Our Oscars coverage has, over the last few months, principally focused on the Best Picture race, which makes sense as the films that look like possibilities continue to come into focus. But with the dust now settled on the festival season (well, except for the New York Film Festival getting underway today), we want to come in a little tighter, as it were, and start to think about the individual categories.
First up, this week, is Best Supporting Actress, and we'll work our way through all the categories in the coming weeks, with the other acting races coming up first. Last year, "The Help" star Octavia Spencer pretty much had things sewn up from start to finish, with Berenice Bejo her closest challenger but never really looking like a threat. This year, as in general, things are much more open, with no obvious frontrunner as yet, and a field very much still in flux. We've laid out the possibilities, and our five early predictions below. Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section.
While the lead actress category is, at least at this point in time, looking relatively sparse compared to previous years, supporting is looking a touch more competitive, though not by much. One of the early-year films that is looking like it could be come into play is sleeper hit "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." A sort of "Expendables" for elderly British character actors, Judi Dench is said to be campaigning as a lead for the film, but she may yet figure into the category — believe it or not, she's gathering some buzz for 007 picture "Skyfall," which centers around her character. We'll believe it when we see it, though. Her co-star Maggie Smith (who has two Oscars, for "The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie" and "California Suite") may be a better bet: she has the showier role anyway, as a racist housekeeper who befriends an Indian maid, and ends up with a new lease on life. Plus her recent success on "Downton Abbey" won't hurt too much either. Smith's co-star in Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet," Pauline Collins, also has a degree of buzz out of TIFF.
In terms of other summer releases, Anne Hathaway has been mentioned by some for "The Dark Knight Rises," but without the exceptional circumstances of Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight," there's still going to be a lot of resistance to nominating an actor in a superhero movie, particularly as the awards buzz of Christopher Nolan's film has died off. More importantly, she's got a much better prospect with her tragic, consumptive Fantine in "Les Miserables," for which she chopped off her hair (bonus!) and gets to sing "I Dreamed A Dream." Barring the film being a disaster, or at least a "Phantom of the Opera"-style disappointment, she'll be a nominee. And if the film does play, one of her co-stars might well join her. Helena Bonham-Carter and Amanda Seyfried are both possibilities, but we think newcomer Samantha Barks is more likely — in the memorable role of Éponine, she gets one of the most potent numbers in the piece, in the shape of "On My Own." Hell, maybe they should just decide the category with a sing-off.
More recently, Amy Adams has serious potential in the category for her turn in "The Master." She's had three nods in the category since 2005 (for "Junebug," "Doubt" and "The Fighter") but has never won, so may well be seen as overdue, and she's terrific as Philip Seymour Hoffman's subtly manipulative wife in "The Master." We're not 100% sure it's a performance that the Academy will swing for, against something like 'Best Exotic,' but she shows real range in the part, and the category is so weak that it should land up among the final five.
Of the festival pics, poor reviews for the film probably counted out any of the ladies of "Hyde Park On Hudson," but conversely, "Silver Linings Playbook" has some powerful buzz behind it, so Jacki Weaver could theoretically be a contender, but those on staff who've seen the film reckon there's not mileage behind a campaign for the actress, particularly as hers is a small role, no matter how charming. We've also been tipping Vanessa Redgrave for "Song For Marion" for some time now (though the Weinsteins are yet to announce a 2012 date for the film, and as such, it'll probably not be eligible this year), while among the cast of "Anna Karenina," Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (also of "A Royal Affair") is probably the one to watch. Finally, Sundance hit "The Sessions" was long thought to be campaigning for Helen Hunt as Best Actress, but for the moment at least, Fox Searchlight have deemed that she has a better chance at winning as support, and that's how she'll campaign. We suspect it'll pay off.
It's even harder to tell for movies released later in the year, but the safest bet seems like Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's presidential biopic. She's second billed, a two-time winner already, and is having a bit of a comeback this year. Meanwhile, we've heard good buzz on "Sherlock Holmes" star Kelly Reilly in Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" — she isn't featured in the trailer at all, but plays a heroin addict who befriends Denzel Washington's troubled hero pilot. Jessica Chastain could repeat too, as she reckons her part as a CIA agent in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" is "awesome."
A more recent addition to the season could be one of the ladies of "Hitchcock." Apparently Mirren, who plays the director's long-suffering wife Alma, will be campaigning as a lead, so it's likely Johansson, as Janet Leigh, who has the best chance. Kerry Washington might end up in the running for "Django Unchained" (we suspect not, though, having read the script; it was an underwritten role on the page), while if the film delivers, Rosemarie DeWitt or Frances McDormand could figure into the equation for Gus Van Sant's "The Promised Land." But if we had to pick five right now…
Maggie Smith – "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Samantha Barks – "Les Miserables"
Anne Hathaway – "Les Miserables"
Amy Adams – "The Master"
Helen Hunt – "The Sessions"