2018 Oscar Circuit: Best Supporting Actress


Supporting is never about stealing; it’s an eminent position of loyalty. Whether it’s the protagonist or script, supporting performers are the most trustworthy of collaborators. In many instances, they are the audience’s guide to empathy. Worth honoring as much as the primary actors, I present this year’s nominated actresses in the category:

  • Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
  • Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
  • Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
  • Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
  • Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Joining her Oscar-winning “The Help” co-stars in just under a week for this commonality, Allison Janney is too big a presence to fail. In “I, Tonya,” Janney’s deadpan lioness of a mother is unflinchingly committed to overseeing perfection. That key scene where Janney’s LaVona is forced to rationalize her cruelty to Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding provides the briefest glimmer of humanity under the snarl. Growing up as a working-class mother meant kindness wouldn’t get you further than a fake smile in return. LaVona is often criticized for being more caricature than character, yet Janney’s demanding spirit never truly departs audience consciousness. Unlike Metcalf, who arguably has the more nuanced role, Janney ensures she is never lost in a story that wants to forget her vindictive ways. Six Emmys and counting, Janney is about to bring home a shiny new fella to join the awards shelf party.

In the battle of television icons, Laurie Metcalf will unfortunately have to settle for bridesmaid. Unlike Janney’s showy LaVona, Metcalf’s “Lady Bird” mother role as Marion simmers a rage rooted in protection, not opportunism. Her sternness and constant frustration demonstrate how difficult it is being a parent of a child aiming for seemingly unrealistic goals without first proving maturity. Lady Bird — like every other soul on this planet — only gets one shot at a great life, and Marion wants to make sure her daughter can endure that flight. Marion’s breakdown at the airport roundabout is a masterclass display of figurative childhood loss. Metcalf’s tearful moment won’t be forgotten, although it could be a case of “too little, too late” for voters wishing the character had done more earlier on.

Nominated for her breakout role in “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige doesn’t let sunglasses stop her from piercing hearts. As Florence Jackson, Blige subtly exudes resolve, making the best of hardships her family unfairly withstands. There is a quiet soundness to Blige’s performance that might come across as drowsy acting to some, though many struggling mothers know that stoicism is a defense mechanism to combat social injustice. Blige’s cross-talented excellence would make her a bigger threat in previous years. However, Janney and Metcalf have paid their dues already on the small screen, and voters are determined one graduates with top honors.

Lesley Manville is one of those thespians you’re convinced has been nominated for an Academy Award and then are shocked upon discovering that’s not the case. This year, that changes. Manville is utterly electrifying in “Phantom Thread” as the sharp-tongued sister/governess of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock. Brittle and menacingly firm despite her subservience, Manville proves that the strength of a home lies in the woman who upholds it. Although Manville’s surprise inclusion in the category was a delight, an actor with no precursor nominations hasn’t won since Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock.” That was all the way back in 2001. Manville will sadly be on the sidelines, but this nomination has thrust her back into the foreground of divine actresses to watch in future roles.

Last but never least, Octavia Spencer in “The Shape of Water” is our default contender in the lineup. Back-to-back nominations confirm her as a staple of excellence who dutifully uplifts a film alongside its lead. As Zelda, Spencer shows different facets of the 1960s working-class African-American woman. Battling a domestic life that’s as emotionally arduous as her cleaning job is physically laborious, Zelda finds an ally against injustice in Sally Hawkins’s Elisa. Even better than her performance in last year’s “Hidden Figures,” Spencer swims through Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy world with the grace and vigor of a champion. Endlessly captivating, Spencer won’t nab the gold again but she’s every bit an onscreen winner whose awards participation deservedly repeats.

WILL AND SHOULD WIN: Allison Janney for “I, Tonya”

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Allison Williams for “Get Out”