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Big Name, Big Underdog Show Challenges of Lead Actress Oscar Race

Blanchett, Larson both worthy of consideration

It’s the blessing and the curse of the awards beat that you can see films like “Blue Jasmine” and “Short Term 12,” as I have in the past week, and see your thoughts almost immediately turn to their Oscar hopes — sometimes before the movies are even over.

In particular, I’m stuck on the relative hopes of lead actresses Cate Blanchett of “Jasmine” and Brie Larson of “Short Term,” both of whom give completely memorable performances.

Blanchett is of course familiar in Oscar circles, with two lead actress nominations alongside a supporting actress win for “The Aviator.” Amid a strong ensemble, she owns “Jasmine” and certainly merits inner-circle Aacdemy Award consideration this winter.

Her chances might rise or fall depending on how much voters perceive Blanchett’s manneristic work in the movie as intrinsic to the rather unhinged character — or the consequence of leading a Woody Allen picture. In any case, as Jennifer Lawrence’s win five months ago for “Silver Linings Playbook” showed, the Academy is game to appreciate a seriocomic tour de force.

“Blanchett’s performance is so dominant in terms of screentime and emotional impact that the film succeeds as not only a virtuoso ensemble piece, but also an unflinchingly intimate study of the character in the title,” wrote Variety senior film critic Justin Chang in his review. “It’s a brilliantly bipolar piece of acting, bringing an almost Method rawness to the writer’s typically refined dialogue, and what gives Blanchett’s performance such force is how expertly she modulates her character’s mood swings.”

“Short Term” might well be destined for Indie Spirit recognition and nothing more, but it can’t go unspoken at this point that as a sensitive (in more ways than one) youth counselor, Larson knocks her role out of the park, so much so that the wistful Oscar-obsessed mind can’t help wisting.

“Larson makes the most of the meticulously crafted script, designed like an artichoke to reveal its heart slowly as new information comes to light with each scene,” wrote Variety senior film critic Peter Debruge when he reviewed “Short” in March.

Last year brought us a number of compelling female perfs from unexpected places, including Ann Dowd in “Compliance,” Emayatzy Corinealdi in “Middle of Nowhere,” Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Smashed,” Michelle Williams in “Take This Waltz” and the one who got the Oscar nomination, Quvenzhane Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” This year, Greta Gerwig has already registered for “Frances Ha,” and others remain to come that realistically would push Larson’s awards chances aside. “Beasts,” underdog that it was, still benefited from a level of publicity that “Short Term” can’t hope to match.

But the caliber of Larson’s work, the range that she shows, demands to be seen. With a breakout performance like that, whether it means anything for awards, as intrinsic as that is to my job, is otherwise beside the point.

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