There are complaints every year that while the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories are stacked with talent, the low number of quality female roles that appear in movies makes for frustratingly thin Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress races. Those complaints are entirely valid, and while there are indeed a plethora of excellent male roles that were on display this year, the Best Supporting Actress field has actually filled out quite nicely. In this edition of Oscar Beat, I take a look at where the category stands right now.
The frontrunner in this field has remained the same for quite some time, and that’s Patricia Arquette for her phenomenal performance in Boyhood. The actress’ character is arguably the emotional center of the film, and while it’s neat to see Ellar Coltrane grow up throughout the course of the movie, Arquette does an incredible job of capturing what it’s like for a mother to “grow up” as well throughout her son’s life. As with Ethan Hawke’s performance, it’s work that is made all the more impressive by the fact that Arquette was able to maintain and evolve the character’s arc for over a decade. A very deserving Oscar nomination is absolutely in the cards.
While it looked for a while like Arquette had this one in the bag, none other than Meryl Streep may be crashing the party. The actress has gained some seriously strong notices for her role as the witch in the Disney musical Into the Woods, and while it’s a given that Streep is going to deliver a noteworthy performance every single time she’s onscreen, critics have been really struck by her work here. Streep has this reputation for being someone who’s always nominated, and while it’s true she has a whopping 18 nominations, she’s actually only won three times. I expect she’ll nab nomination number 19 next month.
We knew Birdman was going to be a hit with voters, and indeed the film racked up the most nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, including Emma Stone for Supporting Actress. Stone’s been doing great work for a while now, but in Birdman she shines in a film full of excellent performances. The SAG Awards nod signals that her peers were big fans of her work in the film, and she’s an incredibly likeable person so I expect she’ll be landing her very first (and very deserving) Oscar nomination as well.
One of the films that’s been a favorite to land a number of nominations has been the World War II-set drama The Imitation Game, and actress Keira Knightley delivers a solid performance opposite standout Benedict Cumberbatch that is worthy of attention in its own right. She landed herself a SAG Award nomination as well (as did the other three aforementioned actresses), and if The Imitation Game is as big of a hit with the Academy as I think it’s going to be, I think she’s a strong bet to land an Oscar nod as well.
Jessica Chastain has been Oscar nominated twice before (and should’ve won for Zero Dark Thirty), but this year her prospects seemed a bit less likely. Interstellar didn’t hit it off with critics as well as some were expecting, and her relatively short screentime in the film makes her less of a formidable candidate in contrast to those like Arquette and Stone. But her role in A Most Violent Year—which admittedly isn’t considerably bigger than the one in Interstellar—is gaining some traction. She does swell work in the film as the forceful wife of Oscar Isaac’s businessman, and the Golden Globes took notice with a Supporting Actress nomination. Things could get muddled by the fact that The Weinstein Company is also moving forward with a late campaign for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, putting her in the mix for three separate performances, but given her Academy history I don’t think a nod for A Most Violent Year (or possibly even Interstellar) is out of the question.
Speaking of short screentime, Laura Dern delivers a fragile, emotional performance in the underrated Wild that could land her a second Oscar nomination. I’d go so far as to say Dern also deserves consideration for her exceptional performance in The Fault in Our Stars, but Wild is the one with the genuine Oscar campaign in full swing so that looks to be her best bet. It’s an admittedly small role in terms of being onscreen, but Dern’s presence is felt throughout the entire movie and her performance serves as the driving force for many of lead actress Reese Witherspoon’s actions. In short, it’s a solid supporting performance, which is what this category was designed for, so don’t be surprised to see Dern’s name pop up in the category when the nominations are announced next month.
As Selma continues to rise to the front of the pack, it feels like Carmen Ejogo has a shot at a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work as Coretta Scott King. It’s not nearly as showy a role as David Oyelowo’s phenomenal performance as Dr. King, but Ejogo does very solid, nuanced work with her limited screentime. Moreover, if the Academy really falls for Selma, that love could absolutely extend to a number of categories—including this one.
The SAG Awards nominations featured one surprising nomination that may or may not carry over to the Oscars. Naomi Watts drew notice from critics for her performance in the dramedy St. Vincent, but not necessarily positive notice. Most were somewhat baffled by what she was doing in the film, but the Screen Actors Guild felt otherwise and recognized her with a Supporting Actress nod. Personally I think Watts’ turn in Birdman is more impressive, but since there’s voting overlap between SAG and the Academy, her turn in St. Vincent is one to keep an eye on.
There’s also support for Tilda Swinton to land a nomination, though she’s been incredible in three different films this year and would be genuinely deserving for any one of them. Her Grand Budapest Hotel turn is a riot but has a very small amount of screentime, and the actress’ performance in Only Lovers Left Alive is also great, but thus far an awards campaign for that film doesn’t appear to be launching. Which makes Swinton’s transformative work in Snowpiercer her best bet, and I absolutely wouldn’t count her out. She disappears into the role of a political mouthpiece of questionable ethics in Bong Joon-ho’s socially conscious sci-fi drama, and while The Weinstein Company hasn’t done nearly enough to champion this film, consensus seems to be brewing that Swinton has a shot at a nomination.
We also have a number of other performances to consider, including two from David Fincher’s expertly cast Gone Girl. Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens nearly steal the entire movie every time each is on screen, and I’d be wholly onboard with mounting Oscar campaigns for both. There’s also support for a nod for Kristen Stewart in the Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice, which is already notable for its lead performance from Julianne Moore that sees her as a frontrunner in the Best Actresss race.
Previous nominee Anna Kendrick is certainly a possibility for her turn as Cinderella in the Disney musical Into the Woods, and I do wish that Open Road were pushing harder to land Rene Russo a very deserving nod for her bold performance in Nightcrawler. She goes toe-to-toe with Jake Gyllenhaal throughout the tense runtime, and their chemistry is electric.
Other outside contenders deserving of recognition include Katherine Waterston for a truly hypnotic performance in Inherent Vice, Kelly Reilly in the religious dark comedy Calvary, and Robin Wright who does some swell work opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man. There’s also strong critical support for the film Beyond the Lights, and while Relativity appears to be burying the movie, folks are championing Minnie Driver for her standout supporting performance. And we know the Academy isn’t crazy about recognizing comedy, but was there a funnier performance than Jillian Bell in 22 Jump Street this year?
As I said in the Best Supporting Actor piece, the supporting categories are usually where we can expect the most surprises from the Oscar nominations. As such, there’s really a genuine possibility that any of the aforementioned actresses could sneak into the race. Moving closer towards the nominations announcement next month we’ll start seeing how the individual campaigns are shaping up, but for now the Best Supporting Actress category is actually quite strong with talent.
Here’s how I see the Best Supporting Actress race stacking up as of now, ranked in order of likelihood to secure a nomination:
1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
3. Emma Stone, Birdman
4. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
5. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
6. Laura Dern, Wild
7. Carmen Ejogo, Selma
8. Naomi Watts, St. Vincent
9. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer
10. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl