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2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Supporting Actress (Nov. 7)

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The calendar turns to November, meaning a fresh slate of notable Oscar hopefuls finally start screening for larger audiences. At the moment, we have five legitimate contenders that have yet to screen, from David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ to Peter Berg’s ‘Lone Survivor.’ And while we wait for them to see the light of day, we continue to track the progress of proven contenders like ‘Gravity,’ ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Captain Phillips.’

Academy voters are going to be extremely busy cramming in as many screenings as possible between now and the end of the year. Which films will establish themselves as the cream of the Oscar crop? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.


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Lupita Nyong'o, ’12 Years a Slave’

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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.

 
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Oprah Winfrey, ‘Lee Daniels' The Butler’

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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.

 
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Julia Roberts, ‘August: Osage County’

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“Eat the fish, bitch!” John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play has split critics. On one side of the debate, those who are intimately familiar with the original play feel the movie pulled punches in spots. The other camp (of which I am a member) appreciates the dark, soul-baring places ‘August’ ventured. There’s very little debate, though, about the merits of the cast, particularly Roberts and her co-star, Meryl Streep. Several ‘August’ cast members could find their way into the Oscar conversation if the film catches on. Keep your eyes on Julianne Nicholson and Chris Cooper in subsequent races. For now, though, I’m putting my eggs in Roberts and Streep’s baskets.

 
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Octavia Spencer, ‘Fruitvale Station’

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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.

 
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June Squibb, ‘Nebraska’

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We’re all waiting to see if Jennifer Lawrence is something to write home about in Russell’s ‘American Hustle.’ Until then, my money’s on Squibb 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.

 

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