Oscar Nominees Brie Larson and Saoirse
Courtesy of Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX Shutterstock

The lead actress Oscar race comes to the American Riviera.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Santa Barbara International Film Festival displayed the proper foresight in late November last year when selecting “Room” star Brie Larson and “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan as first-time tandem recipients of the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award: Both have remained out in front of the best actress Oscar race in a year marked by a number of female-centric narratives, and they continue to lock horns heading into the Feb. 28 Academy Awards ceremony.

Of course, nothing approaching competitive awareness was on display Monday night as the two ingenues — who have been previously recognized by SBIFF in the Virtuosos sidebar — enjoyed their dual tributes. In fact, they’ve become quite close on the circuit.

Alas, circumstances kept them apart this time — the production of “Kong: Skull Island,” to be specific. The blockbuster sequel has filled Larson’s schedule all season as she has bounced from locations in Vietnam, Hawaii and Australia to the States and back, accepting honor after honor for her “Room” performance along the way, among other commitments. Having been abruptly called back to set this week, she was able to get the afternoon off for the annual Oscar nominees luncheon, as well as pop in for an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But she couldn’t make the trip to Santa Barbara and return to LAX in time to catch her flight. She didn’t want to blow it off, so a Skype call was in order for the first half of the evening’s festivities.

At 26 years old, Larson might seem new to the game but she’s been at it for two decades. At 6 she became, and remains, the youngest actor to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. (“I thought there would be some freak 3-year-old by now,” she quipped.) She did a number of fake commercial bits for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” around that time, too, her first such gig starring as Malibu Mudslide Barbie.

But it was when she glommed onto actress Toni Collette’s chameleonic work that she began to realize her destiny. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do,'” Larson recalled. “‘I want to play characters. I want to be a character actor.”

She got the chance early to star opposite her idol when she landed Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” in which she played daughter to Collette’s suburban housewife suffering from dissociative identity disorder.

While working on the series, she landed Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” opposite Woody Harrelson and found herself sometimes transitioning from the set of one during the day to another at night. Everything on the “Rampart” production was geared toward improvising, and particularly given that Moverman lights the entire set, there was freedom to move around and go off-script, which she enjoyed. She’s eager to potentially work with Harrelson — whom she called a “mentor” — again on Destin Cretton’s “The Glass Castle.”

Speaking of Cretton, the young director’s “Short Term 12” is what really lit the fuse for Larson. She took research for the part quite seriously, applying for foster care jobs while filming “The Spectacular Now” on location in Georgia to prove her commitment to Cretton. The sincerity spoke again to how beholden she is to character work.

“These are real people to me who live real lives, and they represent people we see in this world,” she said.

“Short Term 12” opened up a “whole new world” to Larson, which of course led to “Room,” at least 25 critical laurels among others (including a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award). She said the whole journey didn’t fully hit her until she was standing there in the annual Oscar nominees class photo at the luncheon Monday afternoon.

“I’m sad to see this era of my life come to a close,” she said. “So moments like this are so meaningful to me.”

Before signing off to catch her flight and head off back to Australia for more “Kong,” she assured everyone was in for a treat with Ronan. “To all of you who get to be there with her, you’re the luckiest,” she said.

Ronan hit the stage with a box of popcorn in hand, as unmoved by the madness of Oscar season as ever. She charmed the audience with tales of catching the acting bug and her parents coming to America from Ireland, an interesting tie to the film she was there to represent, “Brooklyn.”

“People needed to leave [Ireland] in order to work,” she said, detailing how her father took on jobs as a bartender, a construction worker and an actor. “There weren’t many aspirations beyond making a living.”

Her unique first name was of course a topic of discussion — it’s pronounced “SER-shuh,” an Irish word meaning “freedom” — though she said she wasn’t ever pushed to change it for work reasons. “I’ve never been one to be steered when it comes to how I look or let myself be portrayed,” she said, chalking up her forthright nature to “a brilliant mom who wasn’t phased by any of it.”

She was only 13 years old when she landed her first Oscar nomination, for Joe Wright’s “Atonement.” Along the way she’s also worked with Peter Jackson (“The Lovely Bones”), Neil Jordan (“Byzantium”), Andrew Niccol (“The Host”) and Peter Weir (“The Way Back”), among others. And her latest, in fact, marks her second best picture nominee in a row; she also had a role in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” last year.

