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Oscars 2016: Figuring Out Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress – Hard to Predict

This year’s Best Actress race is a peculiar one. The year started out with the pipe-dream expectation that Jennifer Lawrence might win her second lead actress Oscar for Joy, David O. Russell’s first film featuring a woman at the center. Well, be careful what you wish for because critics of Russell’s choice of lead then criticized the film once he took the risk that everyone has been carping about for years. Now, with the reception Joy has received, he’s likely to go back to doing what he knows will land better — films with central male protagonists. What a shame. Joy is getting way too harshly treated, I think, and probably because — I’m guessing only because — the expectations on it were way too high. It is his best film since Flirting with Disaster, in my opinion. The difference here, though, is that no one really wants to see Jennifer Lawrence not being bubbly and funny. (Adults, anyway – younger girls seem to prefer her warrior fierce). Remember when Julia Roberts tried to get serious? Everybody wanted her to unleash her big loud laugh to bring in ticket sales. So bravo to David O. Russell for finally taking a risk and making a movie about a woman. I think Joy is brilliant in so many ways – I’m sorry no one else did. But we’ll see how audiences respond on Christmas Day to the best Christmas movie in years.

That said, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t likely to win her second Oscar. That probably narrows competition for the top prize down to Brie Larson for Room and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. Two very different roles, two very different actresses, two very different movies. While the race could still shift in the coming weeks, if voters like one or the other better (right now, Room seems to be the stronger heading into the Oscar nominations), this looks like Larson’s to lose. She has to win the SAG — that’s about 100,000 actors voting for the awards. If she can do that, the Oscar is probably hers.

It’s hard to watch Room and not come away feeling deeply moved by Larson’s performance. Not a mother in real life yet, Larson really got it right. That thing about pretending to listen, about holding back your own feelings, about fighting with anger building up inside as one does when trapped in a room with a small child. She also captured the difficulties in returning to “normal life” after being held captive for seven years.

The front-runners in the 2 actor categories are not as hard to figure out as the nominees in both actresses categories — but we’ll talk about that a different day. The reason that these actresses are harder to call has to do with two performances that are essentially leads — Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl — and we’re getting mixed messages all over the map about where they will be placed by the Academy. Mara’s role in Carol is as big as Blanchett’s – and it’s as big a part as Brie Larson’s in Room, which is shared with that film’s male protagonist Jacob Tremblay, who is campaigning in the supporting category. Really, he’s the lead but they know they can’t get a child or adolescent nominated unless he “goes supporting” — like Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People, for example. The story of Room is seen from Jack’s point of view but it’s about both mother and son. Both Mara and Vikander are also in two-handers, where the film is equally about two of the main leads. So where to put them?

Both Elizabeth Banks for Love & Mercy and Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria were early favorites to perhaps take a spot, but since neither showed up at the Globes or SAG Award nominations, they are now seen as longer shots in the category. Do surprise nominations happen? Sure, they do. It’s a long shot bet is all.

The Hollywood Foreign Press decided to categorize both Vikander and Rooney in lead, and thus, magically, they were nominated in lead. That left 2 spots open in the Supporting Actress race — for Jane Fonda for Youth, for instance.

LEAD

Globes SAG
Brie Larson (Room) Brie Larson (Room)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Cate Blanchett (Carol) Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Rooney Mara (Carol) Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back)
Alicia Vikander (Danish Girl) Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold)

 SUPPORTING

Globes SAG
Kate Winslet (Steve Job) Kate Winslet (Steve Job)
Helen Mirren (Trumbo) Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hateful 8) Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Jane Fonda (Youth) Rooney Mara (Carol)
Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) Alicia Vikander (Danish Girl)

The question lingers as to whether both Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander will be bumped up to lead for the Oscars. Also, in the SAG categories, Helen Mirren and Sarah Silverman both seem like strange one-offs. Silverman is a comic doing some serious acting of late — like her SAG-nominated role in I Smile Back and on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. She’s popular enough that she could maybe make it in. Helen Mirren for Woman in Gold? Hard to say. Seems less likely. Either way, which actresses do we believe Silverman and Mirren bumped? Well, probably Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Charlize Theron in Mad Max, and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. But also Blythe Danner in I’ll See you in my Dreams and Lily Tomlin in Grandma. The voters had a lot of great performances to choose from and chose those two — because they like the actresses better? That would be the general assumption.  But it might not be the right one. It’s important to consider than both of them could get in.

Here is Gold Derby’s prediction graph for Best Actress.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 2.23.10 PM

And supporting:

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 2.26.09 PM

All will depend on where the Oscars put Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander — the two lead performances that might be ‘demoted’ to supporting.

There have been other years when an actress was placed in different categories by different groups. Jennifer Connelly was put in Lead for A Beautiful Mind at SAG and lost, then put in supporting in the Oscar race and won. Kate Winslet went Supporting for The Reader at the Globes and SAG and won both, then put in lead at the Oscars and won Best Actress. Figuring out that Penelope Cruz might win in supporting was the tough call that year.

Either way, this is going to be one of the harder years to predict in all categories, since we don’t have a firmed up consensus anywhere to help us know which way the Academy might be urged to lean.