Even upon first witness of the colossal dramatic acumen exemplified in her swift tackling of David Schwimmer and retrieval of his cordless phone receiver in the television benchmark that the Library of Congress will no doubt file among the moon landing broadcast and Cronkite in ‘Nam, I never quite thought of Jennifer Aniston as an Oscar contender. But here we are, a decade past her tenure on Friends and just shy of two months after the Toronto International Film Festival debut of her latest movie Cake, and our dear Rachel has entered the conversation for the Best Actress category.
The film, which has yet to release publicly, stars Aniston as a chronic pain sufferer who entertains a relationship with a recent widower, played by Sam Worthington, only to endure hallucinations of his newly deceased wife (Anna Kendrick), with whom she shared a support group. The heavy material is a far cry from the bulk of what we’ve seen from Aniston thus far — her Friends work, various rom-coms, and the occasional raunchy endeavor — which doesn’t exactly hurt her chances come nomination time, considering the Academy’s fondness for “playing against type” stories.
That said, Aniston doesn’t exactly have a nod in the bag. The Best Actress category is relatively snug this year, with weathered veterans and breakout performances lining the lot of potentials. Take a gander at these likely candidates and decide: does Aniston have a shot at the race?
For: Still Alice, in which she plays an academic and family woman gradually succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease.
Academy History: Two nominations for Best Actress (for The End of the Affair and Far from Heaven) and two for Best Supporting (Boogie Nights and The Hours). Though she’s never bagged a trophy, Moore is one of those “How has she never won?!” types the public loves to rally behind.
Her Chances: Easily the category frontrunner, Moore isn’t simply a definite nominee, but almost certainly the big winner come ceremony time. If there's one thing the Oscars love, it's disease.
For: Wild, in which Witherspoon plays a young urbanite who takes to the woods on a solo trek in order to put her personal demons behind her.
Academy History: She won Best Actress for her role as June Carter in Walk the Line.
Her Chances: High, considering the widely celebrated Wild will be the first venture headlined in earnest by Witherspoon (Walk the Line was really Joaquin Phoenix's show). Unfortunately for Aniston, with Witherspoon in the running, the Oscars already have their obligatory "Green sister" nominee.
For: Gone Girl, in which she plays a picture-perfect Stepford Wife and victim of a violent abduction... or something like that.
Academy History: Zilch.
Her Chances: She's got a handle on the "fun" category, as the dark and twisted Gone Girl operates primarily as a visceral thriller (with Pike at the wheel of the revelry). But far less a guarantee than the aforementioned players.
For: The Theory of Everything, in which she plays the first wife of Stephen Hawking.
Academy History: Nothing yet.
Her Chances: Jones will almost definitely get a nomination, but the question concerns the category in which she'll be considered. Considering the nature of her position in the Hawking biopic, Jones could very likely earn a Best Supporting Actress nod instead of one for Lead. This might undersell her contribution to the film, but would at least significantly improve her chances of a trophy in the end.
For: Two Days, One Night, in which she plays a woman frantically striving to appeal to her colleagues' generosity in hopes of convincing them to let her keep her job in lieu of a pay raise they'd receive upon her departure.
Academy History: She snagged a Best Actress Oscar for the 2008 film La môme.
Her Chances: The all-but-necessary foreign performance nomination lies, once again, in the hands of Cotillard. Pad the possibility with her nearly universally beloved role in this year's The Immigrant and you've got your next sure-fire nominee.
AND THE REST
We've got a handful of other potential candidates for the circle this year: Amy Adams for Big Eyes and Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year are plausible; Robin Wright for The Congress, Tilda Swinton for Only Lovers Left Alive, and (especially) Agata Trzebuchowska for Ida would warrant cause for ticker tape parades.
In any event, stiff competition or otherwise, Aniston does indeed have a shot at the category... which, to be perfectly frank, is mind-blowing enough.
Images: Getty, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Focus Features, Cinéart, Music Box Films