“Even though the aesthetic is so important [to Anderson] and such a trademark, when he has actors on a set, he gets excited to see them breathe life into the characters,” she said of her time on the film.

But “Brooklyn” really does feel like a culmination for this early stage in her career, a full-circle ode to her parents that has given her at least as much as she’s put into it.

“It means even more as I grow up,” she said. “When I signed on at first, I hadn’t left home. I’m so, so proud of where I come from and being the product of two people who were brave enough to go to New York and make a life. When you’re the type of person who has strong roots, but needs a place that’s bigger, it’s hard. You start to grieve.”

A clip of the film’s final scene was screened, depicting her character, Eilis, dispensing wisdom to a new, fresh-faced Irish emigrant. “You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it,” Eilis says in the film. “But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day, the sun will come out, and you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”

It’s advice Ronan, finally settled into her own life in New York, carries with her every day, she said.

Latest Predictions:

Spotlight Picture
  1. "The Big Short" Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

  2. "Spotlight" Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust

  3. "The Revenant" Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger

  5. "The Martian" Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam

See Full Listing
Best Director Oscar Preview Director
  1. Alejandro G. Inarritu "The Revenant"

  2. Adam McKay "The Big Short"

  3. Tom McCarthy "Spotlight"

  4. George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road"

  5. Lenny Abrahamson "Room"

See Full Listing
One of the year's most critically acclaimed films was also a major B.O. disappointment. After failing to gross $20 million domestically, "Steve Jobs" was pulled from U.S. theaters after less than three weeks. Actor
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio "The Revenant"

  2. Bryan Cranston "Trumbo"

  3. Michael Fassbender "Steve Jobs"

  4. Matt Damon "The Martian"

  5. Eddie Redmayne "The Danish Girl"

See Full Listing
Best Actress Oscar Contenders Actress
  1. Brie Larson "Room"

  2. Saoirse Ronan "Brooklyn"

  3. Cate Blanchett "Carol"

  4. Charlotte Rampling "45 Years"

  5. Jennifer Lawrence "Joy"

See Full Listing
Oscar Nominations Reactions Sylvester Stallone Supporting Actor
  1. Sylvester Stallone "Creed"

  2. Mark Rylance "Bridge of Spies"

  3. Mark Ruffalo "Spotlight"

  4. Christian Bale "The Big Short"

  5. Tom Hardy "The Revenant"

See Full Listing
Carol Rooney Mara Supporting Actress
  1. Alicia Vikander "The Danish Girl"

  2. Rooney Mara "Carol"

  3. Kate Winslet "Steve Jobs"

  4. Jennifer Jason Leigh "The Hateful Eight"

  5. Rachel McAdams "Spotlight"

See Full Listing
(Nov. 4, Fox Searchlight)
Fox Searchlight, the reigning back-to-back best picture champ, has an interesting pair of contenders in this and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.” But John Crowley’s coming-of-age portrait of the immigrant experience is the warmer feel-good player. Adapted Screenplay
  1. "The Big Short" Adam McKay, Charles Randolph

  2. "Room" Emma Donoghue

  3. "Carol" Phyllis Nagy

  4. "Brooklyn" Nick Hornby

  5. "The Martian" Drew Goddard

See Full Listing
Walt Disney
Pixar’s family-friendly head trip is the sort of emotional powerhouse that, like “Up” and “Toy Story 3” before it, could crack the best picture race. A nomination for animated feature should be assured, but an original screenplay mention could also be in the cards (“original” being the operative word). Original Screenplay
  1. "Spotlight" Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

  2. "Inside Out" Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve

  3. "Ex Machina" Alex Garland

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Matthew Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

  5. "Straight Outta Compton" Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus

See Full Listing
Josh Brolin Sicario Cinematography
  1. "The Revenant" Emmanuel Lubezki

