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If We Picked the Winners 2014: Best Actress

"Blue Jasmine"

In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Susan Wloszczyna makes the case for our pick for the Best Actress of 2013: Cate Blanchett of "Blue Jasmine". Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choice for Best Picture on Friday. Click here for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

A dewy maiden turned ruthless monarch in "Elizabeth". The ethereal elven queen Galadriel in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. A tempestuous Bob Dylan at a major turning point in his musical career in "I'm Not There". 

What do they have in common? Cate Blanchett, who made us believe she was all of these decidedly disparate larger-than life beings.

However, in "Blue Jasmine", the mesmerizingly mercurial Australian actress achieves what is her most astonishing feat yet: She grabs hold of a Woody Allen film and, presto-change-o, re-invents it into a Cate Blanchett movie by the sheer cyclonic force of her performance.

From the second she shows up as a modern-day Blanche DuBois in the throes of a mental meltdown ignited by a dizzying downward spiral in status caused by her husband’s shady financial schemes, her displaced Manhattan socialite permeates the screen with a distinctive female persona. It’s one that reeks of delusion, desperation, dark humor and dank armpits staining her ever-more-rumpled designer blouses. While Allen characters have suffered tragic fates before, none have felt quite this immediate and raw.

Rarely has an unraveling been so riveting as Blanchett’s Jasmine struggles to maintain appearances as a chic woman about town while moving a massive set of Louis Vuitton luggage into her accommodating sister’s cramped working-class apartment in San Francisco. With few employable skills and a shaky hold on her sanity, Jasmine maintains an air of snobbery even while depending on the tolerance of others—along with fists full of Xanax and a steady stream of vodka.

Blanchett actually has two roles to play, one in flashbacks as a privileged Jasmine, who seems to blindly savor the spoils of her Bernie Madoff-like spouse’s ill-gotten gains, and one in present day, as she attempts to sidestep reality at every turn while refusing to acknowledge the extent of her decline.

The real trick here is to make the audience care about Jasmine, who is about as 1% as they come. And as panic starts to seep through her every pore, we do somehow relate. Who among us hasn’t put on airs, worn clothing as a kind of armor, found courage in intoxicants or lied to ourselves that we are something we are not. That we feel Jasmine’s pain and sometimes even grudgingly admire her gall is perhaps the highest achievement of one of the year’s most indelible big-screen portraits.

Six-time nominee Blanchett won a supporting Oscar for 2004’s "The Aviator" by daring to play Katharine Hepburn, one of the greatest leading ladies of all time. Now it’s time to recognize her own place as one of the greatest leading ladies working today. 

Click here for our winner for Best Actor and come back tomorrow for Best Picture.

Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly thirty years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

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