Sunday, April 21, 2024

Best Supporting Actress Is This Year’s Most Competitive Acting Race

By Ryan C. Showers 

Since I last wrote about Best Supporting Actress, the race has exploded. I previously suspected this category would crystalize with the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild nominations. However, the trajectory of the race lunged in the opposite direction – Best Supporting Actress is the most fluid acting race of the year.

The race has cracked open with more contenders than even I previously expected. There are several ways this could play out based on how certain movies perform in their theatrical rollout, how other movies try to sustain buzz and the test of all tests: If previously hot-ticket films can hold their buzz from the end of the year over the threshold into the new year. This last point is something that’s underrated in awards season analysis. The conversation and the slates of nominees we see in the televised precursor nominations in early December oftentimes drastically change from who we see nominated by the BAFTA awards and the Oscars in the middle of January. In fact, this year it seems like more than ever BAFTA will be influential in helping to set up the buzz on which the Oscars will follow through.

The undeniable frontrunners for the Best Supporting Actress win are Laura Dern for “Marriage Story” and Margot Robbie for “Bombshell.” Both actresses have clinched nominations from Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, and SAG. “Marriage Story” is surefire bet for a Best Picture nomination and “Bombshell” is looking pretty damn close to earning one of the final spots in the Best Picture lineup, too; and each of them has a second acclaimed performance in another Best Picture contending film, Dern for “Little Women” and Robbie for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.” Currently, Dern is coming out ahead with regional critics group wins and the buzz appears to be prevailing in her favor.

Dern is an industry mogul. She’s so well-connected and respected, that she’s likely on a first-name basis with most of the Academy voters. Even though her performance lacks the screentime, big emotional scenes, and inherent intensity others may have, there’s a clear path for her to win. The parallels to Allison Janney in “I, Tonya” are just too similar. Robbie has each of those qualities Dern lacks in spades, as well as the youthful ingenuity the Academy tends to go for. Dern may be winning the battle with the critics’ prizes, but Robbie has the potential to conquer the war. “Bombshell” displayed a great strength with the SAG award nominations from fellow actors. It’s such an important, timely film that appeals to certain sensibilities of the industry. Robbie’s iron could strike at the opportune time to be prominent in the second half of the season.

Along with Dern and Robbie, Jennifer Lopez was in attendance all week last week, scoring all three major precursor nominations, too. I should be excited; it looks as though she’s on her way to becoming an Oscar nominee. However, I’m afraid. While she made it into each of the lineups, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, and SAG ignored her film in every other category. The film was thought to be making a safe play for Best Adapted Screenplay, but Critics’ Choice failed to include it. “Hustlers” was placed in the weak Comedy/Musical categories at the Golden Globes, yet couldn’t bring home low-hanging fruit of nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for Constance Wu. Since I saw “Hustlers” in September, I’ve been predicting Lopez to win the Golden Globe and maybe the SAG, due to her star status (for the Globes) and popularity (for the SAG). I no longer feel as though those arguments are justified.

In addition, Lopez lost the New York Film Critics Circle award to Dern, a prize that had her name on it for months. And though she did bounce back with the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle, I have a bad feeling about her chances to make it to the final stretch at the Oscars. Veteran pundits haven’t taken her bid as seriously as younger pundits have, citing that the film is simply not up the Academy’s alley. I didn’t believe it before because I thought it would have more support across the board. In addition, I’m about 75 percent sure Lopez won’t receive a BAFTA nomination – Lopez is more of an American phenomenon and British voters will have no incentive to include her. Worse yet, there’s always someone who is omnipresent throughout the season, whom we all believe is safe, only for them to the shuffled out of the mix. Timothée Chalamet in “Beautiful Boy” is a perfect parallel example to Lopez. I’m rooting for her; Lopez gives what will be looked back on in ten years as one of the defining characters of the year. But I see the warning signs, ones that I didn’t see before.

Since “Bombshell” began its (mostly SAG-member) screenings in October and the full-length trailer was released, I’ve said that if the film continues to hold its consistency among the industry voters, the acting branch would lift it to a high yield of award nominations, with or without the backlash from liberals about the fact that “Bombshell” uses highly controversial figures to tell its story. Its fate was looking grim at the beginning of last week. The film missed Picture and Kidman nominations at the Golden Globes, which should’ve been easy gets, as well as the film debuting to low Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores, which essentially match where “Vice” came in last year. Then the SAG nominations revived the film and reinvigorated its buzz, perhaps catapulting into more serious contention than we thought before. Not only did Robbie and Charlize Theron find themselves on the SAG shortlist, but the film was nominated in the big category, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and it also received a Female Actor in a Supporting Role nomination for Nicole Kidman.

