If there’s anything with even the slightest ability to nudge Cate Blanchett’s path to Oscar victory off course, it’s the seemingly endless Farrowgate scandal, which has Woody Allen’s allegedly molested daughter calling out his muses by name, and guilting them in an attempt to harm the director by extension. As Mark Harris brilliantly observed in his Grantland essay “Oscar Season Turns Ugly,” this kind of linkage of Oscar results to actual sociopolitical issues is at once necessary and ludicrous—a tricky conundrum that can’t be assessed “without acknowledging that something horrible is being inappropriately trivialized and something trivial is being inappropriately transformed into a crisis of situational ethics.” I don’t think anyone ever felt that Blanchett, an unerringly shrewd celebrity, would have indulged the open invitation to address this scandal in her subsequent acceptance speeches. But few likely foresaw that, amid a pop-cultural atmosphere in which the topic simply cannot be ignored, the Aussie frontrunner would find a way to dodge it while taking an unimpeachable high road, dedicating her Best Actress BAFTA win Sunday night to the “late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.” In raising her Stoli martini with a twist of lemon to one of the Academy’s departed elite, odds are Blanchett closed whatever case Dylan Farrow had in terms of exacting revenge by setting a trip wire for Blue Jasmine’s leading lady.
Within the Best Actress race itself, consensus seems to be that Blanchett’s closest thing to a competitor is near-perennial nominee Amy Adams, whose nod for American Hustle marks her fifth invitation to the Oscars in only nine years. But beyond any “it’s about time” narrative that could be working in Adams’s favor, there’s the fact that her turn as shape-shifting swindler Sydney Prosser is a career high, the complete-range-of-emotions anchor for an ensemble that’s been recognized in every acting category this year. Winding up in third place will likely be Gravity’s Sandra Bullock, a recent Best Actress winner who, as Kevin Lee intriguingly illustrated in Fandor’s “Video Evidence” series, often keeps viewers rapt with merely her breath, in a performance she’s been gearing up for since making problem-solving self-talk compelling in 1995’s The Net. Hot on her heels is the ever-revered Judi Dench, whose talents seem to deepen with each passing golden year, but whose contribution to the modestly winsome Philomena probably needs a lot more love beyond Oscar’s surely smitten British contingent. And say what you will about 2014 being a boring year for this category, which is fully composed of prior nominees and, had Emma Thompson snuck in, prior winners, but there’s certainly something novel about an acting race in which Meryl Streep is the last name on everyone’s lips.
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Could Win: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine