Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Closer Look at the Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Continuing this year's sense of ragtag nominees in the supporting categories is the Best Supporting Actress category. Where the lead categories feel like competitive locks with numerous outcomes, this category feels less assured. It isn't that any of their roles are necessarily lackluster, but more that all of them, save for Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) come to this film without any strong bias backing them. With three of them being first time nominees, it makes the race a little more interesting and raises curiosity on if they can transcend the rookie chances and beat the veterans.

When it comes down to it, it is a race between Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) and Lawrence. Where the former has been the darling for quite some time, she does have the problem of the prestige film losing steam in the other categories. The latter, who won Best Actress (Silver Linings Playbook) last year, has become an Oscar darling of sorts and is looking for an unprecedented back-to-back win: an action that has rarely been achieved.

The other nominees are equally interesting with the pleasant surprise of Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and June Squibb (Nebraska) rounding out the category with performances that feel too understated to actually win. However, there is Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) who could pose the biggest threat to the top two competitors. Her performance, while mislabeled as supporting, is a captivating, thrilling role that brings the overdramatic sensibilities of family dysfunction into a compelling actor set piece. She has been absent from the Oscars since her Best Actress win in 2001 for Erin Brockovich and has quite a comeback story to her name. The only problem is with her film not capturing the conversation like her competitors, it does seem unlikely that she'll pull an upset.

Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave

In a strange occurrence, the one almost guaranteed lock to win an Oscar from the 12 Years a Slave camp is Lupita Nyong'o in her cinematic debut. Her role is taxing and brings the harsh realities of slavery into a sympathetic, haunting portrait of a victim longing for freedom. While Michael Fassbender is more showy and Chiwetel Ejiofor is more insular, Nyong'o mixes the elements together in a voyeuristic look at slaves who didn't come from privilege. It is striking that she is still the front runner notably because every other category has been upset by some later competition. It could be that nobody has given a performance as emotionally scarred or unique as hers based on the five nominees. Even then, with 12 Years a Slave in threat of being overthrown in every category, one must be wary about even its strongest chances of winning, as the likes of Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) is likely to play the favoritism card rather heavily. She is a first time nominee with not too much of an established narrative. Hopefully that won't affect voting too much.

ODDS: They are very high, but if American Hustle pulls some sort of an upset, it is likely to result in Jennifer Lawrence receiving back-to-back trophies.

Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle

As I have stated before, I do believe that director David O. Russell is likely to have a Best Picture win in the next 20 years. Despite American Hustle being highly enjoyable, I do not think that this one is it. As it stands, I have also already complained about Bradley Cooper's nomination feeling tacked on to make Russell seem more impressive. What is more baffling is the fact that Jennifer Lawrence's supporting role is somehow a serious upset for the top prize. While it plays heavily into the idea that at 23 she has had three nominations and one win, it almost seems like overkill to start her down the Meryl Streep road of pointless nominations. She is fine in a supporting role, but with a roaming accent and problematic story, she isn't nearly as concrete in execution as her Silver Linings Playbook foray. Then again, don't underestimate the idea that this film is the flashiest package of them all and has been rumored to an upset for quite some time. It has been proven that people like Lawrence, and it very well could give her that extra boost.

ODDS: They are rather high, even though undeserved and would only benefit by a potential sweep by American Hustle, which has been speculated for quite some time.

Julia Roberts - August: Osage County

If there is any interesting pattern here, it is the return of former nominees for the first time in decades. With Bruce Dern being nominated (Best Actor - Nebraska) for the first time in 28 years, Julia Roberts covers the second highest with 13 years since her win for Best Actress (Erin Brockovich). She has been low profile since then and hasn't turned in too many noteworthy Oscar roles. With this film, she comes back with a vengeance that is very much deserving of a slot among these nominees. She is fierce and makes the campy family dysfunction into something haunting. The only issue is that August: Osage County hasn't quite populated conversations enough for her performance to be recognized against Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) or Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle). She does have the comeback card to her advantage, but it does seem unlikely that it will work this time.

ODDS: She does seem like the most imminent threat of the bottom three choices, but the competition seems unlikely to have her pulling an upset.

Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine

Easily my favorite surprise Oscar nominee of this year.Sally Hawkins has been turning in impressive work for quite some time having been overlooked for gems such as Happy-Go-Lucky. It does seem fitting here that she makes her debut as a nominee in a Woody Allen film that has her playing off of Best Actress front runner Cate Blanchett. She is charismatic, sweet, funny, and at points even tragic. By being nominated, she has already won. Unlike Dallas Buyers Club in the male acting fields, there doesn't sound like an upset in the works here. She is great, but the conversation has been heavily based around Blanchett and her competitors in this category have dominated discussion too much to make any of her odds high enough to be seen as a threat.

ODDS: While I love seeing her in this race, she is unfortunately too low in profile recognition to possibly even be a surprise winner.

June Squibb - Nebraska

I am impressed with how dominant Nebraska has been in the nominations, even if their chances of winning are very low. Equally impressive is that the Academy recognized June Squibb, for a role that felt undermined since its conception. She is the delightful secret weapon of the film, providing a lot of memorable comedic moments that only help Bruce Dern's performance shine. This is a nomination that is well deserved on the ground of bringing old people to life in sincere a way that doesn't feel like escapist nonsense like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This first time nominee makes her position count, even though she unfortunately has no steam going forward into the big race. Since her role is practically a complement to Dern's, it is almost a guarantee that it will be overlooked because of how little showiness is brought to the role.

ODDS: Close to none, even though her performance remains underrated and one of the definitive reasons that Nebraska is an impressive film.

Will Jennifer Lawrence win back-to-back trophies? Is Julia Roberts capable of using the comeback card to her advantage? Will we be seeing Sally Hawkins back in this race sometime soon?

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