92nd Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress

It was all supposed to be so easy. I had a solid list of five actresses ready to take on the Best Supporting Actress category, and for once in my life, they weren’t going to be Supportive Wives! Alas, fate had other plans, and two of my original Top Five – Tiffany Haddish in The Kitchen and Anne Hathaway in Dry Run – ended up falling, The Kitchen due to its failing critically and commercially, and Anne Hathaway for…well, I’m going to get to that.

Unlike my usual lists, where I start with my top choice for the category, I want to discuss my #3 choice, because it is by far the most exciting. You see, one of the most exciting rarities in Academy history is when an actor or actress gets two acting nominations in a year. While dumb Academy rules prevent someone from being nominated twice in the same category, it is entirely possible for a performer to be nominated in both Lead and Supporting. Teresa Wright, Sigorney Weaver, Jessica Lange, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, and Jamie Foxx all have managed to pull off the feat. It hasn’t happened since Cate Blanchett in 2007, for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I’m Not There, respectively. However, the tea leaves are pointing in a different direction so far, and I do believe that there is one actress who has a real shot of not only earning her first nomination in a storied career, but becoming the first performer in a decade to earn two nominations. That actress is Scarlett Johansson, who I believe will receive nominations for both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. Johansson has had a terrific career, what with Ghost World, Lost In Translation, and Her on her resume. This year alone, she has starred in the highest grossing film of all time (and been one of the most acclaimed parts of the project), and will later being starring in two anticipated indie darlings. I’ve already written about her chances for Marriage Story, in which she plays an actress who watches her marriage fall apart. In Jojo Rabbit, Johansson has an equally meaty role, playing a single mother in Nazi Germany trying to teach her brainwashed son about the true evils going on around him, while simultaneously hiding a young Jewish girl in her attic. It’s a complicated role, made more complicated by the film’s comedic nature. However, early buzz on the street is that she’s terrific in it, and should the film become a hit at Toronto, you can bet that she will be receiving a nomination in Best Supporting Actress, and likely make history as the 12th double nominee.

Annette Bening as Diane Feinstein in The Report

Now that we’ve discussed Johansson and history, let’s break down the two frontrunners. Normally, Best Supporting Actress is used to reward a performer whose built up massive amounts of goodwill throughout her career, and this is the Academy’s big chance to reward them. Think Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk, Viola Davis for Fences, Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, or Allison Janney for I, Tonya. Janney is in the hunt this year for Bombshell, as is Jennifer Hudson for Cats. I’m making the incredibly stupid of not picking Meryl Streep for The Laundromat, but at the moment I’m just not sure which category she’s going to enter herself in. Which leaves us with our two beloved, never-winning frontrunners: Annette Bening and Laura Dern. Bening has had an illustrious and gifted career, having earned Oscar nominations for The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia, and The Kids Are All Right, and giving a decade-best performance in 20th Century Women three years ago. This year, Bening has her best chance yet: playing beloved (in) California senator Dianne Feinstein in The Report. While The Report mostly follows investigator Daniel Jones’ uncovering of the torture report, he does so at the request of Feinstein, who then faces the uphill battle of putting party and country aside for the sake of morality, battling the CIA, her fellow Senators, and even the Obama Administration. It’s a meaty role, and news from Sundance reports that Bening not only greatly resembles the Senator, but she fully embodies her. Expect her to receive a nomination next January.

Meanwhile, our other major contender is Laura Dern, who has two chances in this category thanks to her meaty turns in Little Women and Marriage Story. Dern has been one of our most reliable actresses in recent memory – ever since she broke out in the eighties with David Lynch. Her career seemed to peak in the early nineties with Jurassic Park and an Oscar nomination for Rambling Rose, but recent years have firmly given her a chance for the Dernaissance. She earned her second Oscar nomination for Wild, won the Emmy for her phenomenal work on Big Little Lies, led the difficult, terrific film The Tale, and had terrific supporting turns in Downsizing, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more. This year, Dern will be following up another highly acclaimed turn on Big Little Lies with Little Women, in which she plays the wise matriarch of the March family Marmee, as well as a juicy, ruthless turn in Marriage Story as Johansson’s shrewd lawyer. Both films are poised to become massive Oscar darlings, and if Dern is great in both of them, it is entirely likely that she will ride either of the films’ Oscar goodwill into a nomination. At the moment, I’m giving the edge to Little Women, because period pieces tend to play better with the Academy, but honestly, I’m counting it as a win if either performance gets nominated. And while I deep down believe Dern will win this year, I’m going with Bening as your frontrunner at the moment. Not just because her Feinstein is the best performance seen so far this year, but because Bening somehow has not won an Oscar yet. Come on, guys. What are we doing here?

