Though there’s normally a fairly agreed-upon shortlist of contenders for each Oscar category before the nominations are announced, every year has its fair share of surprises. More often than not, these occur in the Supporting Actor/Actress categories, and it could very well happen again this year. Though the general lack of well-written female characters tends to result in a thin crop of contenders for the Best Supporting Actress category, there are no doubt a number of excellent supporting female performances to thumb through in 2013. The contenders range from fresh newcomers to acting veterans, and the ever-popular Jennifer Lawrence has made a late surge thanks to David O. Russell’s American Hustle finally being unveiled.
In this edition of Oscar Beat, we examine the current state of the Best Supporting Actress category. Read on after the jump.
Quite possibly the most devastating performance of the year, Lupita Nyong’o’s work in 12 Years a Slave is all the more impressive considering it’s the actress’ first feature film role ever. She more than holds her own opposite immensely powerful work from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, and she’s been the frontrunner in this category basically ever since the film debuted in September. The film looks to be in danger of frontrunner fatigue as the critics groups announcements thus far have mostly neglected to recognize the film (though NYFCC named Steve McQueen Best Director), but Nyong’o still seems like a lock to land a Supporting Actress nomination.
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
As one of the last films to screen for critics, many have been wondering for months just how big of an Oscar player David O. Russell’s American Hustle would be. The film looks to have gone over rather well with the critics groups, but as far as acting nominations go, Jennifer Lawrence is the clear standout. It’s shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given that Lawrence won the Best Actress trophy just last year (also under the direction of Russell), but the actress gives a spitfire performance in American Hustle that’s equal parts hilarious and sad. Though Lawrence’s work is certainly noteworthy, it’s her immense likability with voters that just might push her all the way to a win.
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
This early Oscar contender has faded a bit from memory, and while the merits of Lee Daniels’ film have been plenty debated among critics groups, it seems to have gone over well with Academy members. Oprah Winfrey, for one, has drawn strong marks for her performance in the film, and she seems like a pretty solid bet to land her second Oscar nomination in over two decades.
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska has been a favorite among critics for a while now, and June Squibb is enjoying near-universal acclaim for her supporting performance opposite Best Actor contender Bruce Dern. Many pundits have Squibb as a serious threat to win the Best Supporting Actress category, and while the Screen Actors Guild nominations will give us a better idea of how things might shake out, it’s safe to pencil Squibb in for a very likely nomination.
Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station
Much like The Butler, Fruitvale Station is another film that drew high praise earlier this year but has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle of the crowded fall season. Octavia Spencer won this category two years ago for her work in The Help, and she turns in another fine (and highly emotional) performance in the Sundance drama. The last couple of slots in the Best Supporting Actress category are pretty shaky and I’d say Spencer is one of the more vulnerable candidates, but she’s certainly a serious contender for a nomination.
Much hubbub was made about which actress was being submitted to which category from the performance-heavy August: Osage County, but Julia Roberts now appears to be going Supporting while Meryl Streep contends in Lead Actress. Given that August: Osage County is some of Roberts’ best work in years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her land a fourth Oscar nomination. That being said, the critical reception to August at its Toronto International Film Festival was fairly mixed, so it remains to be seen how strongly the Academy reacts to the film.
Margo Martindale – August: Osage County
Speaking of August: Osage County, one of the film’s best performances comes from veteran character actress Margo Martindale. It’s no easy task going toe-to-toe with the litany of heavyweights that fill out this ensemble, but Martindale more than holds her own opposite Streep and Roberts. An Oscar nomination for the Emmy winning actress would not only be well deserved, but also long overdue.
Possible Dark Horse
Sarah Paulson – 12 Years a Slave
While the primary antagonist of 12 Years a Slave is Michael Fassbender’s despicable slave owner Edwin Epps, actress Sarah Paulson delivers an exceptionally complicated performance with her limited screentime as Epps’ wife. While her character’s arc doesn’t give her the chance to display the same type of range as Nyong’O’s Patsey, Paulson’s nuanced work conveys so much about her character’s inner struggles and her complicated relationship with her husband. 12 Years a Slave will likely be landing plenty of Oscar nominations in a number of categories next month, so don’t be surprised to see Paulson pop up in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance in Blue Jasmine is rightfully being hailed as one of the year’s best performances regardless of category, but Blanchett’s co-star Sally Hawkins also turns in impressive work in Woody Allen’s latest film. It’s easy to be transfixed by Blanchett’s absolutely stellar performance while watching the pic, but keen eyed voters may warm to Hawkins’ excellent supporting work as well.