I have waited this long before posting about my Best Supporting Actress predictions because I wanted to wait on one last festival premiere before posting, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. This film from director Ang Lee and based on the novel by Ben Fountain, was much anticipated, including by me, for its promised grit and acting, as well as technical innovation in the form of 120 fps filming. Alas, the film has been praised for its visuals and some of the acting, but has been panned for its script and general direction, making it unlikely to garner any major awards buzz. This applies here because I had strongly considered Kristen Stewart, who plays the titular Billy’s brother Kathryn in the film, as a potential contender.
Although much praise has gone to newcomer Joe Alwyn for playing Billy, as well as for Stewart, who’s still trying to shake off the stigma of Twilight, they haven’t received such praise as to allow them to transcend an overall disliked picture a la The Iron Lady. This could absolutely change in the next month when the film premieres wide on November 11th, an interesting reversal of Les Miserables, which premiered to rave reviews at festivals before finding more mixed reactions with the general public. 17 critics on Rotten Tomatoes don’t determine the outcome of an Oscar race.
That being said, this category has still gotten me very excited due to a potential breadth of potentially great performances, like the Best Actress race I described here. Alicia Vikander won after a huge year and acclaim for her performance in The Danish Girl made her almost uncontested in the Supporting Actress category, although she was only there because of category fraud. Although Vikander won’t be repeating that feat this year, there is always room for category fraud with the Academy. Anyway, let’s move on to discussing the state of the race as it exists now assuming Ms. Stewart is out.
From What We’ve Seen
As far as material from early in the year is concerned, not a lot of potential contenders emerged in the first half of this year. One of the few worth mentioning is Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky, Gavin Hood’s acclaimed military thriller in which Mirren starred opposite Aaron Paul and the late Alan Rickman. Mirren nearly made it in to the Oscar race with a well-liked performance in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, receiving a Golden Globe nod, as well as one for the Screen Actors Guild. It’s not like the Academy is in any rush to reward her again after her win for The Queen, but she’s always a threat, especially with the early benefit of a clear field for the first half of the year. Another recent Oscar-winner, Julianne Moore, made another well-liked turn in this year’s Maggie’s Plan, by Rebecca Miller. Critics liked Maggie’s Plan but with Moore’s recent win and the film’s diminished recognition since its premiere in May, it’s unlikely to make any big waves for Moore’s performance. Moore may be a long-shot, but there’s another prospect for Mirren at the end of the year.
As for more recent movies a couple of potential contenders have emerged as we’ve reached Autumn. One that has me particularly excited is Molly Shannon in Other People, where the SNL alum plays the dying mother of a gay man, played by Jesse Plemons, in Sacramento. The film made next-to-no money but that hopefully won’t keep an acclaimed performance like Shannon’s out of the discussion for Best Supporting Actress. Speaking of comedies, The Hollars, directed by John Krasinski, had a huge ensemble cast that includes the likes of Anna Kendrick and Charlie Day. However, the most praise for the film has gone to Margo Martindale as the titular family’s matriarch, which could also find her a place in the Supporting Actress race. Because both of these films were small in scale and returns they will need plenty of love from the critics associations in order to have any chance. If they can manage this then they might both have a decent chance at waking up to a nod on Oscar morning.
As for more conventional fare, two Disney-backed features premiered last month that could also make serious cases for themselves at the Oscars: Queen of Katwe and The Light Between Oceans. The former had an adored supporting performance by recent Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, who is in hot pursuit of another nomination since her much-deserved win for 12 Years a Slave. In Katwe, Lupita plays the mother of a chess prodigy in Uganda, and received the most praise out of any part of the movie. The film received a special nod with a Third Place finish at the Toronto Film Festival for its prestigious People’s Choice Award, which means it will likely still be in the conversation by year’s end. For The Light Between Oceans, I already mentioned how Alicia Vikander likely won’t have a place in the Best Actress race, but just as praised was Rachel Weisz, another Oscar-winner in this category, as the mother of a lost child. As mentioned before, the film has to overcome the stigma of being disliked for its slow pace and heavy material, but besides Cinematography and Score, this seems like the film’s best chance at a nomination.
The Festival circuit delivered this year with some amazing films, and some potential contenders for Best Supporting Actress. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea made waves at Sundance in January, and since then Michelle Williams has maintained a strong lead in this category. Williams plays the widow of Casey Affleck’s brother in the film, and although she reportedly doesn’t have much screentime, she apparently makes do with what she has. This film is a major contender for a number of awards, and if current reviews are to be believed Supporting Actress might be one of its safest nominations, among the many it’s likely to receive. Bounding up to Williams in the last few weeks, however, is another acclaimed performance by Naomie Harris in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, which emerged from Telluride and Toronto as a major awards player. Harris has built up an impressive resume in the past few years in the James Bond franchise and last year’s Southpaw. Like Williams it seems like she has limited screentime with a major impact on the audience, but then again this is Supporting Actress. While Williams has the benefit of a potential overdue narrative if she gets her fourth nomination, either performance could seem like a frontrunner based on current buzz.
