Sigh, another year, another Dutiful Wife contest. While Best Supporting Actresses have given us a variety of the greatest performances in film history (Whoopi Goldberg, Mo’Nique, Marisa Tomei), a great deal of nominees over the years belong to the Dutiful Wife category, as well as its distant cousin, the Dutiful Mother. You know the ones – where the only purpose the character serves is to inspire their special male character to go on to do great things. And while some of those “dutiful wives” were incredibly performed (hi, Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette), the majority have just indicated how popular a particular actress is. Still, that’s not to say there isn’t a chance for someone new to break out of the fold and take home a shiny trophy for their efforts. So, based on accumulative year efforts, the stereotypical “Dutiful Wife” label, and Academy appreciation, I will now make my predictions for Best Supporting Actress.
Let’s get the “Dutiful Wives” out of the way immediately. From where I’m sitting, there are three major contenders for that title. There’s previous nominee Kristen Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour as Clementine Churchill. There’s Tatiana Maslany in Stronger as the wife of Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. However, if there’s anyone who has everything working in her favor, it’s Michelle Williams. Williams is arguably the most talented actress of her generation, having been nominated, deserved to win, and lost for her performances in Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week With Marilyn, and Manchester by the Sea. Not to be deterred, she will be playing a sizable role in The Greatest Showman as Charity Barnum, the wife of P.T. Barnum. The role has everything: the Dutiful Wife angle, emotional heft, and the chance to sing and dance across the rooftops. What’s more, she also has an Oscar-contending role in Wonderstruck and a leading role in All The Money In The World. When an actor has multiple performances eligible, and both are incredibly strong, the Academy tends to rally behind one performance for a nomination while giving out the award for both. Because of how overdue Williams is, the showy nature of her part, the success of her year, and the “Dutiful Wife” role, I think this is finally Williams’ year for the Oscar.
Speaking of people with multiple great roles earning a singular nomination, let’s talk about #2 and #3. You can never go wrong predicting Julianne Moore, who is the Academy’s favorite nominee. She’d received five Academy Award nominations, at least three of which she deserved to win, before finally being given a consolation Oscar for the dreadful Still Alice. She has two films in competition this year: the aforementioned Wonderstruck and Suburbicon. Early word from both is that she gives good performances in both, but she’s likely to be nominated for Wonderstruck. She will be playing two roles: film icon Lillian Mayhew and the adult version of lead character Rose. While the performance hasn’t received the overwhelming love some of her older performances have, she has been receiving buzz, and considering she’s rarely ever bad, I would be shocked if she wasn’t nominated. Meanwhile, we’re experiencing something of a renaissance for late 80s/early 90s film star Michelle Pfeiffer. While she was on top of the world almost thirty years ago, she never received the Oscar she deserved, and she sort of faded into obscurity. However, she’s returned to the screen with a fiery vengeance, already a Leading Actress contender for Where Is Kyra?, and providing two buzz-worthy performances, one in mother! and the other in Murder on the Orient Express. In the former, she will be playing the wife of Ed Harris, and as mentioned, these types of villainous Ruth Gordon characters tend to get nominated. Meanwhile, in Orient Express, she will be taking over for the acclaimed Lauren Bacall turn. I’m currently predicting the buzzier mother!, but should her role in that lack the caliber needed for an Oscar nomination, expect the second film to earn her a nomination as a tally for both films.
This leaves us with two spots that could go to a variety of actresses. It could be a performance we’ve already seen, like the great McKenna Grace in Gifted, Tilda Swinton in Okja, or Elle Fanning in The Beguiled. It could be a gifted actress rewarded for a snub, like Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread, or perhaps someone taking over for an Oscar-winning role, like Penelope Cruz in Murder on the Orient Express. It could be a newcomer in a showy role, like the buzzed-about Hong Chau in Downsizing, Mary J. Blige (not known as an actor) in her critically acclaimed turn in Mudbound, or Keala Settle, who gets the big song as the Bearded Lady in The Greatest Showman. Or, if the Academy is feeling nostalgic and wants to reward someone for a deserving turn across four films, the late Carrie Fisher could earn a nomination for playing Princess/General Leia one last time in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, I think the Academy will go with two different types of comediennes in the end, one for working with an acclaimed director who does great work with comedic actors, and the other for an actress supposedly working out her dramatic chops. These actresses are Kristen Wiig for Downsizing and Amy Schumer for Thank You For Your Service. Wiig is already an Academy Award-nominee, having been nominated for the screenplay for Bridesmaids. She took over the role of Matt Damon’s reluctant wife from Reese Witherspoon, and I’ve heard some decent things about her performance so far. And as I mentioned on Monday, Alexander Payne hasn’t missed an acting nominee in seventeen years. His last film managed to make a career out of an eighty-year-old woman, for crying out loud. Now, a lot of the buzz has been on breakout star Hong Chau (mentioned above), but I think with Wiig’s pedigree, she’ll get the edge out of the two. As for Schumer, she definitely demonstrated a dramatic flair during the more emotional moments of her very funny but slightly overdone movie Trainwreck. She has a knack for acting, and given a chance to spread her wings in a critique of the treatment of veterans, she could walk away with a powerful, scene-stealing performance. Not much is known about the role at the moment, which is always a dangerous position to be in when predicting, but if I’ve learned anything from performances like Mo’Nique and Melissa McCarthy, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Obviously there are other performances the Academy could fall in love with. Kirsten Dunst was truly remarkable in The Beguiled, and is somehow not Oscar nominated. Holly Hunter had no less than three fantastic scenes in The Big Sick, each of which could earn her an Oscar nomination. And the word on the street is that Melissa Leo is phenomenal in the nun drama Novitiate. Any one of those performances could sneak in should Schumer’s role be cut down or The Greatest Showman bomb. We’ll find out about many of performances soon enough. Until then, you can see my full list of Best Supporting Actress contenders here, and you can see my Top Five below.
- Michelle Williams-The Greatest Showman
- Julianne Moore-Wonderstruck
- Michelle Pfeiffer-mother!
- Kristen Wiig-Downsizing
- Amy Schumer-Thank You For Your Service