Last year, JOAN ALLEN [A] made the cut with her beleaguered First Lady in Nixon. Let’s hope she saved her notes from the undelivered acceptance speech. This year, already a Golden Globe nominee, she is a favorite as another long-suffering wife – Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. BARBARA HERSHEY [B](winner of a Los Angeles critics’ award) could receive her first Oscar nomination for her deliciously wicked portrayal of Mme. Merle, The Portrait of a Lady’s mistress of manipulation.
The nominating committee’s fondness for nostalgia could aid both the never-nominated LAUREN BACALL [C] (as Barbra Streisand’s mom in The Mirror Has Two Faces) and Happy Days’ MARION ROSS [D], whose rouge-free performance as Shirley MacLaine’s housekeeper in The Evening Star is a guaranteed vote getter (see profile on page 45).
For the ingenue slot, bet on JULIETTE BINOCHE [E], whose performance as a life-giving nurse in The English Patient is cresting a wave. Her closest competitors are likely to be KATE WINSLET, nominated last year for Sense and Sensibility, who could return as the wacky Ophelia of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, and RENEE ZELLWEGER, who boasts a star-making turn as a single mom in Jerry Maguire (though starring opposite Tom Cruise could be considered its own reward). If voters are truly moved by Secrets & Lies, then MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE, a Golden Globe nominee as the black daughter who reunites with her white mom, could end up with an Academy nod, which would make the British actress much less of a secret. And that’s no lie.
Her cute fluttering in comedies has made MEG RYAN a star, but she’s also Hollywood’s best-kept acting secret. As an Army captain in last summer’s Courage Under Fire, she was, at turns, selfish, weak, and heroic. Had Courage come out in the holiday season, she might have been a contender. So much for dramatic timing.