Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Supporting Actress

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

2014 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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1. LUPITA NYONG’O
12 Years a Slave

2. JUNE SQUIBB
Nebraska

2. SALLY HAWKINS
Blue Jasmine

4. JENNIFER LAWRENCE
American Hustle

5. JULIA ROBERTS
August: Osage County

Let’s first acknowledge that no one, including playwright and snubbed screenwriter Tracy Letts, think Julia Roberts‘s role is supporting, but had she not been designated as such, she would not have received this nom. Ah, Oscars politics. For the actress once designated as America’s Sweetheart (remember that wretched film?), August: Osage County offers her most aggressive work since her last Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brokovich, and while it’s fun to see her bare her teeth and go head-to-head with Meryl, she’s so poorly directed that her performance is largely one-note: bitter with tasty dashes of outrage. She should just be really happy to be invited to this party.

Everyone loves 23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. They love her so much that after giving her an Oscar only a year ago, they want to give her another one (though she best be careful she doesn’t wear out her welcome). America’s New Sweetheart has won us over in real life with her whacky truth-telling and girl-next-door charm, but David O. Russell is intent on making her over into a middle-aged housewife, and all things considered, he doesn’t do a terrible job in this respect. With blond hair piled high, body wrapped in cellophane-like dresses, and voice thick with a Real Housewives of New Jersey accent, Lawrence gives over to the madcap ridiculousness. Loud and brassy, she excels as comic relief, even when babbling away the film’s worst metaphors (that “sweet and sour” nail topcoat nonsense). If Oscar loves anything, it’s a showy supporting performance, and she’s already garnered the Golden Globe, New York Film Critics Circle and the BAFTA. She’s definitely in the running here.

The least show-boaty performance here is Sally Hawkins‘s semi-estranged sister to Cate Blanchett’s cracked socialite in Blue Jasmine. As the unpretentious Ginger, Hawkins gives a sweet, subtle performance that ebbs and flows with apprehensive sincerity as her sister’s snobbery alternately wears off on her and wears on her. There is no “big moment” in this performance — no real shouting match, or witty diatribe, or emotional breakdown — and so it will be overlooked. But it’s a lovely one.

June Squibb‘s performance, on the other hand, is exactly the type that wins this award (see Melissa Leo in The Fighter for another example), and the Boston Society of Film Critics agree, bestowing her with their own supporting award. Short and compact with a cherubic face framed with a snowy bob, Squibb’s Kate looks sweet, maybe even a bit clueless. But the shrill voice that emerges from her small frame belies the kindly grandmother casing: Unrelentingly nagging her way through the first half of Nebraska, there’s fear that her character — and her performance — will be one-note. But late in the film, Squibb strips away the seething sarcasm, and with equal vehemence, engages her tart tongue to protect  her good-natured husband from shameless relatives. By the end, her jolting humor has softened, ever so slightly, to take on a tone of tender fondness. It’s a funny and moving performance, and one that any midwesterner will recognize as family. If there’s a spoiler on March 2, she’s it.

But so far there’s no reason to believe that Lupita Nyong’o, fresh out of drama school (Yale, not too shabby), isn’t going to be victorious; she’s already won the SAG, BFCA, LAFCA, NYFCO. As Patsy, the pet slave of sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o radiates a kind of otherworldly grace, even as horrors go on around her. It isn’t until she, desperate to clean herself, sneaks some soap past Epps’s jealous wife, that her demoralization overcomes her and she erupts, indignation overtaking her shaking frame in a monologue of heartrending despair that is nearly poetic in its delivery. It’s a beautiful, dignified performance, and she’ll likely be rewarded for it.

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