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Oscars: A Look At The Supporting Actress Contenders, Including Oprah Winfrey, Cameron Diaz & Lupita Nyong’o

Oscars: A Look At The Supporting Actress Contenders, Including Oprah Winfrey, Cameron Diaz & Lupita Nyong'o

It’s been a busy week or so in Oscar Land: rumors have swirled around the release, or not, of “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” previously thought a potential frontrunner, while Bennett Miller‘s “Foxcatcher” stormed into the race with an excellent teaser trailer, only for it to be announced almost immediately that the film wouldn’t make its release date or AFI premiere, and would instead be released in 2014.

We deal with those two major developments on our Best Picture chart on the next page, but in the meantime, having tackled Best Supporting Actor contenders last week, we’re pushing on with the Best Supporting Actress category. There’s a reputation here for a thin field, and that’s sometimes borne out by the nominees, but that doesn’t look to be the case this time around; while it doesn’t appear to be the starriest line-up, there’s more than enough to choose from in the category, even this far out. We run down the possibilities, and make our early predictions below, let us know your own thoughts in the comments section.

Early Year Contenders

Unlike in the Supporting Actor category, there are several legitimate contenders for Supporting Actress from films that opened, or at least premiered at festivals, during the pre-awards-season part of this year. Probably the biggest threat from the first nine months is the legend herself, Oprah. While a crowded Best Actor field means that her co-star in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” Forest Whitaker, is going to struggle to make it in, the film’s best chance for a nomination comes from Winfrey’s heavy-drinking Gloria Gaines in the film. She has a previous nomination (for “The Color Purple“), and an honorary win back in 2011, but whether or not the film ends up as a Best Picture nominee, Winfrey’s looking good for the final five here.

Further back, “Fruitvale Station” premiered at Sundance back in January, less than a year after Octavia Spencer won her Oscar for “The Help,” and ever since, she’s had buzz for a potential second nomination for playing Oscar Grant’s mother. The film’s lost some traction, but Spencer’s still very much in the race, though our gut says that voters will ultimately feel that she’s been rewarded recently, and may go for some of the other picks down the line. But if some of the yet-to-be-seen choices fall through, Spencer might well make it.

Cannes, meanwhile, provided a serious contender in the shape of June Squibb. The 83-year-old veteran character actress has worked with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen to Lena Dunham, but her reunion with Alexander Payne (she played Jack Nicholson‘s ill-fated wife in “About Schmidt“) led to a performance that by many accounts steals the show in “Nebraska.” While she might not be a household name, she’s the kind of long-serving performer that the Academy love to honor. Expect this campaign to gather steam as the release gets closer. Looking less likely is Carey Mulligan in “Inside Llewyn Davis” — she has good notices, but it’s not a huge role, so it doesn’t seem likely to make the cut when all is said and done.

Finally, “Blue Jasmine” is all about Cate Blanchett, but Sally Hawkins has a certain amount of buzz behind her supporting role, the Stella to Blanchett’s Blanche. Hawkins deserved a nod, but missed out, for “Happy-Go-Lucky” a few years back, so she’s certainly due. But even so, we’d call her a bit of an outsider at this stage.

Hot From The Festival Circuit

As with most categories this year, “12 Years A Slave” stormed onto the scene at Telluride and Toronto, and thrust into the race an actress who few had heard of before; Lupita Nyong’o. The Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised, Yale-educated actress makes her feature film debut in Steve McQueen‘s latest, and despite her late entrance, she’s seared her way into the eyeballs of early audiences of ‘Slave.’ There are other possibilities in the movie — Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard — but it’s Nyong’o who seems to be the anointed one, and at this stage, only a fool would bet against it, especially in a field that seems to be lacking in the kind of breakout role that often does well in this category.

Beyond that, “August: Osage County” is the kind of film engineered to pick up acting nominations, and as you might imagine, the hardest thing is knowing who of the ensemble is likely to emerge. As of right now, Julia Roberts is campaigning as a lead, where she faces a tougher fight, but stays away from category fraud at least (if anything, she’s more of a lead than co-star Meryl Streep). As for the rest of the cast, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson have won good notices, but it’s 62-year-old veteran Margo Martindale who looks like the best bet here. The actress has a Tony nod already, and was a popular Emmy winner for her gig on “Justified” a few years back, and has a role in ‘August’ that, while pared down from the source material, remains more potent than most. That said, though she’s twenty years younger, she might be competing with Squibb for that veteran-character-actor slot.