This result surprised everyone except me since I’ve been saying for months that, if the film becomes a hit, Kidman would follow along for the ride, as Woody Harrelson did for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” two years ago. Harrelson missed Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes but got SAG and went onto BAFTA and Oscar. For Kidman, the most prolific actress working today, this path is easy to replicate. “Bombshell” has campaigned with the three women together as a unit. If Kidman misses, then that campaign strategy wouldn’t have been successful.

I suspect…

A.) “
Bombshell” will be a bigger hit with the industry and actors than it is with critics. I mean, it got FOUR SAG nominations.
B.) “
Bombshell” will have its peak buzz over the next few weeks, as voters are getting serious about their ballots, which benefits its bid for Best Picture and Kidman.
C.) Kidman has a good shot at a BAFTA nomination, based on British voters loving stories critical of America and the tone of big ensemble films like this. BAFTA will also be a huge “No” on several contenders in the category, like Kathy Bates for “
Richard Jewell.

Many believe Kidman’s mention here is simply a non-starter and reason it with “Oh, SAG voters just love her.” No, they don’t. The Golden Globes love her, having given her 14 individual career nominations. SAG hasn’t gone out of its way to accommodate Kidman’s accomplishments in film. Kidman has only ever won one SAG award for “Big Little Lies” on the television side. That’s it. She didn’t win for her Oscar-winning role in “The Hours.” She wasn’t even nominated for “Moulin Rouge!” nor for her so deserving performance in “Destroyer” last year and countless other deserving works over the past 30 years. This is only Kidman’s fifth individual nomination for film. (And for the record, “The Paperboy” was a serious SAG nomination, after being nominated at the Globes. It’s a marvel of creativity and was probably sixth or seventh at the Oscars in 2012).

Regardless of any theories to dismiss Kidman’s Best Supporting Actress nomination as inconsequential, the overall impact of “Bombshell” leading the film nominations with four mentions on SAG morning sure says something we ought to listen to. This will help foreshadow the rest of the season. The industry and actors, in particular, have demonstrated that they responded to this film in a profound way. Only ten films in the past decade have received four SAG nominations before “Bombshell” accomplished that last week. They are below. If anyone wants to get an early footing with SAG winner predictions, each of these ten films has won something except “A Star Is Born” and “Manchester by the Sea.” It could very well be Robbie, which would be the moment where the race pivots away from Dern. Or just the ensemble could win by itself, like “American Hustle,” which didn’t make the list below because it released so late in the game. (Strengthening that fact with this piece of side trivia: Four out of ten of the films that received four SAG nominations won Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Also, all ten films were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.) “Bombshell” reminds me so much of “American Hustle” and “Vice,” from the late and non-festival release date, dramedy tone, irrelevant negative Internet reaction, unwavering industry support, and the huge cast ensemble of A-list actors in juicy roles whose performances guide the project. That’s probably why industry voters have taken to “Bombshell.”

The ten films in the past decade that have received four SAG nominations…

A Star Is Born
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”***
Manchester by the Sea” (the only film to not win any of its four SAG nominations)
“12 Years a Slave”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“The Help”***
“The King’s Speech”***
“The Fighter”

***winner of the SAG Ensemble award

Interestingly, Scarlett Johansson received double SAG nominations last week, yet only one Golden Globe nomination, which was for “Marriage Story.” I would’ve thought the performance Johansson gives in “Jojo Rabbit” is more in the vein of the taste of the Hollywood Foreign Press than it is SAG voters. I struggle with “Jojo Rabbit” overall because its two SAG nominations display a fact that there is industry support for it. Yet, its place in the conversation has been lost since its October rollout. Overall, I’m only predicting “Jojo Rabbit” for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations, and if Johansson makes it in, she would be its third. The film doesn’t have any other natural nominations, especially below the line. Editing, Production Design, and Costume Design are possible, but a stretch.

If passion for “Jojo Rabbit” is down, like many pundits have suggested based on their conversations with awards voters, it’s hard to imagine Johansson not only surviving stiff competition from three December released performances but also scoring double nominations in one year. It’s strange to think Johansson would accelerate from zero nominations over a sixteen-year career to two nominations in one year. Being a double nominee is something that’s reserved for beloved industry figures, like Al Pacino, Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, Jessica Lange, etc. These are widely popular figures in the industry that will make Hollywood record books. I have a difficult time believing someone like Johansson, whose fame has been built on a combination of Woody Allen pictures and Marvel films, and whose public persona subscribes to ridiculous, controversial statements, will join that higher echelon.

But, if she gets a mention at the BAFTA over either Kidman or Florence Pugh, she’s in, most likely. Every time “Jojo Rabbit” feels like it’s on life support, it bounces back. Yet, every time it bounces back, it quickly falls out of that favorable buzz. It’s easily the most inconsistent film of the award season.

