Saoirse Ronan is a strong contender for Best Actress for "Brooklyn" according to the 23 Oscar Experts we've polled. As of this writing, these journalists who cover the Oscars year-round for major media rank her fourth. All but three expect her to make the cut and that support translates into odds of 8-to-1. If this Irish ingenue does reap a Best Actress bid, it would be a rare feat: the academy isn't usually kind to child actors when they're all grown up.
Ronan just turned 21, which would make her one of the 10 youngest Best Actress nominees in Oscar history. But she's already an academy veteran compared to most twentysomethings. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for "Atonement" in 2007 when she was only 13, and last year she was featured in Wes Anderson's hit film "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a Best Picture nominee.
Child nominees rarely contend for more awards after they become adults. Of all performers who earned their first competitive nominations before turning 18, only two of them were ever nominated again. Sal Mineo was 17 when he contended for Best Supporting Actor for "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955. He earned a second Supporting Actor bid in 1960 for "Exodus" when he was 22.
The other was Jodie Foster. She earned her first nom at age 14 for the gritty "Taxi Driver" in 1976. She went on to win two Best Actress Oscars, for "The Accused" (1988) and "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). That's the path Ronan hopes to follow now that she has come of age, and she's off to a good start.
Ronan was a few months younger than Foster was when she earned her first nomination, so Ronan would become the youngest ever to make an Oscar comeback as an adult. Since "Atonement" she has successfully managed the difficult Hollywood transition to young adulthood, appearing in prestige projects like "Grand Budapest" and even becoming a teen action hero as the title character in "Hanna."
She has already worked with award-winning filmmakers like Peter Jackson ("The Lovely Bones"), Peter Weir ("The Way Back") and Neil Jordan ("Byzantium"), so her role in "Brooklyn" now positions her well to come of age with the academy.
Ronan plays Eilis, who leaves her Irish home in the 1950s for greater opportunities in New York City, and eventually she must decide between her old life and her new one. It's an emotional, tearful, romantic turn that allows her to mature on screen from homesick girl to confident woman.
Older academy voters may respond well to the film's classical, heart-on-its-sleeve style, and some may be nostalgic about its 1950s period detail.
"Brooklyn" is reminiscent of another Irish-immigrant story that exceeded expectations at the Oscars: "In America," which earned bids for Best Actress (Samantha Morton), Best Supporting Actor (Djimon Hounsou) and Best Original Screenplay in 2003. Will Ronan's performance strike a similar chord with Oscar voters?
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Photo: Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn." Credit: Moviestore Collection/REX
Photo: Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver." Credit: SNAP/REX