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

Up next, we have the Actresses We Love nominees. Every year, there’s some sort of nominee whom the Academy is just gaga over for one reason or another. It could be because they’ve had a tremendous year all around, like Laurie Metcalf, Amy Adams, or Rachel Weisz. It could be because they’re young and attractive, and the Academy is mostly men, like Lupita Nyong’o, Emma Stone, Rooney Mara, or Jennifer Lawrence. Or it could be both, like Alicia Vikander. This year, Nicole Kidman could be that beloved actress with multiple great turns, particularly as Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell or as the lead’s adopted mother in The Goldfinch. Florence Pugh headlined Fighting With My Family and Midsommar, and both performances could help her out as the oft-maligned Amy March in Little Women. And Margaret Qualley has been quietly killing the game in indie films before breaking out this year with Fosse/Verdon and a much-beloved turn in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. However, if there’s one actress who has taken the world by storm, and will likely receive a nomination in one way or another this January, it’s Qualley’s Hollywood Margot Robbie. Fresh off her terrific turn in I, Tonya that garnered a Best Actress nomination in 2017, Robbie has two important turns that the Academy should love. The first is Once Upon A Time, in which Robbie portrays the doomed Sharon Tate over the course of two days in 1969. The second is Bombshell, in which she plays the woman that helps inspire Carlson and Megyn Kelly to stand up to Roger Ailes’ abuse. Word on the street is Bombshell is a juicy, emotional part that Robbie just nails, but I’m sticking with Hollywood for two reasons. The first is obvious: Hollywood is becoming primed to be a major awards season force, and she will likely be carried in with the acclaim. The second is more specific. Despite the hubbub over Tate’s lack of lines, what Robbie does here is nothing short of remarkable. She turns a figurehead of the death of the 60s into a human being, portraying her in a series of quirks and passions, whom audiences relate and fall in love with. The scene of Tate reveling in the applause of a movie theater that’s enjoying her performance is one of the most memorable of the year. The Academy’s going to remember that, and in one way or another, nominate Margot Robbie for her second Oscar.

And finally, we have the Scene Stealers. The fifth nominee of Best Supporting Actress, every year, is an actress who loves to drop one-liners and steal the film. Weisz did it last year in The Favourite, as did Lesley Manville, Octavia Spencer (all three times), Jennifer Jason Leigh, June Squibb, and Jacki Weaver. Spencer is back in the hunt this year for Luce. And Janelle Monáe could capitalize on her Moonlight/Hidden Figures clout to earn a nomination for Harriet. But if you want to know who’s going to earn that fifth nomination, I think we need to take some time to look towards TV. The Downton Abbey movie may not be the biggest Oscar contender of the year (although we’ll look at it a bit more in the technical categories), but it does have an acclaimed cast of actors who have a history with awards. Joanne Froggatt is one such contender, as she earned two nominations for her work on the series, but let’s not kid ourselves. People like Downton Abbey for Maggie Smith. People watch Downton Abbey for Maggie Smith. Awards voters, and audiences, like Maggie Smith. And because of this reason, I have to assume that Maggie Smith is going to earn an Oscar nomination for playing Violet Crawley one final time. Call it a hunch, call it Smith gunning for her third Oscar, call it whatever you want, but it is more than likely that this is going to happen (unless, of course, the film bombs terribly, but let’s talk about that at the end of September).

Now that we’ve established that group of five nominees, let’s talk about the Anne Hathaway in the room. Here’s the deal. Originally, she was my #3 choice for Best Supporting Actress. Then Dark Waters, the Todd Haynes film she is starring in, fell off the face of the earth, with rumors swirling that it wasn’t done. Convinced that it wouldn’t be released this year, I moved her – and the rest of the film’s predictions – off the list, ready to make room for fresh blood. And then Focus Pictures decided to F*CK WITH MY PREDICTIONS AND RESCHEDULE IT FOR NOVEMBER! Right when I finally got things all figured out. This literally happened as I began writing this article. Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I add Hathaway back into my predictions and rewrite this article? Or do I just slide her into Best Supporting Actress quietly at #8 or #9? I’m going with the latter, but not because of my laziness: I just don’t know the size of the role, or how the Academy will respond to this project being thrown into the Oscar race last minute. Sure, it worked for Green Book last year, but what about Hitchcock, or Roman J. Israel, Esq., or Big Eyes? Time will tell, but I’m not taking any risks at the moment. Similar concerns swirl around Brie Larson in Just Mercy, a performance that could be a cameo, a leading performance, or anything in between. Other contenders include a slew of Supportive Wives, like Caitriona Balfe in Ford v Ferrari and Susan Kelechi Watson in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Elisabeth Moss’ bizarre turns in Us and The Kitchen, or Bryce Dallas Howard in Rocketman (ick). Personally, I would consider this entire category forfeit if Zhao Shuzhen weren’t nominated for her year-best work in The Farewell. Who knows! This time two years ago I was a whopping 0/5, and last year, even doing predictions in November, I was still only four for five. We’ll know soon enough. Until then, you can see my full list of Best Supporting Actress contenders right here, and you can see my Top Five down below. I’ll be back tomorrow with the Screenplay nominees. See you then!

  1. Annette Bening – The Report
  2. Laura Dern – Little Women
  3. Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
  4. Margot Robbie – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  5. Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

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