The good news: last year’s Oscar season is over. The bad news? This year’s Oscar season has begun. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have weeks of Q&As and gaudy pull-quote ads to process, but by this time last year, “Whiplash,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood,” three of this year’s big winners, had already premiered. And you can bet that publicists and executives have already started planning their campaigns for the next season, even when the films are only just entering production.
And as we’ve done for the past few years, we’re exorcising our demons and spending the week running down some of the premature possibilities for films that have been released so far that seem at a distance like they could have the right stuff for Oscar gold.
After Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress, it’s time to turn our attention to the race for Best Supporting Actress 2016. Like most of the other categories, this was pretty firm throughout the previous awards season, with Patricia Arquette leading the field from the off and little in the way of surprises when it came to the final five (though it did at least have slightly deeper benches than for supporting actor). Next year is certainly hard to tell from this far out, but there could be any number of performances that could surprise, which perhaps makes it the most exciting race from a distance.
Rooney Mara – “Carol”
After her nominated performance for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” Mara will be showing a softer side this year in Todd Haynes’ Patricia Highsmith adaptation “Carol.” Her character Therese, a young department store employee who falls in love with an older woman (Cate Blanchett), should allow Mara to demonstrate her range, and given Haynes’ capacity for getting astonishing performances out of his actresses, we wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see Mara in the mix alongside Blanchett. The potential stumbling block could be a question of category: Mara’s character is technically the protagonist, but it’s likely The Weinstein Company will campaign Blanchett in lead, leaving them with a “Foxcatcher”-like dilemma. Do they put Mara in the same category and risk missing with both, or shift her into supporting, which could see voters kicking against the placement?
Jennifer Jason Leigh – “The Hateful Eight”
It’s slightly surprising that only one woman has been nominated for acting in a Quentin Tarantino film (Uma Thurman for “Pulp Fiction“; both Pam Grier for “Jackie Brown” and Melanie Laurent for “Inglourious Basterds” were robbed). Could the first to break the duck be veteran actress Leigh? The actress plays Daisy Domergue (AKA “The Prisoner”), and is the sole woman among the octet of the title, which will only help her stand out more. The part attracted the attentions of Jennifer Lawrence, among others, before Leigh landed it, and she could well be a possibility for that kind of Patricia Arquette comeback role —she’s spent thirty years in the business working consistently without ever picking up an Oscar nod (the closest she came was a Golden Globe nod for “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”). This doesn’t just feel like a potential nominee —this feels like a potential winner…
Diane Ladd/Virginia Madsen – “Joy”
Everything we said in previous posts in this series about David O. Russell and actors at the Oscars remains true, and while we’re still somewhat in the dark about his latest “Joy,” there are a couple of actresses therein who have some potential. Russell favorite Elisabeth Rohm may have one of the largest parts, playing Lawrence’s sister, while Isabelle Rossellini is also appearing in an unknown role. Veteran actress Ladd has joined the cast, and the narrative of her nomination (she has three priors without a win) a year after daughter Laura Dern and two after ex-husband Bruce Dern, might be irresistible if the part’s substantial enough. Or there’s Madsen, who apparently has a largish role: a decade after her nominated performance in “Sideways,” she’s due another comeback, and Russell could well be the director to provide it. It’s all still a bit nebulous at this point, but given that “Silver Linings Playbook” saw Jacki Weaver nominated despite having almost nothing to do in the film, don’t rule anything out here.
Julie Walters – “Brooklyn”
We’ve suggested more than once that “Brooklyn” might be this year’s “Boyhood” in terms of going from Sundance raves to Oscar success, and there are multiple nomination possibilities among its actors. One of the most potent might be Walters, who plays the stern-but-warm landlady of a boarding house for Irish immigrants in the film. The British actress doesn’t have the same kind of U.S. profile as, say, Judi Dench, but she’s picked up two Oscar nominations in the last thirty years (for “Educating Rita” in 1984, and “Billy Elliot” in 2001), so certainly has the name recognition and track record, and if the film takes off with voters in the way we think it might, she could well end up along for the ride.
Rachel Weisz – “The Light Between Oceans”
It’s ten years since Weisz won an Oscar (off her one and only nomination), and what better to mark the anniversary than by doing the same once more? Aside from her SAG-nominated turn in “The Deep Blue Sea,” Weisz hasn’t really been in the awards conversation much of late, but has two strong possibilities this time: one, in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Early Years” (which could also land Jane Fonda with a nod), but the other, probably more potently, in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans.” Weisz has a key, very emotional role that we won’t give away here, and if the film takes off with audiences and voters, she might be its best bet at an acting nomination.
The Next 5
Amy Ryan – “Bridge Of Spies”
Ryan has been consistently kicking ass for a few years but hasn’t yet managed a second nomination after breaking through with Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone,” but her best chance in a while might arrive with her part in Steven Spielberg’s latest. Sure, it sounds like it could just be a “supportive wife” role, but hopefully Matt Charman’s script, punched up by the Coens, will give her more to do, and it’ll be closer to, say, Sally Field in “Lincoln,” nominated a few years ago than to, say, Kathryn Morris in “Minority Report.” Ryan’s consistently excellent in whatever she does, and it’s surely only a matter of time before she gets another nod.
