’s lemon grove.
— Michelle Pfeiffer, “Cheri.” The great Pfeiffer, so beautiful she almost seems a special effect, gives a performance of great delicacy and poignancy as an aging courtesan in Stephen Frears’ delicious period piece, based on the novel by Colette.
— Audrey Tautou, “Coco Before Chanel.” You’ll forget “Amelie” (not that you’d want to) in
watching Tautou’s tough, smart performance in Anne Fontaine’s biopic about the great French fashion designer.
That’s my five, and sadly I think the Academy will remember none of them. And what do you think? What’s your favorite performance by a lead actress this year?
The sure thing: Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia.” Just the trill she puts on the word “do” (or “doooooo”) deserves an award. It makes me happy just to watch her.