It's hard out here for a Supporting Actress. For a true supporting actress, anyway. Worthy would-be contenders like Elizabeth Banks, Julie Walters, Sarah Paulson, Tessa Thompson, Joan Allen and several others had to move aside for the campaign train of wicked uncle Harv, as The Weinstein Co. and Focus Features collectively managed to shoehorn not one, but two leading performances into this year's contest.
And as an extra dash of salt to the proverbial wound, two of the three legit supporting ladies are in here for performances that are a far cry from awards-worthy (Okay, that's subject to taste, but that's why it's an independently owned blog, people!). Lest my pessimism over the category turn too many readers away, why don't we start with the positives:
Kate Winslet managed to survive the Academy's overall indifference towards the dynamite Steve Jobs, and even managed to scoop a surprise Golden Globe in the process, and I for one am delighted. Kate's Hollywood profile has been a bit low since she nabbed Best Actress for The Reader (the one time in recent memory AMPAS managed to call out category fraud), but that was seven years ago. If this season's well deserved attention can get her back on the big screen more frequently, then I'll take that as a win, Oscar or no Oscar (and I wouldn't rule out the possibility).
Another quasi-positive -- though it makes me slightly ill to admit it -- is that category fraud is probably the only way Rooney Mara's sublime turn in Carol would have found a nomination. The lead category was so overstuffed with options, and unlike the Globes, the Academy doesn't have a Comedy category they can shuttle JLaw off to. I think hers is the best performance of the five, but with the caveat that she gets to show us the range and arc of a leading role.
I'd consider her the closest challenger to the frontrunner for that very reason.
Said frontrunner is also getting by on the advantage of being the co-lead of her film, but even that cloud has its silver lining, as Alicia Vikander did give one of the most memorable supporting turns of the year in Ex Machina. The awards she's been getting do stem from an admiration of her body of work in 2015. When she starts thanking Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne and everyone else who worked on The Danish Girl, we'll just have to pretend that she's thanking Alex Garland and Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. Perhaps she'll get to do that for real when the BAFTAs announce this weekend.
Jennifer Jason Leigh has long been a critical obsession, and now she finally has an Oscar nom to validate it. Granted, I don't see as much going on in this performance as some others do, but Tarantino puts her through the wringer in The Hateful Eight, and she commits to it all with maniacal abandon. Good for her and all, but I gotta say, it's easy to stand out when you're the lone female in a male-dominated ensemble.
Just ask Rachel McAdams. Has there been a more conspicuous coattail nomination in the last ten years? Maybe Helena Bonham Carter or Jackie Weaver. But I don't mean to disparage the nomination. I like McAdams. I like her in the film. It's a solid, respectable, convincing iteration of a stock character. It may not be awards-worthy by most critics' yard sticks (I was much more impressed with her elevation of the part she played last year in A Most Wanted Man), but Spotlight is a project that needed as much support as it could get from the Academy, so I can't complain. Plus, another rare Canadian connection for me to raise a flag over!
Will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Runner-up: Rooney Mara, Carol
Should win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (on principle)
Should be nominated: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina