OSCAR GUIDE: Best Supporting Actress

Posted by · 10:12 am · January 26th, 2011

Like last year, this year’s Best Supporting Actress race was a free-for-all when it came to the last spot.  Potential category confusion almost had two spots up for grabs.  And there was absolutely no shortage of possible spoilers once the BAFTA had spoken up with a slate of formidable possibilities.

And great work was still left off the ballot.  Mila Kunis was on track to score, but ultimately fell short.  Veterans Barbara Hershey and Miranda Richardson seemed to be making a play for recognition, too.  In the end, an early campaign made all the difference for one indie contender, while another young hopeful managed to keep her grip in the supporting ranks despite giving a lead performance.

The nominees are:

Amy Adams, “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”

Unlike last year, however, this field anything but decided.  The neck-and-neck nature of the race will naturally make it one of the most interesting ones to follow throughout the second phase of the awards season.  And for the most part, it’s difficult to argue with this field.

Amy Adams wasn’t at the top of too many lists going into the season, if only because word was that her co-star, Melissa Leo, had a juicier role and stole the show.  But ultimately what we got out of Adams in “The Fighter” was something we’ve never seen before, and a head-spinning portrayal as a result.  Eschewing her bright-eyed good-girl persona for a tough-as-nails Lowell bartender with a heart of gold, the actress couldn’t have been more surprising.  Racking up her third nomination in just five years, Adams has proven her range with this performance, one that actually outshines her co-star if only because she gives what could have been merely a plot device character a natural complexity and a vigorous hidden spirit.  I’d keep my eye on her for a potential shock on Oscar night.

One film that clearly had the Academy’s heart this year was “The King’s Speech,” which hauled in 12 nominations across the board.  One of them has been considered a good bet since day one, perhaps less due to the merit of the work than the expected coattail ride on a front-running contender.  But what Helena Bonham Carter does in the film really shouldn’t be undercut by the realities of an awards season.  She adds a delicate humor and balance to the piece and provides, in fact, an emotional anchor for Colin Firth’s King George VI that is hardly a phoned-in portrayal.  Not every performance is meant to be breathless, after all, and the grace of simplicity is as difficult to master as the usual intense emoting that earns accolades.  As a result of love for the film, she could be a spoiler.

The frontrunner going into the race is clearly Melissa Leo, who flies off the rails in “The Fighter” in such a way that demands attention and tends to earn awards.  It’s a showy performance which chews the scenery, but the irony is Leo (and the other actors tasked with portraying colorful characters) actually held back a bit.  The Ward family is actually MUCH more colorful.  But Leo has lapped up a Critics’ Choice Movie Award and a Golden Globe already.  She may well take the SAG prize, too.  But even that kind of haul wouldn’t seal the deal, I think.  There are a lot of textures to this race, and one of them is the idea that Amy Adams could pull attention away from Leo as the circuit moves forward.  Nevertheless, the safest place to put your chips is right here.

There was a lingering possibility going into this year’s nominations announcement that Hailee Steinfeld would receive enough lead actress votes to either land her in that category or divide her potential altogether, leaving her out of the mix.  Thankfully she made it, even if it’s in the wrong category.  In “True Grit,” this first-timer really lit up the screen opposite some of the industry’s most respected actors.  She commanded unique language and cranked out a persona of unflinching justice and honor, giving a fully realized portrayal that felt entirely authentic.  As a result, and considering the healthy nomination haul for the film, I think she could be a spoiler to watch for on Oscar night.  To say nothing of the fact that she drives so much of the film, she simply makes for one of the best narratives of the season.

Rounding out the category is the spot which seemed to be up for grabs.  Ultimately it was Jacki Weaver who nailed it down for her eerie portrayal of a mild-mannered Lady McBeth in the Aussie drama “Animal Kingdom.” Weaver’s campaign got off on the right foot as the film was one of the first screeners to hit voters’ doorsteps.  She pulled off a National Board of Review win at the start of the season and boy, those T-shirts were all the rage.  It’s understandable why actors gravitated to her work as the subtlety is intriguing and the character is fascinating.  But I never felt that Weaver lifted it off the page and gave it a life that wasn’t already inherent.  Nevertheless, who could begrudge her her success?  She’s in the club now after working hard for years, but the nomination will likely be her reward.

Will win: Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”*
Could win: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”
Should win: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”

Should have been here: Lesley Manville, “Another Year”

Check out my current rankings for this race at its dedicated Contenders page here.

Who do you think deserves to win the award for Best Supporting Actress? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

*This prediction updated 2/24/2011.

