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Supporting Actress Oscar Nominees (89th Academy Awards)

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Oscar’s not so white this year, is he? In case you were wondering, that’s a good thing, culturally and business-wise. Also, we’ve got good performances from good movies. There are some familiar faces in this category this year and one which most of us might not know was already familiar. What we also have is the most hands-down favorite of the year. No other potential acting winner is as predictable as this one this Sunday night. A little issue that bit us in the butt last year is maybe rearing its ugly head again this time around, but maybe not to the same degree depending on where you come down on that particular performance. Let’s dive right in!

Viola Davis – Fences
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Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 1
We’re getting this out of the way right off the top. When I walked out of the movie theater after seeing Fences on the second day of the year I had two definite thoughts about Viola Davis’ performance. 1) I thought she had delivered an Oscar-level performance which might finally get her up on the stage as the actual winner 2) I thought that win would be in the lead actress category. It turns out I was probably only half right. Davis made the choice to be promoted in the Supporting Actress category, which initially struck me as a bit of category fraud. But is it really? This is not so cut and dried. Yes, Davis did win the Tony for this same role in the lead actress category, but that was in part due to a rule the Tonys have which proclaims that if your name is above title on the promotional materials then you are considered a lead for their purposes. The woman who played the same role in a previous production of “Fences” actually took home the Tony in the supporting category. So…I guess considering these facts, allowing Viola to make this decision has some validity. After some previous nominations failed to pan out for her, the members of the Academy appear to be hot to get her onstage and she undoubtedly delivered a very worthy performance.

Naomie Harris – Moonlight
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Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 4
Moonlight is a film that many awards season commenters have expressed huge admiration for, and Naomie Harris’ performance as the struggling mother of an alienated young son living in the projects has been a part of this. Most movie fans probably don’t remember Harris from the roles she played in some big budget sequels. She first showed up as the mysterious Tia Dalma in the first two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Unfortunately for her, neither of these films is as loved as the original (and for good reason). It’s sort of like if you were in both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but not the originals. Good thing that didn’t happen to anybody, right? A little more fortuitous were Harris’ appearances as Moneypenny in two of the newer James Bond films. Yes, she’s that same person. As far as her performance in Moonlight? I’d say it’s a mixed bag. Her physical transitions from scene to scene are effective and her emotionality is natural. What struck me at the time, though was how uncomfortable she sounded using some of the dialectal markers of the lower class American character. This might not be too surprising considering that she is a British actress. I’d be interested how other people felt about this.

Nicole Kidman – Lion
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Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 3
Nicole Kidman was an actual glamorous movie star at the beginning of the 21st century, having built up a career through effective performances in well-liked and well-reviewed films such as To Die For, The Others, and Moulin Rouge!. In 2002 she hit a career peak with an Oscar win for her performance as the decidedly less glamorous author Virginia Woolf in the star-studded adaptation The Hours. Kidman made use of a prosthetic nose to approximate the look of the depressive writer, and there’s nothing the Academy likes better than a beautiful person allowing themselves to look plain. Unfortunately for Kidman she participated in a few high-profile flops just a couple of years later, including remakes of The Stepford Wives, and the Bewitched television show, and an adaptation of the controversial fantasy The Golden Compass. Her performance in Lion as the overwhelmed adoptive mother of two foreign children plays a big part in maintaining the honesty and reality of the film as it transitions across a decade of its central character’s life. The performance is also important in providing an emotional life for the world outside of the main character’s conflicted experience.

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
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Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 5
There’s nothing wrong with Octavia Spencer’s performance in the NASA/minority drama Hidden Figures, but I’m left with the feeling that this is a nomination which was given out as a part of attempting to honor the film. By the same measure, her cast-mate Janelle Malone could have just as easily fulfilled that desire, while giving what I thought was a more memorable performance. That makes me suspicious that Oscar voters recognized the former winner’s name on the ballot, saw she was in a movie they liked and simply checked the box. That’s a little disappointing to think, but in the end this is going to be Viola Davis’ category so maybe it doesn’t matter all that much in the big picture.

Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 2
If anybody stands a chance of upsetting Voila Davis in this category it’s Michelle Williams for her heartbreaking turn in Kenneth Lonergan’s story of loss and the possibility of self-reconciliation. Williams is consistently excellent, having impressed previously in films like Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, and Blue Valentine. Her combination of naturalness, emotionality, and dialect work in Manchester by the Sea is impressively seamless in what is more obviously a supporting role. Will the specter of category fraud result in a win for Williams? As much as I’d like to see this performance honored, I honestly hope not. Davis is just as deserving and Williams has yet to be robbed like Viola was in 2011 (yes, even though she was also nominated that year in that same category). It’s easy to assume that she will have plenty of opportunities for awards glory as a relatively young actress. Of course the Academy and circumstance have proven such guesses wrong in the past.

So what do you think? Is Viola Davis a slam dunk or does somebody else really deserve the big win? Vote here and tell us about it below!

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Posted on February 20, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Oscars, poll and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Harris didn’t really do much for me in the role she played. She just seemed kind of there. And Janelle Monae, more than anyone else in the cast of HIDDEN FIGURES, should have gotten a nomination.

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    • It’s really unfortunate that I didn’t like her performance better because she’s really the only actor who shows up throughout the film.

      Like

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