A few other contenders emerged during festival season, though they look less of a threat than the above. Naomie Harris was seen as something of a bright spot in “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” but with the film being received with shrugs, she’ll have a tough fight to a nomination even with the backing of The Weinstein Company. Neither Maria Bello, Viola Davis or Melissa Leo have large enough roles to really build up steam from “Prisoners,” while Felicity Jones in “The Invisible Woman” doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen either, with the film having relatively few supporters. Jennifer Garner might be worth keeping an eye on in “Dallas Buyers Club,” but it’ll depend on how well the film plays as a whole: the part is much less showy than co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

Finally, we’ve not heard much buzz from fellow prognosticators on Alexandra Maria Lara in “Rush,” though a recent second viewing of the film reminded us that the German actress is one of the best thing’s in the film. It’s a relatively thin role, but Lara does wonders with it. Buzz has to start somewhere, so it might as well be here…

Still To Come

As ever, the supporting categories can be somewhat unpredictable, so much could still change when new films bow and we see what their ensembles have to offer. Given the success of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter” in the acting categories, David O Russell‘s “American Hustle” has to be worth keeping an eye on (Russell got Jacki Weaver a nomination last year despite the actress having about seven lines of dialogue in the movie). Amy Adams is going to be campaigning as a lead here, which makes Jennifer Lawrence the obvious contender for the film. That said, in the draft of the script we read, it didn’t seem an especially nominateable part, but we suspect it’s been expanded in the meantime.

Adams could still crop up in the category, though, thanks to her part in Spike Jonze‘s “Her” — the film’s an unknown quantity at this point, but given Adams’ four nominations in the category, she’s likely to be in the conversation. We’d wondered about Vanessa Redgrave in “Foxcatcher” for a while, but obviously the film’s recent delay into 2014 makes that one impossible for now.

A potentially serious threat is Cameron Diaz in “The Counselor.” On the page, it’s a killer role, but we’ve always wondered if Diaz might be miscast in the role, and reports we’ve heard recently that Diaz filmed the part with a Hispanic accent, and then redubbed it (Jodie-Foster-in-“Elysium” style) doesn’t fill us with confidence. But if she can pull the part off, she’s definitely the film’s best bet at the gold.

Elsewhere, Kristin Wiig could be a possibility if there’s anything more to her role in “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” than a romantic foil, while Cate Blanchett shouldn’t be counted out for “Monuments Men,” and Emily Watson could figure in from “The Book Thief” if the film works. And there are longer shot possibilities from Zoe Saldana in “Out Of The Furnace,” Elizabeth Olsen in “Oldboy” and even Julianne Moore in “Carrie” (let’s not forget that Piper Laurie was nominated for the same part in Brian DePalma‘s original).

So that’s how the field looks. If we had to pick five right now, it’d be the ones below. Next week: the fiercely competitive Best Actor line-up.

Best Supporting Actress Predictions – September 30th

Cameron Diaz – “The Counselor”

Margo Martindale – “August Osage County”

Lupita Nyong’o – “Twelve Years A Slave”

June Squibb – “Nebraska”

Oprah Winfrey – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Best Picture Chart – September 30th

1. “12 Years A Slave” (last week’s position: =)

The first hint of a backlash arrived with a piece questioning whether Solomon Northrup really wrote the book that chronicles his experiences. But if that’s the worst that the hit squad can come up with, this should have a more painless passage than expected. And rivals are clearly a bit scared of it: it’s hard not to feel that the film’s early dominance is part of the reason for some of these delays. 

2. “American Hustle” (=)

This can only benefit from the wavering of “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” which appeared to be its closest genre competition in the race, and from the delay of Sony Picture Classic’s “Foxcatcher.” If ‘Slave’ distributors Fox Searchlight are looking over their shoulder, it’s because of this one.

3. “Gravity” (=)

The press who didn’t see this on the festival circuit caught up with it in the last week or so, and in general the critical hosannas continued, though a minority see it as a pure theme park ride. It’s tracking to open as high as $40 million at the weekend which would only help its case.

4. “Saving Mr. Banks” (=)

We believe that this is going to be unveiled as a secret screening at NYFF, so we should have word on this soon. Not the hip choice, necessarily, but it should be very Academy-friendly.

5. “Captain Philips” (7)

After slightly muted reception when those first reviews leaked out just before TIFF, the word on this got better and better as its NYFF premiere took place. We feel confident enough that this is definitely among the eventual Best Picture nominees at this stage — but does it have the right stuff to challenge for the win.

6. “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” (=)

We’re a matter of days away from its NYFF unveiling, but don’t hold your breath for critical raves: we suspect that the knives may be out for it in some quarters. That said, raves for “Life Of Pi” last year helped carry it through, so if the reaction’s even vaguely positive, it’ll shore up its slot.

7. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (8)

There are those out there who think this is a longer shot than we do, but they seem to be forgetting that “A Serious Man” made the final line-up, and that was a film as difficult as anything the Coens had made since “Barton Fink.” This isn’t necessarily any more endearing, but the “O Brother”-style music angle is undoubtedly a boon, and the reviews are raves.

8. “Dallas Buyers Club” (11)

One of the films that benefits from some of the other contenders falling out. We’re expecting reviews for the movie itself to be a little less glowing when the film itself arrives in early November, but this is looking more and more like it’ll have the right stuff for a Best Picture nod to go with its acting nominations.

9. “Nebraska” (14)

Word is that Academy types are really responding to the film, despite the black and white and the relatively minor tone. Plus, as a Paramount release, this stands to gain more than most from a potential delay to “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” especially having moved to a plum Thanksgiving slot.