[Photos: Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Pictures]

→ 129 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Oscar Guide

129 responses so far

  • 1 1-26-2011 at 8:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hans: Last year I went in order of their presentation the year prior. This year, same thing. Order of their presentation at last year’s Oscars.

  • 2 1-26-2011 at 9:00 pm

    Ryan said...

    Ugh! Hailee Steinfeld is so grossly overrated for her performance in “True Grit.” She got the job done, sure, and certainly didn’t detract from the film, but by no means is it a great performance or award-worthy. I don’t think she deserves a nomination either. I really resent the Academy’s affinity for child actors, which often takes precedence over who truly deserves the nominations and wins.

  • 3 1-26-2011 at 9:03 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Okay, I’ll grant you The Social Network, partially for the sake of argument and partially because I misunderstood what you were originally saying. If I find the same info you did, I’ll be more than willing to concede that point.

    “…placement in these fields isn’t some “pure” thing…”

    I agree, but that was never my contention in the first place. I don’t begrudge Christoph Waltz’s win or Mark Ruffalo’s nomination because I acknowledge there’s a very real split on what type of role they played. That’s not the case here.

    “Not my problem that this bothers you.”

    Nor did I suggest it was.

    “The best performance in the category is the best performance in the category. It shouldn’t be docked because of a subjective issue.”

    But the very idea of “best performance” is in itself subjective! Why are you judging one criteria as “stupid, when it’s no less opinion-based than thinking the performance is “better?”

  • 4 1-26-2011 at 9:04 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “At least we can agree that the Academy followed the pack on the placement. Shame on them. Not on Steinfeld.”

    Excellent point, and one that I wouldn’t dispute in the slightest.

  • 5 1-26-2011 at 9:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “That’s not the case here.”

    Clearly it’s up for intelligent debate.

    “But the very idea of “best performance” is in itself subjective! Why are you judging one criteria as “stupid, when it’s no less opinion-based than thinking the performance is “better?””

    You’re right, fuck the Oscars. Fuck the lot of awards presentations. (You basically made my point with that, by the way. It doesn’t matter enough to pretend these things exist in absolutes.)

  • 6 1-26-2011 at 9:21 pm

    Silencio said...

    I’m pretty passionless at the moment. Still sour about Gosling. Gimme a week or two, I think.

  • 7 1-26-2011 at 9:23 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Gee, the producer of True Grit and the guy who’s paid to get as many Oscar nominations for his films as possible is arguing for the path of least resistance for Steinfeld? I never would have guessed!

    “You basically made my point with that, by the way. It doesn’t matter enough to pretend these things exist in absolutes.”

    No, I didn’t. At all. My original comment not only acknowledged subjectivity in category placement, but the very comment you blew up over was prefaced with “in my opinion.” I never pretended that this existed in absolutes.

    The point that I was trying to make was that the idea of “I won’t vote for her because she has an unfair advantage over her competitors and does not warrant a ‘supporting’ award” is not “stupid” or “outrageous” or “foolish.”

  • 8 1-26-2011 at 9:55 pm

    Mike M. said...

    Aside from her category fraud, I’d argue that Steinfeld isn’t that great in her film. She competently handled challenging dialogue, and surprised a lot of people because she’s so young. A lot of the times, she sounds like she monologue-ing instead of verbalizing thought.

  • 9 1-26-2011 at 11:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: Regardless of obvious motive, as I stated, it’s a smart argument and a valid one that I think he really believes.

    “The point that I was trying to make was that the idea of “I won’t vote for her because she has an unfair advantage over her competitors and does not warrant a ‘supporting’ award” is not “stupid” or “outrageous” or “foolish.”

    Well, “in my opinion” (since those are apparently the magic words), it most certainly is.

  • 10 1-26-2011 at 11:38 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Apparently, so is “disrespectful,” which appears to be a horrible insult to you that launches personal attacks…but not “stupid,” “outrageous,” and “foolish.” Got it.

  • 11 1-27-2011 at 12:07 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s about your little “you’re disrespecting the other performances” stretch, but you’re not hearing me, so whatever.

    And I’ll let you have the last word, since clearly you crave it. So, take it away…

  • 12 1-27-2011 at 12:22 am

    bluemoon02 said...

    I hope Amy Adams wins! Or there will be a tie between her and Melissa Leo and they can duke it out onstage on Oscar night in character. Grrrrr.

  • 13 1-27-2011 at 12:55 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Appreciate the gesture, Kris, even if it’s tinged with condescension.

