Before “The Girl on the Train” was released in theaters on October 7, Emily Blunt appeared to be a major Best Actress contender. And why not? She’s a charming and admired actress starring in a much anticipated adaptation of a bestselling novel. Just two years ago, Rosamund Pike was nominated for another big screen adaptation of a popular thriller in “Gone Girl.” Surely this meaty role would put the British actress in the center of the awards race.
But the film failed to win over critics, with 48 on MetaCritic and 43% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. Many reviews singled out her star performance, including Justin Chang (LA Times) who claimed, “Blunt certainly gives her showiest, most feverishly committed performance to date.” But the film’s underwhelming reviews dropped the actress to 100/1 odds at Gold Derby amid a competitive Best Actress race.
Then a curious thing happened: Blunt snagged her first SAG nomination of her career on December 14. Then the BAFTA Awards came to her aide as well, and she scored a Best Actress bid with them on January 10. That is two major industry groups with academy overlap in their voting bodies. These two awards groups actually have the same Best Actress lineups: Blunt, Amy Adams (“Arrival”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Emma Stone (“La La Land”), and Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). To make the cut, Blunt edged out recent Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), past Oscar nominees Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) and Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures”), and BAFTA Rising Star nominee Ruth Negga (“Loving”).
Despite awards baity roles in “The Young Victoria,” “Into the Woods,” and “Sicario,” Blunt has yet to reap an Oscar nomination. She tends to perform better with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: she is a five-time Golden Globe nominee, winning once in 2007 for her supporting role in the television movie “Gideon’s Daughter” (she was also nominated on the film side that same year for “The Devil Wears Prada”). Strangely, the usually predictive HFPA voters snubbed Blunt’s performance this year despite splitting their lead actresses into separate categories for dramas and comedies/musicals.
So can Blunt overcome her 100/1 Gold Derby odds and her film’s “rotten” critical rating? She wouldn’t be the first performer to pull such a Hail Mary. In recent Oscar history actors have managed nominations for poorly received films if they offer a strong enough acting showcase. Most examples of this scenario occur in the supporting races, as with Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones” (31% rating), Penelope Cruz in “Nine” (39%), Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (46%), and Robert Duvall in “The Judge” (48%).
For success in the Best Actress category, Blunt should look to “Albert Nobbs” as the closest blueprint. Despite sitting at 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, Glenn Close landed her sixth Oscar nomination in the lead race, while Janet McTeer snagged a Supporting Actress nomination. Like Blunt, both of those women also received SAG nominations (though they were snubbed by BAFTA and instead showed up at the Golden Globes). Close tied Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr for the most Oscar nominations for an actress without a win, but Blunt is still waiting to hear her name called on nomination morning for the first time.
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