Best Supporting Actress Nominees (90th Academy Awards)
Oh boy! Go into town and buy all of the finest meats and cheeses and lay them out for any of my subjects to feast upon! We have an event for which we should all be very glad indeed. This land’s arbiters of taste in the production of moving pictures have presented us with five nominees in the Best Supporting Actress category who actually fit the category! None of these women is a lead character placed in the supporting category for the intent purpose of making her path to the win easier than in the lead category. They all have significant roles, but are either members of an ensemble cast or appear in a movie in which another actress was clearly the lead. Let a cheer reign throughout the land! There shall be no category fraud here this year!!
Mary J Blige – Mudbound
None of the nominees here are particularly undeserving of the honor of being in this group of five, but when I’m going down the list there are a couple who stick out as those who I came out of my viewings of their films thinking about. Unfortunately, Mary J Blige is not one of those. I liked her performance well enough. She held her own among a cast of very accomplished actors and the difference was not apparent. For that she deserves kudos. But I can’t help feeling that her nomination here can be attributed to two things. First off, Mudbound is an excellent film that has deserved more attention than it got and this feels like an effort to provide that. Secondly, Blige is famous for doing something else entirely, and for whatever reason the Academy is enamored with these kinds of stories. Combine this nomination with her Best Original Song nod and you’ve got an even more interesting storyline for people like me to talk about. The trouble is that nobody really has her as a serious contender in either of her two races. I hope she enjoys the ceremony.
Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 4
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Here’s an excellent and transformative performance in what is one of my very favorite movies of 2017. Based on her repeated wins along the way at places like the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA, Allison Janney appears to be the odds-on favorite to edge out her competition in this category. Janney is a wildly popular presence in Hollywood, having shared both the big and small screen with a wide array of other performers and she has been campaigning hard for this Oscar since the beginning of awards season. Her work in I, Tonya certainly legitimizes the effort she’s putting in, with her natural warmth and intelligence transformed into a stiff cobra’s stare and sociopathic snarl. Janney didn’t get an opportunity to meet the woman she was playing, because she couldn’t be found and Tonya Harding had no interest in finding her. Because of this, Janney had to base her characterizations around information from a variety of interviews with people who knew the real woman and from video archives of her from around the time of the events of the movie. Chances are that will have been enough for her to hoist that statuette in March.
Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 2
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Manville was one of the big surprise nominations this year, along with the unexpected level of love Phantom Thread got from the Academy in general that morning. She’s an English actress with a long resume in theatre, film and television, mostly in productions based out of her native United Kingdom. For this reason, most American audiences don’t readily know her name or face. Despite working consistently since the mid 1970s, the first time many Americans had the chance to see her was in a small role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies, which got some attention come awards season. A few years later she showed up alongside Jim Broadbent in the Gilbert and Sullivan bio pic Topsy Turvy. Ten years later the pair again worked together in another Mike Leigh film, Another Year, which again mainly received attention via awards season promotion, but this time with Manville in an ostensible lead. She garnered a nomination for a BAFTA award and then quietly went about her steady and admired career. To this day, she has probably gotten most eyes on her because she appeared as one of the fairies in the Sleeping Beauty remake Maleficent, but who’s looking at the fairies in that flick? Hopefully the attention she receives from this nomination will translate into some higher-profile work…or at least more of the kind of work she personally wants to do.
Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 3
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Hovering in the background just behind Allison Janney in this category is another well-liked veteran actress playing a mother with a contentious relationship with her daughter. Unlike with Janney’s character, Metcalf’s Marion McPherson is the sort of character many audiences can either recognize as their own mother, or can recognize in themselves. She isn’t always as patient as she should be and she doesn’t always speak with the gentleness that would be ideal, but in the end it’s clear that all of her prickliness and exasperation is in service of her consuming love and concern for her daughter. The audience dances on a knife’s edge with Marion at times, wondering what she’ll show us, but in a masterful bit of subtlety from Metcalf we get an extended shot just of her face as she drives away from taking her daughter to the airport and without saying a word she confirms everything we’ve been wondering about her since the start of the film. We almost don’t need the rest of the movie to figure out if her daughter will figure it out too.
Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 1
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Octavia Spencer is apparently officially on the Academy’s radar for some time to come. And that’s perfectly okay, because for many years it appeared like she would spend the rest of her career playing characters with no real name and just one or two largely incidental lines. Look down her resume and you’ll find six different roles listed as “nurse,” along with others such as “Woman in elevator,” “Waitress,” “unemployment clerk,” “check-in girl,” “security guard,” and just “woman.” As recently as 2009 she appeared in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell as “Bank co-worker No. 1.” But just a little more than two years later she was standing on the stage at the Academy Awards holding the Oscar statuette for this very category for her work alongside Viola Davis, and Emma Stone, and Allison Janney, and Mary Steenburgen, and Jessica Chastain, and Sissy Spacek in the adored southern blue collar melodrama The Help. Since then she hasn’t played a single character without a proper name. This year marks her third nomination in the supporting actress category and second in a row after getting a nod for her role in last year’s surprise critical and box office winner Hidden Figures.
Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 5
Who is your favorite choice for Best Supporting Actress this year? Is it one of the two favorites or do you prefer an underdog? Vote here and then tell us about it in the comments section.