Six Spot: Which 2016 Supporting Actress Hopeful Ran Up Against ‘Fences’?

Welcome to the twenty-fifth entry in our Six Spot series.

The 2016 Best Supporting Actress lineup feels like a safe but representative choice of what Oscar’s taste this year. All five women gave performances in Best Picture nominees. While this could make the category feel stale or predictable, all of the performances at least have some merit that warrants inclusion. Plus, after two years of #OscarsSoWhite, it’s great to see a field where women of color are a majority of the nominees. Even so, there were other fantastic performances that were snubbed once nominations were called. Before we figure out which performance came in sixth place, let’s look at the nominees.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

    • Viola Davis – “Fences” – WINNER
    • Naomie Harris – “Moonlight”
    • Nicole Kidman – “Lion”
    • Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures”
    • Michelle Williams – “Manchester By The Sea”

OVERALL SUMMARY

Viola Davis won this Oscar the minute she decided to go supporting. That’s not to say she couldn’t win in lead. She definitely could have won. At this point, Davis carried a huge Oscar IOU after losing for “The Help” in 2011. Since then, she won an Emmy for “How to Get Away with Murder” and became known as one of the greats. Throughout the season, she won all the televised awards, giving impeccable speeches at each. Davis ran away with this season.

That’s not to say the other women weren’t worthy. This lineup stands as a really strong Best Supporting Actress lineup. Michelle Williams and Naomie Harris likely duke it out for second place. Both were part of Best Picture nominees, received all major precursor nominations and picked up a few critics awards. With three previous nominations, Williams commands the strongest “overdue” narrative. Yet, the “Moonlight” Best Picture love could have carried Harris to a win if not for Davis. 

Fourth place likely goes to Nicole Kidman. The Supporting Actress category loves “supportive mother” roles and Kidman’s performance likely earns the most tears. She showed up at all the major precursors and “Lion” had a strong showing at the Oscars. “Hidden Figures” was likely to have an acting nominee. It just wasn’t always going to be Octavia Spencer. While she’s great in the film, she’s more of a comforting “mama bear” presence, rather than having a true “Oscar clip” scene. Still, the film’s SAG Ensemble win proves there was plenty of support from the actors’ branch. Add in the film’s extraordinary box office and Spencer appears to be even more of a lock. If anyone were to knock her out of the lineup, who might that be? Let’s take a look at our Six Spot contenders.

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Greta Gerwig – “20th Century Women”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Original Screenplay
  • Lily Gladstone – “Certain Women”
    • Precursors – Los Angeles Film Critics Association (WINNER), National Society of Film Critics (Runner Up), Independent Spirit Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Janelle Monae – “Hidden Figures”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Adapted Screenplay
  • Janelle Monae – “Moonlight”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director, Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) (WINNER), Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score
  • Molly Shannon – “Other People”
    • Precursors – Independent Spirit Awards (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Hayley Squires – “I, Daniel Blake”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None

INDEPENDENT LONGSHOTS

In a field populated by Best Picture nominees, were there any indie contenders that could’ve posed a threat? Many times, big stars earn nominations for their small passion projects (see Glenn Close for “Albert Nobbs”). While not an A-list movie star, Molly Shannon could be considered a household name. She commands industry respect thanks to her work on “Saturday Night Live” and prevalence in the comedy community. In “Other People,” Shannon plays a mother who gets diagnosed with cancer. The nimble comedy drew raves from its small audience. Shannon even won the Independent Spirit Award for Supporting Actress. This could’ve been a great way to reward a hardworking actress that many have worked with. Additionally, it fits the “comedian goes dramatic” narrative that the Oscars love. Unfortunately, the film was too small and Shannon would’ve needed more critics prizes for those narratives to take off.

Still, breakthroughs can come from lesser known actors in small movies if there’s room in the category and passion from voters. Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) and Demian Bichir (“A Better Life”) parlayed small but vocal voting blocks into a nomination. The critics uniformly rallied around Lily Gladstone from “Certain Women,” Kelly Reichardt latest film. The film marks Gladstone’s first film role. Yet, she soulfully brings to life the aching heart of a young ranch hand whose heart longs for her adult education teacher (Kristen Stewart). Though the film stars Michelle Williams and Laura Dern, Gladstone earned all the praise. This includes a win from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Had the film been a bigger indie hit or if she had earned one of the major televised precursor nominations, Gladstone could have been a significant contender.

ONE PRECURSOR WONDERS

Certain groups had their pet favorites. The BAFTA Awards, for example, loved “I, Daniel Blake” more than any other awards body. They gave the film five key nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Hayley Squires. Since no other major awards group carried a torch for the film (other than the Cannes Film Festival jury), this nomination was more of an anomaly than a signal of Oscar buzz.

Though Greta Gerwig only received one major precursor nomination for “20th Century Women,” she stands a better chance than Squires of being considered our sixth spot. Only the Critics Choice Award singled out Gerwig’s work in the film. Due to a late release date and very limited release, “20th Century Women” almost flew under everyone’s radar. Just when all hope seemed lost, the Oscars gave the film a Best Original Screenplay nomination. If the film was given more time to build buzz, Gerwig might have earned a nomination. Much like Annette Bening in lead, the protracted campaign cost the film nominations.

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES STARRING JANELLE MONAE

Of the nine Best Picture nominees, there were only two major supporting actress performances that didn’t make the cut. Both of those performances were from Janelle Monae. The pop star made an impressive film debut in 2016, starring in “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” In hindsight, “Moonlight” had much more love within the Academy than we originally thought. While Naomie Harris earned a nomination for playing a drug addicted mother, voters could have also championed Monae’s performance. She plays Teresa, the wife of Juan (Mahershala Ali, who won Supporting Actor, who becomes Chiron’s guardian angel. In many ways, she provides “Moonlight” with a similar warmth and love that Nicole Kidman provides in “Lion.” Unfortunately, “Moonlight” was strategic and placed all their efforts behind Harris. 

Monae shouldn’t have felt left out, though. The team behind “Hidden Figures” thought Monae stood a good chance at a nomination. Of the three central women, Monae’s Mary Jackson was the no-nonsense spitfire that audiences gravitated towards. After the Critics Choice Award nominations, she seemed like the film’s main push in the category. Then Octavia Spencer started gaining awards traction. In many ways, people thought the Supporting Actress lineup was set. It was going to be Davis, Harris, Williams, Kidman and one of the “Hidden Figures” women. As “Hidden Figures” became a smash hit, that final slot seemed all the more certain to go to someone from that film. The SAG Ensemble win sealed the deal. Unfortunately, Spencer became the representative from the film over Monae.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 2016 BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS WAS:

JANELLE MONAE – “HIDDEN FIGURES”

Hidden Figures

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2016 Best Supporting Actress race? Share with us in the comments below.

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