With the 85th Academy Awards looming closer, we here at Collider thought now would be a good time to take a look back at Oscar race thus far. It’s been a wild and somewhat nutty 12 months, as we’ve seen numerous contenders rise and fall (and some rise back up again) in the contentious hunt for Oscar gold. We’ve already run down the ebbs and flows of the Best Supporting Actor category, and today we’ll be taking a look back and how the race played out for Best Supporting Actress.
Of all the Oscar categories this year, Best Supporting Actress sadly turned out to be one of the weakest. The race kicked off early with the Sundance premiere of The Sessions, in which previous Best Actress winner Helen Hunt was singled out for her touching work opposite John Hawkes in the character-centric drama. She was our first frontrunner in the category, seeing as how much of the Oscar fare had still yet to be seen. The spring also kicked up another unlikely candidate in Maggie Smith, as the comedy/drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel struck a chord with the older-skewing Academy members and became a possible dark horse in a couple of categories leading up to the nominations.
As we headed into the fall, more contenders started to surface. Following its wildly successful Toronto Film Festival screening that solidified its status as a serious Best Picture contender, Silver Linings Playbook had pundits weighing the possibility of past nominee Jacki Weaver landing a nomination for her work in the film. It was an admittedly brief role, but actors in the past have been nominated in the supporting categories with less screen time (William Hurt in A History of Violence comes to mind). The strong support behind Silver Linings Playbook as a whole (aided by The Weinstein Company’s fervent campaigning) kept Weaver in the conversation throughout the coming months.
Though Weaver’s work was strong, she didn’t really pose a threat to knocking Hunt out of the frontrunner spot. Hunt’s loneliness at the top changed with the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which was met with a mixed response from critics but was widely praised for its performances. Amy Adams more than held her own opposite the powerhouse work from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and repeat viewings only amplified the impact of her performance. Though the lukewarm response to the film as a whole kept Adams from launching to frontrunner status, she most definitely solidified herself as a serious candidate for the trophy.
The beginning of the fall also saw a handful of names pop up as possible candidates, likely because the category was looking rather thin. Halle Berry was mentioned as an outside possibility for her chameleon-like work in Cloud Atlas, and Doona Bae deservingly enjoyed praise for her performance in the Wachowkis’ adaptation as well. Fox Searchlight positioned the biopic Hitchcock into a prime awards release date and talk began of a possible nomination for Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Janet Leigh, but ultimately the mixed reviews for both films and the lack of attention paid to the aforementioned actresses’ work meant that they were very, very long shots for a nomination.
November saw the rise of possible candidates from both a prestigious period pic and a James Bond film. Lincoln solidified itself as the new Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture with rave reviews, high box office attendance, and a truly remarkable performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. However, the lead actor’s turn as our nation’s president wasn’t the only performance generating awards buzz, as Sally Field also turned heads for her work as the emotional Mary Todd. Though some didn’t quite spark to Field’s performance as much as others, she had a fair share of critics singing her praises. Moreover—and maybe even more importantly—she’s an Academy favorite (they really, really like her), so her slot among the Best Supporting Actress nominees became highly likely.
A less likely candidate for the trophy emerged from Sam Mendes’ stellar James Bond entry Skyfall. The pic notched nearly universal rave reviews, with many pointing out the stellar performances from Javier Bardem as the villain and Judi Dench as M. Though Dench had played the Bond character a handful of times before, Skyfall’s story gave the actress much more to chew on, and Dame Dench knocked it out of the park. The Academy isn’t always quick to recognize blockbuster fare, though (let’s not forget the Dark Knight debacle), so Dench was relegated to “Dark Horse” status for a nomination.
Although the musical adaptation Les Miserables had yet to be seen by anyone, pundits were already predicting possible frontrunner status and even a win by Anne Hathaway in the Best Supporting Actress category months before its release, based simply on the fact that the musically-inclined actress was tackling the emotionally devastating role of Fantine. When the film finally did start screening for critics at the end of November, the Best Supporting Actress race was more or less over. “Give Hathaway the Oscar now,” was one of the most widely-heard reactions to the film, as the actress essentially wrapped up her win in a heartbreaking single-take rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Any other candidates that emerged in December would be relegated to “also-ran” status, as Hathaway started picking up every single Best Supporting Actress precursor award available.
In addition to Hathaway, Les Mis also offered up another possible nominee in stage actress Samantha Barks for her work as Eponine. The actress was undoubtedly impressive in the role, but the film’s mixed reviews coupled with all the attention surrounding the performances from Hathaway and Hugh Jackman meant that she was unable to gain much traction as a viable candidate.
December saw the late rise of an unlikely candidate and the disappointing fall of a hopeful. Prior to Django Unchained’s release, it was assumed that Kerry Washington would be a serious contender for Best Supporting Actress given that the entire plot of the film centered around rescuing her character. Unfortunately, a great deal of her scenes were cut in the editing process and the resulting performance just wasn’t meaty enough to warrant Oscar consideration.
A very late—and somewhat surprising—surge occurred with Nicole Kidman. The actress turned in a rather gutsy performance in Lee Daniels’ much-derided The Paperboy earlier in 2012, but a sort of underground campaign for the actress started to gain traction later in the year. When the Screen Actors Guild nominations were announced, Kidman found herself singled out for The Paperboy and became a dark horse to land an Oscar nomination.
When the nominees were finally announced, however, Kidman just missed the cut as we were left with Anne Hathaway…and everyone else. Hathaway will be gunning for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar alongside Amy Adams, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, and Jacki Weaver when the 85th Academy Awards are handed out on February 24th. It appears that this one is all but settled, though, as it’s unquestionably Hathaway’s Oscar to lose.
Check back tomorrow when we look at the Best Actor category. If you missed our previous article covering the Best Supporting Actor race, click here.