When Harvey Weinstein sends out a last-minute invite this week for a reception honoring Dame Helen Mirren for "Woman in Gold" it's a sure sign that there is blood in the water in the Best Actress race. At this point, the top four of five nomination slots are pretty much sewn up.
Indie favorite Brie Larson and her "Room" may be fading, despite current leading odds at 21/10. At Monday's Gotham Awards, Brit Bel Powley took the Best Actress award for “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” a dead-on performance unlikely to resonate with the academy but good enough to displace Larson, Blanchett, Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin and Kristen Wiig among the independents. However, Larson did win Best Actress from the National Board of Review on Tuesday.
Fox finally put Jennifer Lawrence before audiences when they started screening David O. Russell's "Joy" earlier this week. Newsflash: the movie is vulnerable. Lawrence, in second place with expert odds of 7/2, will definitely get her Best Actress nomination. However, a win is no slam-dunk. This is particularly true in light of her age – 25 – and the fact that she took home the gold for her last collaboration with Russell in 2012's "Silver Linings Playbook."
Cate Blanchett has crisp 4/1 odds for "Carol," which is good enough for third place. But the five-time nominee won two years ago for "Blue Jasmine" (and picked up a bookend to her 2004 award for "The Aviator") and there is some distant grumbling among fellow actors about her scenery chewing this time around.
One-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") has a very good chance to slip ahead of the pack for her understated, emotional Irish immigrant in "Brooklyn," with current odds at 11/2 putting her in fourth.
That leaves the mysterious fifth slot. The race is wide open, which explains Harvey trotting out Dame Helen, who truly was rich in "Woman in Gold."
But there is a raging pack of deserving women, many over forty, competing for that last nomination.
Charlotte Rampling is a major contender for the fifth spot for the heart-breaking scenes from a marriage two-hander "45 Years." However, her meager awards budget may work against her enormous body of work.
Emily Blunt took "Sicario" to a strong position at festivals and the box office, and Carey Mulligan really wants that nomination for "Suffragette," a movie that can only be described as a fizzle despite the very best of intentions. If Mulligan cried valiantly one more time I was going to hand her a hand-sewn handkerchief through the screen.
And there is a lot of buzz for Dame Maggie Smith’s portrayal of “The Lady in the Van.” Smith has won two Oscars, the last one for Best Supporting Actress in 1978 for playing an Oscar nominee in “California Suite,” following her 1969 Best Actress win for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”
And there's more! Tomlin is commanding attention for "Grandma – but she's not out stumping for the statuette. Danner is lovely, sings and makes senior love (not hard when it's Sam Elliott) but "I'll See You in My Dreams" is relatively slight. And Sarah Silverman is making a play to be taken seriously as the disturbed matriarch of 'I Smile Back."
High on my list is Patricia Clarkson for Broad Green's "Learning to Drive." While she sits at 100 to 1 odds, she is beloved of SAG and it's a woman-in-full performance in a rare female-driven contemporary dramedy. Oscar voters: watch this screener! Clarkson has the kind of leading role that got Jill Clayburgh two nominations in 1979 and 1980 – for "An Unmarried Woman" and "Starting Over."
Another factor to consider is whether Rooney Mara ("Carol") and/or Alicia Vikander ("The Danish Girl") stay in the supporting categories as expected when their roles are large enough to compete in lead.
As for the winner, Larson is currently in first place with support from 13 GoldDerby experts. Her status may decline if "Room" fades in the weeks to come or the book-based drama could show strong support in the critics' awards.
Count Lawrence and Blanchett out: it's too soon for either of them to get another Oscar. Ronan, who has two experts solidly on her side, may benefit from the shifting tides — or it could very well be a surprise win from that fifth mystery woman in a year that's emerging as intensely competitive in the Best Actress category.
And, if Harvey has his way, there's always Dame Helen.
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Brie Larson Photo Credit: A24
Jennifer Lawrence Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox