As the Oscars loom this weekend, the frontrunners to win the Best Actress Academy Award appear to be Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. The other three nominees -- Michelle Williams, Glenn Close, and Rooney Mara -- are long shots to win. Here is how the race to the Best Actress Oscar unfolded this year from the earliest critics' award ceremony.
The competition started late last year without a frontrunner. The first award given out for movies made in 2011, the Gotham Award, went to Felicity Jones for Best Actress in the romantic-drama "Like Crazy." The New York Film Critics Circle weighed in the next day, choosing Streep for her role as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Two days later, the National Board of Review picked Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin."
Unable to settle on any one choice, in mid-December critics in Los Angeles chose Cannes winner Yun Jung-hee as Best Actress in the South Korean film "Poetry." The Boston critics followed, giving its Best Actress prize to Williams for "My Week With Marilyn." Soon after, critics in San Diego decided on Brit Marling in the ethereal sci-fi film "Another Earth."
Finally, a week before Christmas, Williams jumped to the lead and became the frontrunner after critics in Toronto and Houston agreed with Boston that she deserved the nod. The International Press Academy quickly disagreed, instead giving its Satellite Award to Davis in "The Help." The Online critics came next and opted for Swinton. Coming full circle, the Chicago critics picked Williams.
In mid-January, the Broadcast Critics gave the hugely influential Critics' Choice Award to Davis for Best Actress in "The Help." As a result, Davis became the new front-runner. This was short-lived, however, after the Hollywood Foreign Press awarded its Golden Globe Awards to Streep for Best Actress in a Drama and Michelle Williams for Best Actress in a Comedy.
The Academy handed out its nominations on Jan. 24, and all three frontrunners -- Williams, Streep, and Davis -- were named Best Actress nominees. The other two -- Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and Close in "Albert Nobbs" -- were a surprise. On Jan. 29, Davis leaped into the lead when her peers in the Screen Actors Guild voted her Best Actress, along with costar Octavia Spenser as Best Supporting Actress and the entire cast of "The Help" as Best Ensemble.
On Feb. 8, The Weinstein Company started a vigorous campaign to remind voters Streep had not won an Oscar in 29 years. This move angered some, treading on the edge of Academy rules by having a third party, The Hollywood Reporter, send an email to its readers promoting Streep to win.
TWC's COO David Glasser simply called it "innovative" and said competitors were jealous. While it may seem unfair to some, it turned out this kind of campaigning is not against the Academy's rules.
In the last weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, members of various guilds in Hollywood (directors, producers, editors, and writers) held ceremonies that took the focus off Davis and "The Help." They did so by voting "The Artist" or "The Descendants" their top films. Those movies have no Best Actress nominees, although Berenice Bejo is nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the former.
This bodes well for Streep, but Davis remains a strong, popular contender. If these two ladies split the vote, anyone in this category could win the Best Actress Academy Award this year.
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