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Oscars: A Look At The Supporting Actress Contenders, Including Oprah Winfrey, Cameron Diaz & Lupita Nyong'o

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com October 2, 2013 at 1:02PM

It's been a busy week or so in Oscar Land: rumors have swirled around the release, or not, of "The Wolf Of Wall Street," previously thought a potential frontrunner, while Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" stormed into the race with an excellent teaser trailer, only for it to be announced almost immediately that the film wouldn't make its release date or AFI premiere, and would instead be released in 2014.
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Supporting Actress 2013

It's been a busy week or so in Oscar Land: rumors have swirled around the release, or not, of "The Wolf Of Wall Street," previously thought a potential frontrunner, while Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" stormed into the race with an excellent teaser trailer, only for it to be announced almost immediately that the film wouldn't make its release date or AFI premiere, and would instead be released in 2014.

We deal with those two major developments on our Best Picture chart on the next page, but in the meantime, having tackled Best Supporting Actor contenders last week, we're pushing on with the Best Supporting Actress category. There's a reputation here for a thin field, and that's sometimes borne out by the nominees, but that doesn't look to be the case this time around; while it doesn't appear to be the starriest line-up, there's more than enough to choose from in the category, even this far out. We run down the possibilities, and make our early predictions below, let us know your own thoughts in the comments section.

Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Early Year Contenders

Unlike in the Supporting Actor category, there are several legitimate contenders for Supporting Actress from films that opened, or at least premiered at festivals, during the pre-awards-season part of this year. Probably the biggest threat from the first nine months is the legend herself, Oprah. While a crowded Best Actor field means that her co-star in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," Forest Whitaker, is going to struggle to make it in, the film's best chance for a nomination comes from Winfrey's heavy-drinking Gloria Gaines in the film. She has a previous nomination (for "The Color Purple"), and an honorary win back in 2011, but whether or not the film ends up as a Best Picture nominee, Winfrey's looking good for the final five here.

Further back, "Fruitvale Station" premiered at Sundance back in January, less than a year after Octavia Spencer won her Oscar for "The Help," and ever since, she's had buzz for a potential second nomination for playing Oscar Grant's mother. The film's lost some traction, but Spencer's still very much in the race, though our gut says that voters will ultimately feel that she's been rewarded recently, and may go for some of the other picks down the line. But if some of the yet-to-be-seen choices fall through, Spencer might well make it.

Cannes, meanwhile, provided a serious contender in the shape of June Squibb. The 83-year-old veteran character actress has worked with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen to Lena Dunham, but her reunion with Alexander Payne (she played Jack Nicholson's ill-fated wife in "About Schmidt") led to a performance that by many accounts steals the show in "Nebraska." While she might not be a household name, she's the kind of long-serving performer that the Academy love to honor. Expect this campaign to gather steam as the release gets closer. Looking less likely is Carey Mulligan in "Inside Llewyn Davis" -- she has good notices, but it's not a huge role, so it doesn't seem likely to make the cut when all is said and done.

Finally, "Blue Jasmine" is all about Cate Blanchett, but Sally Hawkins has a certain amount of buzz behind her supporting role, the Stella to Blanchett's Blanche. Hawkins deserved a nod, but missed out, for "Happy-Go-Lucky" a few years back, so she's certainly due. But even so, we'd call her a bit of an outsider at this stage.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Hot From The Festival Circuit

As with most categories this year, "12 Years A Slave" stormed onto the scene at Telluride and Toronto, and thrust into the race an actress who few had heard of before; Lupita Nyong'o. The Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised, Yale-educated actress makes her feature film debut in Steve McQueen's latest, and despite her late entrance, she's seared her way into the eyeballs of early audiences of 'Slave.' There are other possibilities in the movie -- Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard -- but it's Nyong'o who seems to be the anointed one, and at this stage, only a fool would bet against it, especially in a field that seems to be lacking in the kind of breakout role that often does well in this category.

Beyond that, "August: Osage County" is the kind of film engineered to pick up acting nominations, and as you might imagine, the hardest thing is knowing who of the ensemble is likely to emerge. As of right now, Julia Roberts is campaigning as a lead, where she faces a tougher fight, but stays away from category fraud at least (if anything, she's more of a lead than co-star Meryl Streep). As for the rest of the cast, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson have won good notices, but it's 62-year-old veteran Margo Martindale who looks like the best bet here. The actress has a Tony nod already, and was a popular Emmy winner for her gig on "Justified" a few years back, and has a role in 'August' that, while pared down from the source material, remains more potent than most. That said, though she's twenty years younger, she might be competing with Squibb for that veteran-character-actor slot.

A few other contenders emerged during festival season, though they look less of a threat than the above. Naomie Harris was seen as something of a bright spot in "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom," but with the film being received with shrugs, she'll have a tough fight to a nomination even with the backing of The Weinstein Company. Neither Maria Bello, Viola Davis or Melissa Leo have large enough roles to really build up steam from "Prisoners," while Felicity Jones in "The Invisible Woman" doesn't seem like it's going to happen either, with the film having relatively few supporters. Jennifer Garner might be worth keeping an eye on in "Dallas Buyers Club," but it'll depend on how well the film plays as a whole: the part is much less showy than co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

Finally, we've not heard much buzz from fellow prognosticators on Alexandra Maria Lara in "Rush," though a recent second viewing of the film reminded us that the German actress is one of the best thing's in the film. It's a relatively thin role, but Lara does wonders with it. Buzz has to start somewhere, so it might as well be here...

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Oscars, Oprah Winfrey, Cameron Diaz, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Lupita Nyong'o


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