Two other potential nominees have emerged from the festival circuit, one from Toronto and one from the recent New York Film Festival. Garth Davis’ Lion, backed by the Weinstein Company, premiered at Toronto to rave reviews, potentially saving the declining producers with a series of potential nods. Among these might be a nomination for Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierly, the main character’s adopted mother. With Harvey Weinstein’s backing and plenty of buzz, this film is likely to find some love at the Oscars, with especial praise for its script Luke Davies’ script and Kidman’s performance. Meanwhile, the NYFF has given us a glimpse at one of my most anticipated of the awards season: Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women. The film follows a group of women who teach and mentor a young boy about life and growing up in late 70’s California. Both Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig have emerged as potential nominees, but I would give the edge to Gerwig in terms of likelihood. Gerwig seems to have the more well-liked performance, and an arguable near-miss for 2013’s Frances Ha only helps her case against Fanning, who’s relatively weak resume might be the deciding factor for studio executives seeking to avoid splitting the vote.
In addition to her performance in 20th Century Women, Gerwig has also received praise for her role as Nancy Tuckerman in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, which is making a quick turnaround from it’s Venice premiere to a December release due to wide acclaim. Although Portman’s performance is the most likely to land a nod, love for the film has continued to grow and may carry Gerwig and others along with it. Either way it may be hard to imagine an Oscar morning in January without Gerwig’s name in Best Supporting Actress. The final acclaimed performance I’ll mention from the festival circuit is Laura Linney in Nocturnal Animals, by Tom Ford. The fashion-designer-turned-director’s second movie premiered at Venice and snagged the Grand Jury Prize, essentially garnering second place for the Golden Lion. Linney’s performance as the lead character’s mother has garnered praise despite being a one-scene performance. However, the Academy has awarded similar performances before in Sidney Lumet’s Network when Beatrice Straight won in 1977. The biggest question is whether they’ll be room for such a performance in such a stacked year.
Those Still to Come
Perhaps the biggest potential delivery for this category that has yet to premiere is Hidden Figures, about the African-American women who made NASA’s Apollo program possible in the 1960’s. While Taraji P. Henson is likely to factor into the Best Actress race, so are her co-stars Janelle Monae and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. Monae actually has a part in Moonlight as well, which might help propel her forward for this year, but Spencer remains one of the most respected actors in Hollywood which makes her more likely in my opinion to garner a nomination. If the film lands definitely expect both Monae and Spencer to play into this category. Another film with two potential late contenders is Ben Affleck’s upcoming crime drama Live By Night, which has supporting roles for the aforementioned Elle Fanning as well as Sienna Miller. Fanning is having a banner year while Miller was just short of a nod for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper just a couple of years ago so if the film is good enough, she could be seeking a makeup nomination.
There are three other potential nominees worth mentioning here: Helen Mirren for Collateral Beauty, Leslie Mann for The Comedian, and Laura Dern for The Founder. Mirren has received plenty of praise for her aforementioned role in Eye in the Sky, but Collateral Beauty is the latest drama by David Frankel, who’s The Devil Wears Prada received two Oscar nods. I have high hopes for Collateral Beauty and if those hopes aren’t misplaced, then Eye in the Sky might be just a precursor to a potential awards play for Mirren. Mann on the other hand will be starring in another late-season release, The Comedian, which will star Robert De Niro as a washed-up comedian, and Mann as a character named Harmony. Finally, The Founder is this season’s attempt to continue Michael Keaton’s post-Birdman comeback and Laura Dern will be playing Ray Kroc’s wife, in another supporting wife role in a year that’s full of them. I don’t hold out much hope for the film being nominated outside of Keaton, but Laura Dern is never one to be counted out.
When it comes down to it, I feel that while there may be a lot of talent in the race this year, that with some absolute frontrunners already out there it may not be terribly fluid. Harris and Williams both continue to lead with no signs of stopping just yet, while Gerwig seems like she’s just bound to get in for something. Both of the co-stars of Hidden Figures could figure into the discussion in a big way, and the same goes for Live By Night. That being said, let’s get to the real predictions:
- Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
- Naomie Harris – Moonlight
- Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
- Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
- Nicole Kidman – Lion
With those stated, I also want to add that Laura Linney and Elle Fanning are my predicted back-ups if Hidden Figures doesn’t deliver or if the Academy doesn’t end up liking Lion.