2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Supporting Actress (Sept. 16)
It’s amazing how little we still know about the 2014 Oscar race in the post-Telluride/Venice/Toronto landscape. Sure, films like Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ made strong showings on the fall film festival circuit. But with so many films yet to screen – from ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ -- the overall picture remains murky, at best.
Here’s where I think we stand at this early stage in the race. We’ll have more movement as the New York Film Festival ramps up on Sept. 27. And movies like ‘Rush’ and ‘Prisoners’ have a chance to screen for mainstream audiences. Large box-office openings can only help their causes. For the moment, here are the leaders in the Best Supporting Actress category:
“Eat the fish, bitch!” John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play split critics in Toronto. One side, which was intimately familiar with the original play, felt the movie pulled punches in spots. The other camp (of which I am a member) appreciated 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.
Sometimes, one scene is powerful enough to push a performer into the race. And when you see Lupita Nyong’o’s devastating scene in McQueen’s ’12 Years,’ you’ll understand why she emerged from the Telluride/Venice/Toronto week with Oscar heat. Granted, her textured performance can’t be boiled down to one scene. Her character, Patsey, is a favored slave of Satanic plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael 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.
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). But then I saw ‘The Butler,’ and realized Winfrey’s quite good as Gloria Gaines, wife to the title character who provides a support system – and a motivator – at home, away from the White House. Winfrey earns a spot at this table. Now we’ll just see whom the Academy puts around her.
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.
Have you seen Mulligan spitting nails at Oscar Isaac in the deliciously disgusted trailers for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis?’ Go watch them and tell me you’ve seen a better portrayal of a woman done wrong by an artist. She’s at the end of her rope with this deadbeat, and Mulligan looks like she’ll be able to turn that angst and frustration into an awards-worthy role. The young actress, who recently was nominated for ‘An Education,’ also did outstanding work opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Great Gatsby,’ but it’s the Coens’ latest that should have her in the discussion come Oscar time.