Are we underestimating Kristen Stewart in Oscar race for her Cesar-winning performance in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’?

kristen stewart clouds of sils maria nyfcc oscar

Two days before the Academy Awards last February, this year’s Oscar race had begun when Kristen Stewart won Best Supporting Actress at the César Awards (the French equivalent for the Oscars) for “Clouds of Sils Maria.” She made history as the first American actress ever to be so honored. Will she be able to translate this French success into an Oscar nomination? 

Clouds of Sils Maria” is her most acclaimed film yet according to scores at both Rotten Tomatoes (89) and MetaCritic (78). In it, she plays Valentine, an assistant who clashes with her boss, a veteran actress (Juliette Binoche) revisiting the play that made her a star decades earlier. It was directed by Olivier Assayas, the much-admired filmmaker who previously helmed the Emmy-nominated miniseries “Carlos.”

Below, we consider the pros and cons of her chances for reaping an Oscar bid next Thursday. 

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Pro: Stewart is a critical darling for this movie
Stewart won Best Supporting Actress from the National Society of Film Critics on Sunday (as Oscar voting heated up) and with the New York Film Critics Circle at the beginning of last month. And she was the runner-up for the L.A. critics award to Alicia Vikander. Last year, Marion Cotillard parlayed her NYFCC win for “Two Days, One Night” into an Oscar nomination. 

When the film came out last spring, critics had sang her praises. Peter Debruge (Variety) called her “the most compellingly watchable American actress of her generation.” Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) said “her blazing, blunt, pitch-perfect performance in this film serves as a reminder she’s actually one of the best actresses of her generation.” And Joe Neumaier (New York Daily News) opined, “As one-half of a dynamite acting duo, Stewart finally merits all the attention thrown her way.”

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Con: The “Twilight” franchise
Stewart is still best-known for the role of Bella, a teenager in love with a vampire and best friend of a werewolf. The series has largely been mocked and each installment in the series except the original was nominated for several Razzie Awards. However, it was hugely successful at the box office and laid the blue print for “The Hunger Games Series” and the several other such series that have followed. In 2010, Stewart won the BAFTA award for Rising Star, an award voted on by the British public that rarely goes to Americans.

Pro: The Best Supporting Actress Race might be in flux
The front-runner is Rooney Mara for “Carol.” However, she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Awards and contends in that category at the Globes opening up the possiblity that the actors branch of the academy will nominate her in lead. Likewise, second place contender Alicia Vikander could also be promoted for “The Danish Girl” or cancel herself out as she is also in contention for “Ex Machina.” Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs), Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight“) and Helen Mirren (“Trumbo“) round out the race as of now. 

Among the other possible nominees, Jane Fonda (“Youth”) has only been nominated at the celebrity friendly Golden Globes while Joan Allen has yet to be singled out by any group for her performance in “Room.” And while Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”) earned both Critics Choice and SAG nominations, it was Stewart that won over the Boston Society of Film Critics. The Beantown critics had named “Spotlight,” a film that details the efforts of Boston Globe journalists to uncover child molestation by Catholic priests, as Best Picture.  

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Con: Stewart’s reputation
Stewart doesn’t appear to enjoy being a movie star. In 2012, she ended her relationship with “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson and stepped away from the public eye. She reemerged in 2014 with “Still Alice” and “Clouds of Sils Maria.”  And recently she has mentored other young actresses including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ingenue Daisy Ridely.

Pro:  Stewart has the necessary industry credibility
Stewart first came to fame in David Fincher’s 2002 hit “Panic Room” opposite two-time Oscar champ Jodie Foster (“The Accused,” 1988; “The Silence of the Lambs,” 1991). Also in this film were two future Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland,” 2006) & Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club,” 2013). Last year, she had that small but crucial role in “Still Alice,” the film for which Julianne Moore won Best Actress. As such, she is known to Oscar voters. Consider last year’s Best Actor champ Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) who had previously appeared in Oscar contenders “My Week with Marilyn” and “Les Misérables.”

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“Clouds of Sils Maria” photo credit: IFC Films

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