2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Supporting Actress (Nov. 20)
‘Saving Mr. Banks’ has been screened. ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ continue to establish their dominance. ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ make noise, and we’re still waiting on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle.’
In other words, the dust swirling around the first stage of the annual Oscar race is starting to settle, and select portions of the picture are beginning to clear.
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday – when voters in various creative bodies spend quiet days absorbing Oscar contenders – let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major awards categories.
Lupita Nyong'o, ’12 Years a Slave’
Steve McQueen’s harrowing portrayal of the evils of slavery has received consistent praise, with the director’s cast – including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbander and Nyong’o – establishing themselves as legitimate Oscar frontrunners. Nyong’o’s character, Patsey, is a favored slave of Satanic plantation owner Edwin Epps (Fassbender) … but that doesn’t mean her journey is soft. We’ll be talking about ‘Slave’ all Oscar season, and Nyong’o certainly will be at the heart of most discussions.
Oprah Winfrey, ‘Lee Daniels' The Butler’
Part of me thinks Oprah Winfrey can get nominated for ‘The Butler’ simply because she’s Oprah. Her popularity can boost the ratings of a struggling television broadcast (and don’t think decisions like that don’t play into the nomination process). While Winfrey’s quite good as Gloria Gaines, wife to the title character who provides a support system – and a motivator – at home, the Weinstein Company faces a challenge of putting ‘The Butler’ back on voters’ radars after weeks of being out of theaters. An uphill battle? We shall see.
June Squibb, ‘Nebraska’
We’re all waiting to see if Jennifer Lawrence is something to write home about in Russell’s ‘American Hustle.’ She appears to be the mystery that can drastically affect this race. Regardless, Squibb has moved up most experts’ charts, thanks to her winning turn in Alexander Payne’s black-and-white road-trip drama ‘Nebraska.’ Her role seems secondary, playing the nagging, exasperated wife of Bruce Dern’s put-upon Midwestern lottery “winner.” But she gets one spectacular scene – where she stands up to her greedy in-laws and demonstrates the love she still feels for her husband – and I think older Academy members will see a lot of their own fortitude in her performance.
Octavia Spencer, ‘Fruitvale Station’
I was moved by Michael B. Jordan’s performance in Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station.’ It’s a tragic turn, playing a man doomed by fate. But I was blown away by Octavia Spencer’s raw power. Playing Jordan’s mother, she only gets a handful of scenes to convey a series of important emotions – disappointment at her son’s wayward decisions, hope that he’s back on the right track, quiet devastation when she loses him – and she nails each one. If ‘Fruitvale’ builds into a powerful Oscar contender, similar to last year’s ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ then Spencer can (and should) contend in the Supporting Actress category.
Julia Roberts, 'August: Osage County'
Poor Julia. She appears to be slipping down the Oscar charts (and slipping off, in some cases). The Weinstein campaign for John Wells’ adaptation has been quiet. The movie will screen more, and the buzz may increase. For now, I’m keeping a small flame of hope burning, because I believe Roberts earns a possible nomination. Keep your eyes on Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper in subsequent races, as well. For now, though, I’m putting my eggs in Roberts' basket, and waiting to see how things shake out.