In 2006, she lost to Rachel Weitz for The Constant Gardener, and in 2009 to Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Defeat came again in 2011 at the hands of The Fighter co-star Melissa Leo, and once more in 2013 thanks to a single-scene performance from Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables. Lastly in 2014, a fifth refusal was made when Cate Blanchett snatched the prize for Blue Jasmine. Suffice to say, Amy Adams has become the Leonardo DiCaprio of female performance: forever a victim to a corrupt system, always pipped-to-the-post; unjustly so for the most part. However Leo’s deadlock finally shattered this year, and as we near ever-closer to the 89th Academy Awards in 2017, it’s high-time hers did, too.
Now as we all know, awards season starts with festivals, and Adams’ presence has been extremely strong in this department. Both her Arrival and Nocturnal Animals have played at Toronto, Venice and London film festivals, with director Tom Ford’s exquisite drama claiming the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. However, as we also know with awards season, frontrunners develop early and continue to build momentum as the winter months prevail, and one movie is already causing ripples. There is little to doubt that Damien Chazelle’s admittedly spectacular La La Land – a lyrical homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood – has the legs, support and most importantly, hype, to claim Academy glory come February. Much talk centres on Best Picture possibilities, as well as a chance for Chazelle to claim Best Director (we somehow don’t think that’s likely given there’s a Scorsese still to come…), but what’s really hot on the lips is Emma Stone.
With an Oscar nomination already under her belt for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) last year, Stone is currently enjoying the golden statue buzz. Also after the huge debacle earlier in February which saw a seismic divide in the Academy’s appreciation of black talent, chances are that Denzel Washington’s Fences will land multiple nominations, with Viola Davis being among them, as well as Ruth Negga for her role in Loving; the soulful new period drama from Jeff Nichols. Additional bets for nominees include Isabelle Huppert for her impeccable work in Elle, and of course, Natalie Portman for American presidential biopic, Jackie.
All of this means seriously steady competition – potential though it may be – and like usual, another towering assortment of leading female performance. The people’s winner will undoubtedly be Stone. She is heartwarming and human in a heartwarming and human film. Chances are, everyone who sees La La Land will be rooting for her success, and there is nothing wrong with that; it is after all, a glorious performance. Firm bets are placed that she’ll exit 2016 as the bookies’ favourite and this will be represented with nominations at the Golden Globes, SAGs and BAFTAs. However this produces major problems for Adams, who alongside Kristen Stewart’s work in Certain Women and Personal Shopper, has delivered the most important screen turns of the calendar year.
With five nominations to her name, it’s obvious the Academy recognises her capabilities, but with her respective roles as Dr. Louise Banks in Arrival, and Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals, she is conveying mediative, thought-provoking and searingly complex tones. These roles are wildly outside the traditional comfort zones of not just Hollywood filmmaking, but typical awards spheres, too. In Denis Villeneueve’s exhilarating and ethereal Arrival, Adams crafts an intricate and beautifully coordinated tapestry of emotion. She controls the overwhelming nature of her environment with subtle nuances such as breathing patterns and arching posture. For a film about an alien invasion, Villeneueve’s latest is as unfussy and tranquil as you could ever possibly imagine such a format to be. It has a quiet discipline to not only the construction and presentation, but to the behemoth of ideas it composes. Adams serves as the perfect guide through this boldly rich arrangement, and ensures that our experience of her voyage is as equally spine-tingling and profound.
And with a cutthroat transition, she sends us deep into the pulpy black heart of Tom Ford’s sophomore effort. In Nocturnal Animals, Adams renders a stern and frosty façade which expertly encases her inner remorse and anguish. She is heavily and silently fractured, yet fierce and direct to the naked eye. She carries psychological burden; stuffing sadness and regret into the darkest facets of her mind, but these repugnantly manifest as her narrative exploration widens. The stoic and ghostly design of her character Susan weaves poetically and purposefully into Ford’s calculated drama. It is a film of decadent audio-visual design – subtext simply oozing from every frame – and Adams navigates this heady, feverish nightmare with dazzling proficiency.
Interestingly, the less you know about both Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, the more potent and powerful such experiences will screen, and whilst they are entirely different beasts, a constant is the fascinating Adams. There is no doubt that both of these roles entirely warrant Best Leading Actress nominations – this author would love to see Ford’s characters get recognition in particular – but we all know the voters are wimps. Never do truly challenging and provocative studies reap rewards unless they are based on factual events. If films such as 12 Years a Slave and Spotlight hadn’t been so steeped in American history, they likely wouldn’t have enjoyed such successes. One imagines that Nocturnal Animals is an elixir too stiff for Academy pallets, so safer bets are with nominations for Arrival instead. But even this is a science-fiction drama, and a borderline European arthouse one at that, so voters aren’t likely to look as firmly here when they have a Jackie Kennedy and faux Ginger Rogers to assess. There is simply zero question that Adams deserves this more than Stone in particular, but voter popularity and audience momentum are seriously powerful things.
On paper then it seems as though 2017 could provide another Oscar event where Adams will sit in anticipation and then be forced to sympathy-applaud a fellow nominee as she takes the stage. If this prediction becomes a reality, then one will not be at all surprised. Still, an Academy Award is far from an accurate measure of an individual’s talent, and to have Adams tackling such progressive and meaningful roles is a far richer honour than a naked shiny dude upon a mantlepiece.