Why Best Supporting Actress Is the Race to Watch at This Year's Oscars
By John Mitchell Posted Feb 7th 2011 04:45PM
But there's one Oscar category this year that's shaping up to be so unpredictable, so rife with possibility, that it defies the odds: Best Supporting Actress. Instead of trying to deduce a winner, let me explain why this is the category to watch. Because despite what other "experts" might try to tell you, the prize could go to just about any of the nominees -- and that is awesome!
In the three other acting categories, the front-runner is out ahead like Carl Lewis. With just about every major win and mountains of fawning praise behind them, Colin Firth ('The King's Speech') and Christian Bale ('The Fighter') appear to have their wins sewed up, and while there is an outside chance that the Academy could grant Annette Bening a "career Oscar" for her rich, deservingly nominated performance in 'The Kids Are All Right,' Natalie Portman's intense, go-for-broke turn in 'Black Swan' seems all but unbeatable at this point in the game.
But this year's best supporting actress race is shaping up to defy all of the usual logic -- for which the punditry have weighted statistics and mathematical formulas clearly developed by NASA scientists -- that make the Oscars so predictable. Sure, Melissa Leo has captured a lion's share of the pre-Oscar awards, making her the unquestioned front-runner, but unlike Portman, Firth and Bale, her win doesn't feel like an inevitability. As soon as Leo lost the National Board of Review prize to 'Animal Kingdom' star Jacki Weaver and 'The Fighter,' with its three individual acting nods in the supporting categories and an acclaimed performance by leading man and producer Mark Wahlberg, lost best ensemble to 'The King's Speech' at the SAG awards, the actress suddenly became vulnerable.
Leo, with her Golden Globe and SAG wins, remains the statistical favorite, of course, but the prevailing sentiment in Hollywood is that two actresses are chipping away at her possible victory: Amy Adams and Hailee Steinfeld. Adams, Leo's co-star in 'The Fighter,' is easily the most commercial and well-known actress up for the supporting prize -- don't think for a second that that doesn't matter (see: Julia Roberts, 2001; Sandra Bullock, 2010) -- and she is popular with the Academy as well, having been nominated for three Oscars in the past five years ('Junebug,' 2006; 'Doubt,' 2009; 'The Fighter,' 2011).
Steinfeld has plenty going for her, too. According to Gold Derby, "When Oscar upsets occur, they tend to happen in those supporting-acting slots ... [Steinfeld] has another advantage too. She's really the lead female star of 'True Grit.' Lead performances win in the supporting category all the time like recent champs Rachel Weisz ('The Constant Gardener') and Jennifer Connelly ('A Beautiful Mind')."
And Steinfeld's film is a box office hit that, despite 10 nominations, seems unlikely to win in any other major category. Entertainment Weekly editor Dave Karger, who is currently ranking Steinfeld as his choice to take home the award, believes this will work in her favor: "I'm thinking its ['True Grit'] best shots at a win are for Hailee Steinfeld and possibly cinematographer Roger Deakins."
So if the Academy wants to award the film as a whole, it may do so by handing the 14-year-old actress a win over her more seasoned peers.
A Steinfeld win seems even more likely if Leo and Adams split the 'Fighter' vote. The two actresses give vastly different performances in the film, so who is "better" really becomes an issue of personal preference and could divide the Academy into two camps -- do you vote for Leo's loud, transformative performance as a manipulative and overbearing mama bear boxing manager or Adams' gritty but far more nuanced turn as "Irish" Micky Ward's supportive girlfriend? It's subtle, let-it-happen acting vs. method, become-the character acting, and both styles of performance have their supporters.
With Steinfeld suddenly a major player, not two but three actresses are seriously vying for the majority, but as the vote spreads out, the less total votes an actress would need to claim the prize. With that in mind, suddenly the door appears to open for Helena Bonham Carter, a veteran actress of some esteem who has been nominated before (for 'The Wings of the Dove' in 1998). Bonham Carter is assured plenty of votes from the same 'King's Speech' purists who propelled the film to surprise victories over David Fincher and his 'The Social Network' at the Directors Guild of America Awards and Producers Guild Awards. Nearly 25 years after making her film debut in the Oscar-winning 'A Room with a View,' she has grown into one of the more popular character actresses in Hollywood thanks to her collaborations with partner Tim Burton ('Alice in Wonderland,' Sweeny Todd,' 'Planet of the Apes') and her small-but-scene stealing role as Bellatrix LeStrange in the 'Harry Potter' films.
Thus, the same "it's her time" sentiment that has made Bening a viable contender opposite a seemingly unstoppable Portman in the lead actress race also applies to Bonham Carter here.
For Weaver, the fifth best supporting actress nominee, the nomination is her prize. She's won multiple critics awards for her turn in 'Animal Kingdom,' making her a likely culprit to steal a few votes away from Leo, but her exclusion from the SAG nominations make an Oscar win unlikely (actors, who make up the entirety of the SAG voting body, are also the largest voting block of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, accounting for 1,311 of its 5,835 members).
With a little more than two weeks left until the 83rd Academy Awards, it's anybody's game. The only thing that's certain at this point about the best supporting actress race is that someone is going to come out of it a first-time Oscar winner -- Leo, Adams and Bonham Carter have each been nominated before but have never taken home the prize, while Steinfeld and Weaver are enjoying their first nominations. Good luck, ladies!
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