    I won’t even bother continuing to address your individual arguments, since that seems to be going nowhere, so I guess I’ll take this opportunity to express how much I think it’s really unfortunate how we can’t ever seem to express our disagreements in a civil manner. I’m able to tell other film writers (including Guy) that I think they’re wrong and have a perfectly reasonable discussion come out of it, but with you (and only you, it seems) it quickly – no, immediately – turns vicious. And I truly have no idea why. Maybe I did something to piss you off some time ago and you still hold a grudge against me for it, maybe you just find my writing style irritating, or perhaps I’m just an incorrigible bastard and all the other film writers I follow have been extremely patient with me all the years I’ve come to their sites.

    Whatever it is, I’d love to know and square it with you, because I really don’t like feuds or having “enemies.” I think In Contention is a great site and you do a damn good job of running it. But you are *so* frustrating to deal with sometimes. I’m re-reading my initial sentence that infuriated you so much and I still can’t figure out what you found so offensive about it, especially relative to the barbs you threw at everyone else before I jumped in.

    Whatever…tomorrow is a new day, hugs and kisses for Steinfeld and the other nominees.

  • 14 1-27-2011 at 4:16 am

    Glenn said...

    Most of the criticisms for Weaver’s work seems to revolve around her not expanding much on what was already written, but – despite that being a glowing endorsement of the screenplay – I don’t think that’s right. Listen to the way her voice ducks and weaves, plays cat and mouse with the actor opposite her during the “you’ve done some bad things Sweetie” scene. The way she hides her words behind her innocent face, and then as it cracks when she’s around her boys. The temptation to go big and hysterical was always there once the twist (if you wanna call it that, but it’s more just a very interesting plot turn) occurs, but she never does.

    I definitely think she should win and, hey, maybe – as Guy pointed out in the podcast – she can pull a Marcia Gay Harden and win the thing!

    As for “The Fighter” ladies, I much preferred Amy Adams actually, which surprises me since I usually dive headfirst into the love when it comes to a big performance like Leo’s. Alas, Leo’s characterisation (even if she is real) is what put me off that film. Asking us to laugh and mock these poor white trash folk and then flipping and wanting us to cheer them on? I didn’t get that. Adams, however, was right on target all the way. I do reckon if the British block will be a big hindrance to Leo’s win. Could it?

    Steinfeld? Didn’t deserve a nomination in any category, really, and Bonham Carter… well, she did what she could.

  • 15 1-27-2011 at 4:59 am

    JJ1 said...

    Yeah, back to the actual performances …

    Glenn, I appreciate what you said about Weaver. I’m one of those who found little in her performance that raised the level from the screenplay. But your argument is well noted.

    I still think Adams and HBC gave the best “supporting” performance of the nominees.

    And Steinfeld, as Mike M. mentioned above –

    “She competently handled challenging dialogue, and surprised a lot of people because she’s so young. A lot of the times, she sounds like she monologue-ing instead of verbalizing thought.”

    I would agree (for the most part). She was 13, fresh-faced, handled the dialogue with aplomb and intent. But I wouldn’t have her in my Top 5 of either category. I still wish her the best. She’s adorable, and obviously talented.

  • 16 1-27-2011 at 6:26 am

    Andrej said...

    “Last year I went in order of their presentation the year prior. This year, same thing. Order of their presentation at last year’s Oscars.”

    Didn’t they start last year with Best Actor in a Supporting Role with Christoph Waltz winning? :s

    Oh well, small details.

  • 17 1-27-2011 at 6:37 am

    Sawyer said...

    Agree with Ryan in 102. Steinfeld’s work was good, but not awards-worthy. I wouldn’t say it was any better than Blake Lively in The Town, or Wasikowska in TKAAR. Good work by young actresses in high-profile films, but shouldn’t have been good enough for Oscar.

  • 18 1-27-2011 at 8:33 am

    Joe7827 said...

    Kris: may I suggest a nap? Your arguments aren’t making much sense anymore (pointing to Screenplay as an example of category placements that can be legitimately proven, then using a screenplay as an example of a subjective category placement), and you kind of flew off the rails with the Sacheen Littlefeather reference.

    By the way: nobody cares what I think, but I’m not getting involved because I actually don’t think Steinfeld should win anyway. (Amy Adams is just so darn charming.)

    May I also point out: this discussion has taken a very sour turn considering Kris’ incisive, even-handed writeup that was such a pleasure to read. I truly look forward to the future installments, especially his certain-to-be-giddy comments on the documentary field.

  • 19 1-27-2011 at 8:43 am

    mark said...

    i find supp actress underwhemlming.

    esp helena bonham carter and hailee steinfeld

    amy adams is fine but i think the praise is due to the fact it is a different sort of turn by here not that she is flat out amazing,solid yeah esp in her scenes near the end of the film

    weaver would be my choice.

    leo is good but i expected more heart.

    it would’ve been more underwhelming with kunis or hershey in there.

    i tthink a lot of the best supporting actress performances have been forgotten

    dale dickey,lesley manville,mia wasikowska,anne marie duff,blake lively,kirsten dunst,kristin scott thomas & marisa berenson.

