Eye on the Oscars: The Actor/Actress

Why she’ll win: It’s not often a woman will play a man for dramatic, not comedic, effect. And there aren’t many brave enough — in either gender — to impersonate Bob Dylan. Blanchett pulls off both with alarming resonance, and a Golden Globe win only adds to the fact that she’s being rewarded for what might be the bravest performance of the year.
Maybe not: You don’t have to be a fan of Dylan to appreciate Blanchett’s turn here — but it helps. Todd Haynes should be given credit for his Dylan homage, but there is a solid camp of those with whom the pic just didn’t click, and those voters could hurt her chances.
Critical quote: “Blanchett is, appropriately enough, truly electrifying at first; she’s uncannily got down the skittish movements, wary eyes, curt mumble and occasional flashes of brilliance, and comes far closer than anyone else to approximating the Dylan the public knows,” says Variety’s Todd McCarthy.

Why she’ll win: Despite a career that dates back to 1939, the 83-year-old actress received her first Oscar nom here, and voters, looking over the breadth of her career, may be hard-pressed to feel someone else is more worthy of acknowledgement.
Maybe not: That thinking took a thumping in 1997, first with Lauren Bacall (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”) losing to Juliette Binoche and, a year later, Gloria Stuart (“Titanic”) succumbing to Kim Basinger. Also, Dee appears in only a handful of scenes, much less than her competition in the category.
Critical quote: “As Lucas, Washington streams like a torpedo splintering the hull of society. When he says ‘My man!,’ it’s an expletive. Both he and Ruby Dee, as his mother, give Oscar-caliber performances,” says Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why she’ll win: The film’s success hinges on Ronan’s ability to persuade the local authorities that James McAvoy was guilty of sexual assault, while also trying to persuade herself of what she’s seen. If that moment comes off as unconvincing, the actresses who play her later on in life have less to work with.
Maybe not: At 13, Ronan has a bright future ahead of her, but voters may be under the impression that she needs to build her resume before rewarding her with a statuette. That’s not to say she can’t win — Anna Paquin did when she was 11 for “The Piano” — but the fact that Ronan is also only in the first third of the film might work against her as well.
Critical quote: “For starters, we learn that the film will be seen entirely through Briony’s eyes. And what eyes! Saoirse Ronan is the film’s glory. Note to Oscar: This is acting of the highest order. Ronan simply takes your breath away,” says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.

Why she’ll win: Ryan, a longtime New York stage actor, made us believe Helene was a horrific parent; yet, by the film’s end, we’re not sure she’s a terrible person so much as a product of her upbringing. In a film that proved a terrific first effort from director Ben Affleck, Ryan’s performance as a Boston mom felt as authentic as a summer’s night at Fenway Park.
Maybe not: Ryan’s resume is filled with tons of stellar TV work (she’s recurring on “The Wire”) but she’s done far fewer films. Voters may feel she hasn’t toiled enough on the movie side.
Critical quote: “Deploying her broad Boston accent like a weapon, Ms. Ryan whines and retreats, testing Patrick’s sympathy with each one of her pathetic excuses. It’s a gutsy, sensational performance that adds layers to an already spiky, provocative creation. At first you hate the woman and love the actress, though because Ms. Ryan and Ben Affleck are wise to the ways of scapegoating, you learn why that hate is misplaced,” says Manohla Dargis of the New York Times.

Why she’ll win: Audiences can practically feel the beads of flop sweat on Swinton’s face as George Clooney berates her for incompetence near the end of “Michael Clayton,” a film with a plethora of great perfs. She plays corporate lackey Karen Crowder with expressionless perfection, a woman who thinks she knows everything but is quickly re-educated.
Maybe not: It’s that potpourri of impressive perfs that could work against Swinton. With both Clooney and Wilkinson nominated, voters may be split on how to divvy up the “Clayton” kudos, and that could hurt her chances.
Critical quote: “It’s spellbinding to watch the Clooney and Swinton characters eye to eye, raising each other, both convinced that the other is bluffing,” says Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.

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