Hollywood veterans Kathy Bates for “Richard Jewell,” and Annette Bening for “The Report,” were thrown bones by the Hollywood Foreign Press last week and were invited to their big, early-January party. Bening’s nomination is particularly random for a film that hasn’t had or will have much of an awards life at all. Bening’s portrayal of Senator Dianne Feinstein is strong and realistic, but this nomination probably won’t factor much into the Best Supporting Actress race going forward.

Bates’s inclusion made sense at the time nominations were announced. Before “Richard Jewell” released last week, Bates seemed like an obvious nomination for the American voters in the Academy. She’s a beloved actress, her role has an Oscar-y scene to end all Oscar-y scenes, and she was directed by Clint Eastwood, a beloved figure of the Academy’s past. Before its release, she seemed like an inevitable nominee, even despite the film’s right-wing flavor. However, the film’s release didn’t go as planned. Part of what has carried Eastwood’s recent success, that stories to easy Oscar acclaim, was the fact that his films were commercially successful, enough to balance out the mixed-to-positive reviews. “Richard Jewell” has essentially landed in the median of critical response for Eastwood’s films this decade, yet the film had a devastating weekend at the box office.

Richard Jewell” made only $4.6 million last weekend, where it essentially had no big blockbuster nor adult audience competition. It’s one of the worst opening weekends of Eastwood’s career (literally the worst since “Billy Bronco” in 1980). As I see things, this is a death knell to Bates’s Best Supporting Actress bid. She’s missing the key ingredient that made “American Sniper” Academy cat kip: the money. She was not eligible for SAG (she was accidentally submitted as Lead, not Supporting). The BAFTAs won’t touch this film, this story, or Bates’s character with a nine-foot pole. “Richard Jewell” will go completely underwater after bigger, more audience-friendly films that would appeal to adults premiere: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” “Bombshell,” “Little Women,” “Uncut Gems,” and even “Cats” are all in wide release in the coming weeks. Simply, I see no path for her to move forward.

The final piece of the puzzle is (still) “Little Women.” I’ve had a bad feeling about its release strategy all season long. As it was shut out of the SAG nominations and barely made any traction at the Golden Globes, what I feared would happen is happening. This late-release, no festival strategy didn’t work in its favor. (This is so sad considering the marvelous reviews.) There’s still time to turn it around for Greta Gerwig and co. Critics have been very happy with the finished product: Regional groups have been high on it and the film received nine Critics’ Choice nominations. One aspect of “Little Women” that’s excelling is Florence Pugh as Amy March. Pugh is having quite the introductory career year. She was nominated by Critics’ Choice but was overlooked by Golden Globes and SAG. She does have a path, though. As “Little Women” goes into its Christmas release, the buzz may pick up right as voting hits, and she strikes while the iron is hot. There’s still a world where “Little Women” just hasn’t found its footing yet, and that’s why it underperformed. Pugh is an English actress, therefore a BAFTA nomination seems very likely. However, if she misses there, she probably has no chance of being nominated in the Oscar lineup.

As I stated before, this race is all over the place. It’s by far the most fluid category we have. I would only feel confident saying Dern and Robbie are in. Everyone else is vulnerable on some level. A spoiler could possibly be Zhao Shuzhen for “The Farewell.” Shuzhen is the highlight of the film and received a Critics’ Choice nomination, yet nothing else. The only way I could see Shuzhen being nominated is if the film overall landed with Academy voters, which means Picture, Actress, Original Screenplay, as well as Supporting Actress. At this point, it seems unlikely. The film was shut out at SAG, a body that usually favors earlier-released films like “The Farewell.”

We now have slates for Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, and SAG. With all the analysis above, here is where I believe we stand for the Oscars and BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress.

Predicted List for the Oscars

  1. Laura Dern – “Marriage Story
  2. Margot Robbie – “Bombshell
  3. Jennifer Lopez – “Hustlers
  4. Nicole Kidman – “Bombshell
  5. Florence Pugh – “Little Women
  6. Scarlett Johansson “Jojo Rabbit
  7. Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell
  8. Zhao Shuzhen – “The Farewell
  9. Annette Bening – “The Report
  10. Maggie Smith – “Downton Abbey

Predicted List for BAFTA

  1. Margot Robbie – “Bombshell
  2. Laura Dern – “Marriage Story
  3. Florence Pugh – “Little Women
  4. Maggie Smith – “Downton Abbey
  5. Nicole Kidman – “Bombshell
  6. Scarlett Johansson “Jojo Rabbit
  7. Zhao Shuzhen – “The Farewell
  8. Jennifer Lopez – “Hustlers
  9. Annette Bening – “The Report
  10. Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell

Who do you think is going to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress? Check out our latest predictions here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @rcs818

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