10. “Monuments Men” (12)

With the potentials for last-minute surprises fading, “Monuments Men” is well-placed to swoop in, as one of the last films to screen, and pick up last-minute momentum. And while some raise eyebrows that it looks more of a commercial proposition, the same might have been said about “Argo,” sight-unseen.

11. “August Osage County” (9)

Uncharacteristically, the Weinsteins lost control of the narrative over this one after the mixed reviews and the talk of changing the ending. Now an AFI slot has opened up with “Foxcatcher”‘s absence, it could certainly benefit from a relaunch closer to the Academy base.

12. “Philomena” (16)

Still a touch under the radar, despite buzzy reviews on the festival circuit, but this feels like it’s much more well-liked than The Weinstein Company’s other contenders, and it’s not impossible to see Harvey putting his muscle behind this as ‘August’ falters.

13. “Prisoners” (17)

On the one hand, a strong box-office opening, and people seem to be really responding to the movie. On the other, it’s a long way to nominations in January, and we can see this slipping over time, particularly given the easy dismissals it gets from some as a pure genre picture. 

14. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (13)

We just can’t see this lasting the distance, especially as other nominations beyond Oprah and Original Screenplay seem like stretches. But only a fool would doubt Harvey Weinstein completely.

15. “All Is Lost” (18)

We’re yet to hear much in the way of bad words about the Robert Redford vehicle, but the film’s reception on release may be crucial as to whether it’s seen as a one-man show, or if it’s a more serious best picture contender. Again, the more films that slip out, the better the news is for this one, but with Roadside Attractions putting the film out, it does have an uphill battle — the company’s sole Best Picture nominee was “Winter’s Bone.”

16. “Rush” (15)

On the plus side, it’s a hit abroad (it rose to the top spot in its second week in the UK), and audiences love it. On the minus, its screen average on opening weekend in the U.S. was fairly mediocre, behind summer movies like ‘The Spectacular Now” and “Before Midnight.” It’ll need to do a lot better in wide release to show us that it can last through to February.

17. “Her” (20)

We heard it’s good. Really, really good, and more obviously emotional than Spike Jonze’s early work. Our gut is that it’ll still be too offbeat for the Academy, but things will become clearer by the time it closes NYFF.

18. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” (5)

It’s down and out to some already, but it’s important to remember that despite the news this week, the film hasn’t officially moved to 2014 yet, hence the film still being on the chart. But its lower ranking reflects not just the possibility that it is delayed, but also that Paramount are willing to entertain the possibility — if it was an awards sure thing, they’d move heaven and earth for even a limited 2013 opening. That a delay is an option (plus rumors that the film’s flirting with an NC-17 rating) suggests that the studio might feel it just won’t play with the Academy.

19. “Blue Jasmine” (24)

Rising up the ranks partly because with “Foxcatcher” out, this becomes Sony Pictures Classics’ biggest hope. And partly because we recalled that we were similarly skeptical that “Midnight In Paris” could last the distance, until it did. That said, it’ll be a tougher fight to get Academy members to really love, rather than respect, the film as well as Blanchett’s performance.

20. “Fruitvale Station” (19)

Sundance movies like this generally need notices like “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” to break through, and while the film’s well-liked, it doesn’t have the same momentum. It’s still in the chase, but it’s a way back still.

21. “Enough Said” (new)

We’ve been wondering about this one for a while, but a strong screen average in its opening weekend (in the ballpark of Best Picture nominees like “Frost/Nixon” and “Juno”) was better than even our expectations for it. It doesn’t mean everything, and it’s still long shot for Best Picture, but if Fox Searchlight really chased it, it could happen.

22. “Out Of The Furnace” (=)

Scott Cooper’s film will premiere away from the traditional festival circuit, at Rome. Is this a bold attempt to find a new awards launching pad? Or an acknowledgement from Relativity that the film’s unlikely to get much traction.

23. “The Book Thief” (21)

We’re keeping this in here until it starts to screen, but we suspect it’ll really have to be exceptional — or at least, exceptionally manipulative — to break into the race, even as others fall out.

24. “The Counselor” (23)

The more marketing we see on this, the more we suspect that Fox are treating it as a commercial release rather than an awards run. Could yet potentially surprise, though.

25. “Labor Day” (new)

We dismissed this a little last week after tepid reception at TIFF and Telluride, but the film does have its fans, and if they become more vocal, that may be all the film needs. Still feels more “Young Adult” than “Up In The Air.”

Bubbling Under, Or Basically Non-Starters: “Lone Survivor,” “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Mud,” “The Past,” “The Place Beyond The Pines,” “The Spectacular Now’

Out:Foxcatcher,” which may not have been ready (Bennett Miller had a three-hour cut of the film not long ago, though had subsequently got it down), or may be keeping its fingers crossed for a quieter year, and “Grace of Monaco,” which Harvey had high hopes for, but either needs more time to be finished, or is more “Diana” than “My Week With Marilyn.”

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