Thursday, February 6, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

So, I promise this blog will focus on other subjects come March when the Oscars are over, but for now, it's still Oscar time and I am in an Oscar frenzy, which means it's time to start with the predictions of who will win the coveted Academy Award. It's almost a month before the Oscars, so things are still subject to change, but despite the wide array of great films this year, things are starting to settle in and the frontrunners in the major awards have already become fairly clear.

Here is my prediction for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Sally Hawkins as Ginger—Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld—American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey—12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston-Fordham—August: Osage County
June Squibb as Kate Grant—Nebraska

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o —12 Years a Slave

There are two contenders for this award: Nyong'o and Jennifer Lawrence. Two young and promising actresses who deliver incredible performances, and who are each going to handily beat the three more established actresses. Just like with the Best Picture race, this means that once again 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are going head to head. And just like like in that race, it's really unfair to compare these performances. Both are very strong, but very different. It's tough to say that one performance is objectively better than the other. Following her Golden Globe win, Jennifer Lawrence gained a bit of momentum and seemed like she could potentially win an Oscar in back to back years (only five people have done this to date: Tom Hanks, Katharine Hepburn, Luise Rainer, Jason Robards, and Spencer Tracy). And this could certainly still happen. Lawrence is not out of the race. But, Nyong'o has taken off and is the distinct frontrunner. The race isn't 100% decided in her favor, but she definitely has a comfortable lead and is currently the favorite going into Oscar night. And if the momentum continues as it has been, then her frontrunner status is just going to solidify.

Should Win:  Lupita Nyong’o—12 Years a Slave

Nyong'o deserves her frontrunner status. She's truly remarkable in the film and gives a powerful and brilliant performance. Her future is bright. Many of the discussions that I've read about this race, however, have felt the need to knock Lawrence in their support of Nyong'o. This I don't see the need for, as  I think Lawrence is absolutely incredible in this film, and delivers a performance utterly unlike those she has given in the past-- demonstrating true versatility. As Lawrence has become a critical and media darling, it is easy to forget how young she is. At only 23, she is headlining a major film franchise, has been nominated for three Academy Awards, and when she won the Oscar last year, was the second-youngest person to win the award in Oscars history. It's impressive stuff and it's easy to look at Lupita Nyong'o as the underdog in this match-up. But I would point out that Lupita is not a nobody. She graduated from the Yale School of Drama and has received world-class training that Lawrence has not received. This is certainly not to say that either is at an advantage, just to say that both have taken very different paths to get where they are, and both have worked very hard for this place. Both are deserving of a nomination. There's a great quote by Alfre Woodard which I saw shared a lot after Lawrence's Golden Globes win.

"You know that brilliant, stunningly beautiful, and poised Lupita Nyong'o? 12 Years a Slave is an incredible launch of a career. And this is her first thing. We will see if, [as opposed to] another brilliant young woman we saw, Jennifer Lawrence, we'll see the trajectory of her path and what she's offered after that. Then we'll know whether things have changed or if Lupita is consigned to playing second banana, ensemble person for the next ten years."

It's a great quote. But I would encourage people to not read this as a condemnation for Lawrence, or what Lawrence has accomplished. Woodard, in fact, calls Lawrence brilliant. The quote is addressing a much larger issue, and doesn't refer to awards ceremonies. The important thing is not whether Nyong'o wins the Oscar this year-- the important thing is where her career leads after this film. It might be naive, optimistic, and privileged of me to say this, but I think that she's going to continue to do great things. Honestly, I'll be happy if either Nyong'o or Lawrence wins this award. But I still give the edge to Nyong'o.

Of the other nominees, I did really like June Squibb's work. But the other two are frustrating nominees for me. Sally Hawkins was kind of a non-entity in Blue Jasmine and I can't help but feel that her nomination here has nothing to do with her work in that film, and everything to do with her being snubbed when she wasn't nominated for Happy-Go-Lucky. And then there's Julia Roberts, who delivers just an okay performance in the supremely disappointing August: Osage County-- a weak attempt to capture the brilliant, Pulitzer-winning play on film.

Should Have Been Nominated: Naomie HarrisMandela: Long Walk to Freedom

This was a tough one to pin down. The big snub in this category was Oprah Winfrey, who delivered really strong work in Lee Daniels' The Butler. In fact, early buzz of that film was that Winfrey would win this award. But instead, she and the film were left empty-handed. But her work is really solid, and she certainly deserved a nomination over Hawkins and Roberts.

But two of my favorite performances this year came from actresses in supporting roles who had no buzz whatsoever. The first is the always excellent Melissa Leo in Prisoners who delivers a film-changing scene. You can't take your eyes off of her. But, it's a small role, and so my pick for who really should have been nominated in this category is Naomie Harris, who portrays Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

The film received mixed reviews, and I personally thought it was imperfect, but better than people were giving it credit for. And while there was buzz for Idris Elba as Nelson, there was no buzz for Harris who, quite frankly out-acts Elba in every scene she's in (and I love Idris Elba). It's an incredible, powerful performance which makes the film worth watching. She finds Mandela's charm, her anger, her sadness, her passion. Every line is delivered with full emotional force. I truly don't understand why this performance has not received more accolades.

What are your thoughts? Who will/should win? And which performance should have been recognized? Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm way off the mark? How do you weigh in on the media-invented rivalry between Nyong'o and Lawrence? Am I missing something in my discussion of this race? Let me know in the comments! 

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