With a second Oscar nomination under her belt and academy love for “La La Land” running high at a record-tying 14 bids, Emma Stone should be considered the leader of the Best Actress race. The category has been a competitive thunderdome since the race started, and it still remains ripe for some upset. But I believe Stone can march her way to Oscar glory by exploiting one of the academy’s greatest weaknesses: the love of the ingenue.
Taking a look back at previous Best Actress winners, there are two main paths to victory in the category. The women who take home little gold men here can be classified as either “overdue veterans” or “young ingenue.” Of course, a third category exists under the simple designation of “Meryl Streep,” as rules simply do not apply to her.
The overdue veterans occasionally reign victorious. Consider Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) in 2006, winning after previous bids for “The Madness of King George” and Gosford Park.” Kate Winslet stepped up to bat five times before finally prevailing on her sixth Oscar nomination for “The Reader” in 2008. Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) won in a probable landslide on her fifth nomination. In each case, the academy finally decided “it’s time” and granted a beloved icon of the industry their moment in Oscar history.
However, a more tempting option for academy voters is to crown a new “it girl,” which bodes well for Stone. Just as the Golden Globes love to be the first to honor hit new TV shows before anyone else, the academy loves to rally around a rising young actress. They generally have to land on voters’ radar in previous years in some manner. Then when the perfect breakthrough project comes along, Oscar voters grant their stamp of approval on the ingenue’s skyrocketing career.
The most obvious example would be Jennifer Lawrence. She gained serious attention, and an Oscar nomination, for critical darling “Winter’s Bone” (2010). Lawrence then took the awards circuit by storm and claimed the gold for “Silver Lining’s Playbook” in 2012. Gwyneth Paltrow received great notices for her comedic turn in “Emma” and then sailed along with her film “Shakespeare in Love” to a Best Actress win the following year. Brie Larson filled the ingenue spot last year, with a win for “Room.” While she was an unknown to the academy, critics had previously pointed them in her direction with a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for her work in “Short Term 12.” While Stone already has a career most performers would kill for, the academy cemented her status as a respected actor with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Birdman.”
Emma Stone also possesses a vital element granted to all successful Oscar ingenues: heart. She is the emotional center of a film already dripping with charm. If there was a reason Gwyneth Paltrow was able to take down a fiery Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth”) at the Oscars, it was heart. When Paltrow steps on the male-only stage to portray Juliet in “Shakespeare in Love, I was on the edge of my seat just like the audience depicted in Shakespeare’s Globe. Stone has that same rooting factor in “La La Land.” as the camera settles on her face at the start of “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand. We are simultaneously enthralled by her while also lending the character a sort of moral support so she can finally nail an audition. I imagine the same feeling will wash over the audience at the Oscars as Emma Stone opens her mouth to begin her acceptance speech.
Besides Stone, the other four nominees for Best Actress at the 2017 Oscars are Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). See the full list of Oscar nominations.