Melissa Leo – “Snowden”
Has any actor ever been nominated for playing someone who won an Oscar at the previous ceremony? We don’t believe that that particular achievement has ever come to pass, but that could be about to change. In Oliver Stone’s whistleblower drama “Snowden,” Oscar winner Leo is playing Laura Poitras, director of the reigning Best Documentary Oscar, “Citizenfour.” Stone’s movie is now filming, there are other potentials therein (Shailene Woodley, for one), and given Stone’s track record of late, may not prove to be Oscar-worthy. But there’s presumably some meat to the role if it’s got Leo involved, and fingers crossed that would mean we get another one of these.
Meryl Streep or Helena Bonham Carter – “Suffragette”
Working against the Oscar-baity sounding “Suffragette” is the fact the movie’s been delayed and already has a September U.K. release date —when is the last time you can remember a film that was released in theaters abroad before it hit the film festival circuit and then went on to become a viable Oscar contender? But it could still land at TIFF a day or two before its British release and maybe that could work? It’s hard to say this far out how much of contender “Suffragette” could be. On the one hand, it has BAFTA/Oscar-bait written all over it, but we’ve seen that backfire in recent years. But the cast is pretty superb on its names alone and Streep is constitutionally a contender. She plays real life political activist and leader of the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and while it sounds like a meaty role, she reportedly only has a couple of scenes. That said, one of them is apparently a fiery speech and if that moment delivers, don’t count her out. Bonham Carter also has top billing and her role as activist Edith New so we shouldn’t count her out either. In general, we’re a bit wary of any film overly-engineered for awards, one or two of them seem to totally miss the boat each year (see “Unbroken,” “Big Eyes,” “Into The Woods,” “The Gambler”), but with actresses of this caliber, we’re not ruling them out. If this movie or Streep does go the distance, it could mean a double nomination, ’cause who knows, she may score a Best Actress nom for “Ricki And The Flash” too.
Greta Gerwig – “Mistress America”
It still seems vaguely outrageous than Gerwig wasn’t Oscar-nominated for her career-best performance in Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” (was Streep’s turn in “August: Osage County” really more worthy?) But it was also understandable: the film was released by IFC Films, who at the time didn’t have much interest in pushing for Oscars, though obviously “Boyhood” has now put them in that game. But could Gerwig have more success with her follow-up with Baumbach, “Mistress America?” The film, which sees Gerwig play the free-spirited, infectious sister to Lola Kirke’s lead, premiered to stellar reviews at Sundance, with the actress again getting a great showcase (our review said she was “tremendous… we’ve certainly never seen the ultra-hyper and confident side of her before”). There’s a vague sense that Gerwig was robbed for the previous film, and with the picture landing in the hands of Fox Searchlight (and a late summer or fall release likely to give it distance from Baumbach’s other movie, “While We’re Young”), she might have more luck this time around.
Cate Blanchett – “Truth”/”Cinderella”
The Australian legend is one of the relatively few actors to have pulled off nominations in the lead and supporting acting categories in the same years (only Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx have managed it in the last couple of decades, and only eleven in total). Could Blanchett be about to be the first person to repeat the feat, though? As we’ve said already, she’s a good bet for a nomination for Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” but could have other movies in the mix as well. Blanchett has a meaty supporting turn in “Zodiac” writer James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut “Truth,” playing the producer of Dan Rather (Robert Redford) as his career implodes, and there’s definite potential in a part like that (if not Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss is in the film as well and will surely be nominated one of these days). Alternatively, Blanchett’s won rave reviews (and some minor awards buzz) for her scenery-chewing supporting turn in Disney’s “Cinderella.” The film’s about to open, and it’ll have to last a long time to maintain any momentum. But given the slim pickings this category often faces, it’s not impossible to imagine her making the cut for the blockbuster instead.
Also In Contention: Are there more possibilities out there? You betcha. Keep an eye out for French stars Charlotte Le Bon in “The Walk” and Adele Exarchopolous in Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” or Brit Anne Marie-Duff in “Suffragette” (yep, she has a sizable role too). There’s also Julia Roberts in “Money Monster,” Emyatzy Corinealdi in “Miles Ahead,” Ellen Page in “Freeheld,” Dakota Johnson in “A Bigger Splash” and Ann Dowd and Zoe Kazan in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”
Keep an eye, too for Kate Winslet, Sarah Snook or Katherine Waterston in “Steve Jobs” (Winslet could also figure in for “Triple Nine”), one of Sienna Miller, Johnson, Juno Temple or Julianne Nicholson in “Black Mass,” Naomi Watts in “Sea Of Trees,” Kirsten Dunst in “Midnight Special” or Holliday Grainger in “Tulip Fever.”