By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 15, 2014 at 2:08PM
We're a little under 24 hours away from the arrival of the 2014 Oscar nominations: tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. EST/5:30 a.m. PST, Chris Hemsworth will drag his space viking physique out of bed to join Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs in reading out the nominations. We made our predictions yesterday, and as you've seen, many of the categories are still in flux, with the potential for lots of shocks and surprises to follow tomorrow morning.
But what of the poor films and performers who were never really in the hunt? Oscar prognostication is valuable in many ways, but there's a slight sense that it leads to a narrative that's hard to break out of—if enough people say that a film's an Oscar nominee, do the Academy follow suit? (We're planning an experiment for next year, by using the term "Best Picture front-runner 'I, Frankenstein' as often as possible" and seeing what happens.)
Back in November and December, we spent some time highlighting the performances that we thought were deserving of being at least in the conversation. We'll see tomorrow if the Academy were listening (spoiler: no, they weren't, they were watching "Saving Mr. Banks"), but to bring us into the home stretch before the nominations, we thought we'd pick out some of our favorites again, as well as talk about a few other nominations that we'd love to see (but are, frankly, very unlikely to). Take a look below, and let us know your own wish-list in the comments section.
Best Supporting Actress: Joanna Scanlan - "The Invisible Woman"
Among a very fine cast led by the terrific (and also awards-worthy) Felicity Jones, the absolute stand-out of Ralph Fiennes' underrated biopic of Nelly Ternan, the long-time mistress of Charles Dickens, is a face who may not be especially familiar to American audiences—Joanna Scanlan, who plays Dickens' wife Catherine. Scanlan is best-known in the U.K. for her amazing performance as civil service jobsworth Terri in Armando Iannucci's "The Thick of It," and as the co-creator and star of dark nursing comedy "Getting On" (recently remade by HBO). But given the comic nature of those parts, she's a rather unexpected face to see in a role like this; a woman whose marriage has been sexless and loveless for so long that she's become cold out of self-preservation but who can't disguise the deep hurt when she finds that she's been betrayed. Scanlan only has a few brisk scenes, and is mostly absent from the second half of the film, but she makes an indelible and crucial impression on the whole: one scene in particular, as she comes to Ternan to deliver a present from Dickens that was delivered to her by mistake, is one of the most heartbreaking, generous and powerful bits of acting I've seen all year. Unfortunately, Scanlan's low profile, and the lack of heat on the film as a whole, will see her overlooked.
Best Supporting Actress: Adepero Oduye - "12 Years a Slave"
Bar Brad Pitt's distractingly saintly late-game cameo, almost every performer in "12 Years a Slave" could make a strong argument for picking up an acting nomination: it's an ensemble of such depth and diversity that an Oscar-nominated actress can crop up almost unnoticed in the opening scenes (yep, that's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis as Solomon Northup's daughter). The film looks like it'll lead to nods for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and, in the Supporting Actress category, breakout star Lupita Nyong'o, but there's plenty more where they came from. In terms of supporting actresses in the film alone, Sarah Paulson continues to demonstrate what an asset she is to filmmakers with her loathsome, but recognizably human mistress, and Alfre Woodard risks walking away with the whole film with an enormously impressive one-scene cameo, one of the movie's highlights. But if we had to pick one other actress to join Nyong'o as a nominee, it'd be Adepero Oduye. The actress deserved awards attention a few years ago for her role in Sundance breakout "Pariah," which sadly didn't break into the awards race (though she picked up a Spirit Award nomination), and her role in "12 Years a Slave" is an unshowy one: she plays Eliza, a free woman captured alongside Ejiofor's Northup, and separated by Paul Giamatti's demonic slave trader from her children. It would be easy for the part to be nothing but weeping and wailing, but Oduye does a remarkable job with only a few short scenes in painting the true depths of Eliza's despair, while also going toe-to-toe with Ejiofor as she points out the kind of complacency he falls into early on. Being smaller than Nyong'o's part, it's been overlooked in the awards season, but hopefully it'll remind filmmakers of Oduye's talent going forward.