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" John Seale

  3. "The Hateful Eight" Robert Richardson

  4. "Carol" Edward Lachman

  5. "Sicario" Roger Deakins

See Full Listing
Focus Features
Reteaming with “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, Eddie Redmayne follows his Oscar-winning turn as Stephen Hawking with an entirely different acting challenge, projecting the inner soul of transgender pioneer Einar Wegener. As in that earlier film, his understanding onscreen wife, Alicia Vikander, could be recognized for the stability she provides. Costume Design
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Jenny Beavan

  2. "The Danish Girl" Paco Delgado

  3. "The Revenant" Jacqueline West

  4. "Carol" Sandy Powell

  5. "Cinderella" Sandy Powell

See Full Listing
Director: Adam McKay 
By Terry Gilliam 
At last... a smart, funny and beautifully directed film about something important. I wish it had been mine, but sadly it’s the handiwork of Adam McKay who really knows what he is doing and has the clout to gather a great cast who entertain, educate, and immerse us in the foolish, greed-driven world that arrogantly marched our economy off the cliff. His flair at telling the tale gets my vote for hero of the year. Film Editing
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Margaret Sixel

  2. "The Big Short" Hank Corwin

  3. "The Revenant" Stephen Mirrione

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey

  5. "Spotlight" Tom McArdle

See Full Listing
mad max fury road Makeup & Hairstyling
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Lesley Vanderwalt, Damian Martin, Elka Wardega

  2. "The Revenant" Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

  3. "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" Love Larson and Eva von Bahr

See Full Listing
(Dec. 25, Weinstein)
Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”) offers an incentive to experience films in the theater, with a limited 70mm roadshow engagement that’s sure to seduce celluloid purists. Original Score
  1. "The Hateful Eight" Ennio Morricone

  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" John Williams

  3. "Carol" Carter Burwell

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Thomas Newman

  5. "Sicario" Jóhann Jóhannsson

See Full Listing
Lady Gaga Best Original Song
  1. "Til It Happens To You" from "The Hunting Ground"

  2. "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre"

  3. "Earned It" from "Fifty Shades of Grey"

  4. "Simple Song #3" from "Youth"

  5. "Manta Ray" from "Racing Extinction"

See Full Listing
Steven Spielberg is never one to be counted out of the top categories, especially when there’s a resonant history lesson involved. Tom Hanks’ performance is as laudable as the film’s Coen brothers-polished script, but the revelation here is Mark Rylance, considered a lock for his richly understated supporting turn as a Soviet spy. Production Design
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Colin Gibson; Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson

  2. "The Danish Girl" Eve Stewart; Michael Standish

  3. "The Revenant" Jack Fisk; Hamish Purdy

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Adam Stockhausen; Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich

  5. "The Martian" Arthur Max; Celia Bobak, Zoltan Horvath

See Full Listing
star wars the force awakens bb8 Sound Editing
  1. "The Revenant" Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Mark Mangini and David White

  3. "The Martian" Oliver Tarney

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Matthew Wood and David Accord

  5. "Sicario" Alan Robert Murray

See Full Listing
Matt Damon The Martian Sound Mixing
  1. "The Revenant" Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo

  3. "The Martian" Mac Ruth, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

  5. "Bridge of Spies" Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin

See Full Listing
Golden Globe Nominees 2016 Reactions Animated Feature
  1. "Inside Out" Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera

  2. "Anomalisa" Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran

  3. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

  4. "Boy and the World" Ale Abreu

  5. "When Marnie Was There" Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

See Full Listing
Oscar Documentary Contenderts 2016 Documentary Feature
  1. "Amy" Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees

  2. "Cartel Land" Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin

  3. "What Happened, Miss Simone?" Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes

  4. "The Look of Silence" Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sorensen

  5. "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom" Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

See Full Listing
Son of Saul Cannes Film Festival Foreign Language
  1. "Son of Saul" Lazlo Nemes; Hungary

  2. "Mustang" Deniz Gamze Erguven; France

  3. "Theeb" Naji Abu Nowar; Jordan

  4. "A War" Tobias Lindholm; Denmark

  5. "Embrace of the Serpent" Ciro Guerra; Colombia

See Full Listing
Original Screen Play Oscar Race Visual Effects
  1. "The Revenant" Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer

  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

  3. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams

  4. "The Martian" Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner

  5. "Ex Machina" Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett

See Full Listing

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 4