Of the Oscars’ four acting races, Best Supporting Actress may be the most unambiguous. The category seems to belong to the five women who received both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations this week: Viola Davis (”Fences”), Naomie Harris (”Moonlight”), Nicole Kidman (”Lion”), Octavia Spencer (”Hidden Figures”) and Michelle Williams (”Manchester by the Sea”). The Critics’ Choice Awards, which issued prizes on Sunday, had only one amendment, spotlighting Janelle Monáe over Spencer, her co-star.
Everyone else who has flitted around this contest’s second-tier ranks now seems out of commission. Had I published these rankings a few weeks ago, I’d have included Helen Mirren (”Eye in the Sky”), Margo Martindale (”The Hollars”), Felicity Jones (”A Monster Calls”) and a smattering of others. But the derby is well underway, and there’s no use holding spots for yesterday’s horses. Even listing 11 women is a bit of a stretch, but here we go.
Disney had a gargantuan year, but the sweet “Queen of Katwe” couldn’t even recoup its production budget at the box office. Not franchise-y enough, I guess. That all but kills Lupita Nyong’o’s shot at her second Best Supporting Actress trophy.
Molly Shannon is remarkable in “Other People,” playing a mother struggling through cancer treatments. Her portrayal rises above the standard “funny person goes dramatic” shtick that often wins “SNL” alumni critical favor. This still feels like the Molly Shannon we know and love, which is probably why it’s so rough to watch her slow decline. She rises to the challenge, and she deserves more than just an Independent Spirit Award nomination
Voting groups are sleeping on “20th Century Women.” Annette Bening seems like the movie’s only viable nomination, and even she missed out on a SAG nod
(to Emily Blunt for “The Girl on the Train,” no less). The movie skipped most of the festival circuit, and a Christmas Day release means it’s likely to get buried in the holiday onslaught. It’s a shame because Mike Mills’ dreamy California dramedy
should be something the Oscars and
the general public can appreciate. If any of its supporting cast lands a nomination, it’ll be Greta Gerwig, who netted a Critics’ Choice Award shout-out.
Of all the women in “Certain Women,” you’d think it’s Kristen Stewart who’d have entered the awards conversation. Really, Stewart should be given some sort of collective prize for being the MVP of “Certain Women,” “Café Society” and
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” But that’s not to disparage Lily Gladstone, the newcomer who nabbed an Independent Spirit Award nomination
over her co-stars and was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s supporting-actress pick
. Gladsone shares her section of Kelly Reichardt’s triptych with Stewart, and watching them together is a master class in subtle weariness. Ultimately, “Certain Women” is probably too reserved for the Oscars.
We get two very different doses of Greta Gerwig this year. Playing Jacqueline Kennedy’s longtime assistant in “Jackie,” she is soft and understated. But as a late-1970s California photographer in “20th Century Women,” Gerwig is wise and electric. She has a lot to do in the movie, too: Her character maintains strength in the face of illness and disappointment. Her Golden Globe and SAG nominations went to Octavia Spencer, but there’s time for an 11th-hour surge.
Like several candidates, Janelle Monáe has two movies in the running. Her “Moonlight” role is small, but in “Hidden Figures” she’s a total scene-stealer. I assumed that doubleheader would push Monáe ahead of co-star Octavia Spencer, but SAG and the Golden Globes both nominated Spencer instead. With such an auspicious film debut, expect to see Monáe’s name on a lot more of these lists in the future.
Octavia Spencer is the beating heart of “Hidden Figures,” even with Taraji P. Henson playing the ensemble’s lead fiddle. She gets to subtly dress down Kirsten Dunst’s character’s implicit racism in a scene that might make you erupt in cheers. Spencer was the only member of the movie’s cast to earn Golden Globe and SAG nominations, which kind of makes sense: She’s a former winner for “The Help,” and in person she carries a warm, charming energy that’s impossible to ignore.
Nicole Kidman feels like the consummate leading lady, but here she is in pulling her weight as a supporting player. Kidman doesn’t show up until the second half of “Lion,” playing the adoptive mother of two Indian boys. She only gets a couple of notable scenes, but they’re just impactful enough to carry most of the film’s emotional weight.
At Sundance in January, Michelle Williams was the talk of the town. She shares a shattering scene
with Casey Affleck toward the end of “Manchester by the Sea” that seemed to rip festival audiences to pieces. Williams was met with instant Oscar buzz for her grounding portrayal of a Massachusetts divorcee who’s faced great personal loss. Like much of her competition, Williams boasts the sort of Big Scene that plays well on clip reels. The New York Film Critics Circle agreed, handing her a dual supporting-actress prize for “Manchester” and “Certain Women.” It’s hard to maintain Sundance buzz for an entire year, but Williams has also been feted with the Golden Globe, SAG and Critics’ Choice Award prerequisites needed to maintain her spot in this race.
Because of its three-chapter structure, no one performer appears in “Moonlight” all that much. If there’s any consistent presence, it’s Naomie Harris. Playing the protagonist’s crack-addicted mother, Harris is raw and combustible. We don’t learn much about her character’s history, so Harris instead carries a lifetime of anguish on her face and in her gait. For her work in Barry Jenkins’ powerful drama
about a poor Miami boy grappling with his sexuality, the actress has already scored nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards.
When Viola Davis played 1950s Pittsburgh matriarch Rose Maxson on Broadway, she won a lead-actress Tony. This year’s Oscar race for Best Actress
is crowded, so Paramount opted to campaign for Davis as a supporting aspirant. It’s worked well: The bravura she displays in “Fences” has branded her the category’s front-runner
. Her big, bold, searing performance is the sort of dramatic acting the Academy relishes. She offered a miniature version of it in “Doubt,” via an eight-minute cameo
that earned her a nomination before most people even knew her name. With Golden Globe and SAG nods for “Fences” to her name, as well as a Critics’ Choice Awards victory, Davis appears to have narrowed this to a one-pony race.