  • 20 1-27-2011 at 9:21 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Andre: Yeah, I screwed up. Thought it was supporting actress. I’ll just flip the two.

    Joe: My point was lost in there somewhere. Trying to bridge things. I’ll cop to being more than a little cranky lately, though.

  • 21 1-27-2011 at 9:52 am

    Maxim said...

    I think Seinfeld gave the best female performance of the year, period.

  • 22 1-27-2011 at 5:08 pm

    AN said...

    @Robert Hamer:

    Stop putting words in my mouth please, & use common sense.

    Where did I say it was OKAY for the Academy to keep playing games w/the kids placement?

    I just said I’m not up for continually whining over it like some people choose to (hint,hint).

    You think just because a few *civilians* cry foul over this *tradition* that’s been a part of history time after time, they’re going to change? Hah. Think again.

    How about stop CRYING over spilled milk & get the heck over it. It’s pointless just like your *argument*.

  • 23 1-27-2011 at 5:21 pm

    AN said...


    Agree to an extent. Steinfeld is in my Top 5 female performances of the year.

    Sorry Mike M, I disagree about Hailee’s performance. I thought she handled the dialogue perfectly, & it didn’t sound to me like she was in a”monologue” of any sort. I thought she came across as poised & smart.

    To each his own, I guess.

  • 24 1-27-2011 at 6:41 pm

    Patryk said...

    I remember Siskel and Ebert disagreeing on the placement of Geena Davis in Supporting Actress in 1988. Siskel felt Davis should not have been voted for because in his view it was category fraud, but Ebert disagreed. Sometimes the actor comes up short because of the split (I think that is why Glenn Close didn’t get nominated for “Reversal of Fortune” in either category).

  • 25 1-27-2011 at 7:20 pm

    JJ1 said...

    This may be tangential, though, it may apply, here …. but what was up with Naomi Watts’ omission in the 2001 season?

    Was it that there was little buzz? Or was there some ridiculous Supp. Actress horseshit campaign? How could there be one for Supporting? The movie was all her; with Laura Herring being a strong support.

  • 26 1-28-2011 at 12:28 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Will win: Amy Adams
    Could win: Mellisa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Weaver, Haille Steinfeld
    Should win: Amy Adams

    Should have been here: Mila Kunis – Black Swan

    Why should and will Amy Adams win?

    1. She is one of the best working Actress today
    2. She gave us brilliant performances in Indi Movies like Junebug, in Dramas like Doubt in Comedies like Enchanted ….
    3. Since 2006 she was nominated (inclusive The Fighter):
    3 Oscar Nominations
    2 Bafta Nominations
    6 Critics Choice Nominations (1 Win)
    3 Golden Globe Nominations
    1 Indipendent Spirit Award Nominations (1 Win)
    3 Golden Sattelite Nominations
    5 Sag Nominations

    3. She is far better than Mellisa Leo in The Fighter and she deserves it at most! She should win because she is such a hard working actress and simply the best! Thank you Amy Adams!

  • 27 2-10-2011 at 8:00 am

    JJ1 said...

    The more I think of it, the mosre I think this category is a MESS, and have no clue who will win.

    Melissa Leo, the leader, losing votes along the way.

    Amy Adams, hard to peak her nose through, but probably gaining. A lot of people think she’s better than the presumed leader.

    Helena Bonham Carter, winning people over with her wit/humor, possible career win, King’s Speech momentum.

    Hailee Steinfeld, a big spoiler, but I’m not feeling it lately. That could change again.

    Jackie Weaver, I think in 5th, but you nevvvvvver know. She’s a doll.

    I just have no idea, lately.

  • 28 2-23-2011 at 1:36 am

    Aaron said...

    I agree that Helena Bonham Carter is a very likely choice, given her recent BAFTA win and the outstanding momentum of The King’s Speech, not to mention the fact that she has a sharp and witty sense of humor and also seems extremely humble and approachable…

    …but I just don’t see it as an “Oscar” performance. I know that’s vague, but the performance is so subtle and she doesn’t really have a distinguishable character arc like the other five actresses….

    …it’s a really tough call. I could feasibly see any of the five ladies (including Jacki Weaver) take it. I’m starting to wonder if the Melissa Leo ad-hoopla actually, truthfully pissed off a lot of people in the Academy, or maybe they really didn’t care and/or voted for her anyway…

  • 29 2-24-2011 at 5:40 pm

    Daniel said...

    Someone changed their mind!