At the beginning of the year when the buzz for Precious had just begun, Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe seemed like no more than a long shot. Mo'Nique's tour de force as her monster mom hogged the buzz and Sidibe had several disadvantages: fat, unknown, minority. The Best Actress category, more than any other acting category, is obsessed with beauty, stardom and whiteness*. [Tangent: the DeGlam phenomenon is also connected to the beauty preference. In a perverse way it's still all about the beauty that the voters are aware the famous actress is hiding].
<--- Two weeks before the film's opening, Sidibe's star is rising with coverage in major gets like The New York Times Magazine.
Now that I've seen Precious (see previous post) I can safely say that the Academy won't pass over Sidibe come nomination morning (February 2nd, 2010). It helps tremendously that in real life the first time actress is very different than her character.
When Sidibe is interviewed you quickly realize that the only thing she shares with her character is that plus sized body. She's articulate, educated and appears to have a far more lighthearted soul. This immediately dispells the dismissive (though not always incorrect judgment) that can sometimes attach itself to performances by non-traditional/unknown actors. I'm talking about the "they're just playing themselves!" reaction. Sidibe isn't. So she's in. It seems strange for a major category to be 60% wrapped up before November and any precursorage has taken place but it's tough to argue with the lock-up probability of the Streep/Mulligan/Sidibe trifecta.
Which means the battle for those final two spots will be the main place of speculative Actressy drama for the next three months. What's more, the precursor awards might not help us. It seems easy to imagine a precursor season that's filled with the aforementioned trio... leaving the last spots volatile until the end.
The other competitors are plentiful though none seem like a sure thing. Hilary Swank has the right type of role (biographical, teary, ennobling) but practically nothing about the movie including her all-surface performance works (my review). Helen Mirren has the pedigree and a scenery chewing role in The Last Station (my initial reaction). If voters like the way she masticates the bedroom, swallows the furniture and spits out the table ware (I see a Spacek-style plate smashing sequence as future overplayed Oscar clip) they'll ignore the fact that she's not carrying the film exactly and that she won very recently. Marion Cotillard, if pushed lead for Nine, will have Mirren's two drawbacks tenfold, since she won even more recently and she's sharing her film-carrying duties not with two famous men but with one famous man and several famous women. Maybe other people know something I don't but surely she'll be defeated by the limited screentime unless they put her back in Supporting where all the Nine women belong. Abbie Cornish's Bright Star role would easily place her in the Best Actress shortlist if she had more of an Oscar-bound career profile. For her I suspect it's all about the campaign.
Julia) or 'we're sorry' career sentimental (Michelle Pfeiffer in Chéri). There are many things that are entirely predictable about the Oscar race in any given year. But when and if AMPAS will feel adventurous or sentimental are not among those things. Sometimes they feel it. Sometimes they don't.
*This is statistically true. Only 10 Best Actress nominations have gone to women of color, compared to 20+ supporting actress and actor nominations and 25+ supporting actor nominations (I don't have the exact numbers) though it's not entirely fair to blame the Academy since they can only vote on what's presented to them and actresses of color still don't get big roles as often as actors of color.