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2020 Oscar Circuit: Best Supporting Actress

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Few years have had all four acting categories seemingly locked up like this year. All four winners have won Golden Globes, SAG, and Critics Choice Awards. At first, the Supporting Actress category seemed to have a real race on its hands. Hollywood royalty Laura Dern would face off against the comeback of pop star/actress Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”). After Lopez’s shocking snub on Oscar nomination morning, Dern’s path to victory seems cleared.

However, one must never get too comfortable in the role of the frontrunner. If voters perceive a performer to be safe, they may go for an underdog with a savvy campaign. Let’s take a look at the talented field of Supporting Actresses.

The nominees for Best Actress in a Supporting Role are:

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  • Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell”
  • Laura Dern – “Marriage Story”
  • Scarlett Johansson – “Jojo Rabbit”
  • Florence Pugh – “Little Women”
  • Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”

Now let’s take a more in-depth look at the nominees:

Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell – “Richard Jewell”

Never bet against a beloved, veteran actor. Oscar winner Kathy Bates (“Misery” in 1990) shocked many when her name was the first called out at the top of the Oscar nomination ceremony. Bates won the National Board of Review prize, which kicked off the season, placing her as a potential threat. Soon after, the Golden Globes nominated her for Supporting Actress. Yet, her film “Richard Jewell” wound up bombing at the box office and sparking controversy for the film’s characterization of other supporting players. The writing on the wall spelled doom for “Richard Jewell” and Bates’ Oscar chances. Yet, voters clearly love the three-time nominated actress. Also, an error in miscategorization at the SAG awards could have explained her absence at that precursor.

Bates plays Bobi Jewell, the steadfast mother of a hero turned accused bomber, Richard Jewell. While she spends most of the film in the background, doting or consoling her son, Bates gets a big Oscar scene to end the movie on. During a press conference, Bobi conveys to reporters the immense toll their surveillance and reporting on Richard’s case has placed on her family. Bates gets to take center stage and cry in the one genuinely emotional moment in the film. Even those who did not like the film might be able to appreciate her work in it. The one thing holding Bates back is her competition. All four of the other actresses starred in multiple movies where they were well-reviewed. Without a similarly, stand-out year, will voters cast their ballots for Bates?

Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw – “Marriage Story”

It’s hard to think of any performer who has made more awards speeches over the past couple of years than Laura Dern. Her role in “Marriage Story” as Nora, Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) shark of a divorce attorney, dominated the precursor awards. Dern swept the televised awards so far (SAG, Golden Globes, Critics Choice) and picked up key critics prizes (New York Film Critics Circle). This follows her successful, Emmy winning turn on “Big Little Lies,” which just aired season two this past summer. In short, Dern is at the perfect place in her forty-year career to be embraced by Oscar. It also doesn’t hurt that Dern has been very active in the Academy, even running for President of the organization in the past.

With just 18 minutes of screen time, Dern’s role is in line with recent winners like Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) and Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”). With supporting performances, actors can combat low screen time if they make the most of the moments they are on screen. Dern eviscerates every scene she’s in, making herself the focal point of every moment. Her line readings and posture choices make Nora a particular and well-defined scene-stealer. In terms of Oscar clips, look no further than her monologue about the perceptions of fathers and mothers, as dictated by the Bible.

Scarlett Johansson as Rosie – “Jojo Rabbit”

Oscar rules state that an actor cannot be nominated twice in the same category. Yet, they can be nominated in lead and supporting in the same year. Scarlett Johansson became the twelfth performer to earn two acting nominations in a single year. Of those twelve performers, seven of them won at least one of their two bids. Does this give Johansson a chance to surprise with a win in Supporting Actress? Her supporting work in “Jojo Rabbit” was also honored with SAG, BAFTA, and Critics Choice nominations. The only major precursor she missed was at the Golden Globes. Additionally, she is one of three nominees to come from a Best Picture nominee.

Johansson’s role as Rosie places her at the moral center of “Jojo Rabbit’s satire. Though her son, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), attends Nazi camps, Rosie desires for an end to the Nazi regime. She helps protect Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish teenager, by stowing her away in a crawl space. Johansson’s standout scene comes at the dinner table as she tries to melt Jojo’s love for Hitler by pretending to be his Father. Her character is also involved in a heart-tugging turning point late in the film. If these moments of her performance stick with enough fans of the film, perhaps Scarlett Johansson could be a dark horse here.

Florence Pugh as Amy March – “Little Women”

“Little Women” was one of the more significant question marks leading up to Oscar nominations. The guilds had snubbed the film across many fields, including giving it zero SAG nominations. Yet, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation was a critical and audience hit over the Christmas holiday. One of the names that kept coming up was Florence Pugh, who played Amy, the misunderstood and slightly bratty March sister. While four “Little Women” adaptations have earned Oscar nominations, Florence Pugh is the first actress to get nominated for the role of Amy March. Gerwig’s restructuring of the film does wonders for Amy’s storyline. Additionally, Pugh knocks it out of the park, being simultaneously hilarious, lovable, and emotional. Her work in the prestigious horror film “Midsommar” also cemented her as one of the brightest young talents this year.

Pugh only received Critics Choice and BAFTA nominations before Oscar. Yet, many smaller critics groups cited her as their winner (such as Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Boston Online, Chicago, Columbus, Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah). One of the strongest scenes in the movie comes when Amy outlines to Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) how marriage is an economic proposition for women. Pugh also shines in smaller, gif-worthy moments in the film (“It’s Laurie” in her introduction, crying during her 12-year-old scenes). With “Little Women” about to cross $100 million, is Pugh’s campaign cresting at the right moment? The film certainly has a passionate fanbase.

Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil – “Bombshell”

Few actors are more popular than Margot Robbie at the moment. Once “Bombshell” started screening, Robbie immediately received “best in show” notices from critics. This is even more remarkable since co-stars Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman play real life figures. Meanwhile, Margot Robbie takes on a fictionalized version of a lower-level FOX News worker. In terms of precursor support, Robbie is the only actor (other than Dern) to show up in all four major precursors (SAG, Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA). At the BAFTA Awards, Robbie took up two spots for “Bombshell” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Her spot in the lineup was always assured. Still, some were predicting her to surprise for her “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” performance, as that film had more Oscar traction.

This widespread support for both the actress and the performance could make her the dark horse. Like Bates and Dern, it’s elementary to see what her Oscar clip moment would be. The scene where she breaks down to Kate McKinnon on a phone call outside of a restaurant expertly demonstrates the emotional toll sexual assault in the workplace takes on a person. Yet, it’s hard to find the camp of voters putting her at the top of her ballot. Despite numerous nominations, only the Las Vegas Film Critics gave Robbie a win. Between this and “I, Tonya” two years prior, this nomination helps set the stage for an eventual Margot Robbie win for her third or fourth Oscar nomination in the future.

Final Words

It’s hard to argue with a sweep. Laura Dern has the right narrative, right movie, and right precursors to win her a Supporting Actress Oscar. She’s a Hollywood legend who nearly became President of the Academy. “Marriage Story” got six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Lastly, she’s won every award in sight. All signs point to Laura Dern winning her first Oscar.

Still, the Supporting Actress category provides a shocker every once in a while. For every Allison Janney or Octavia Spencer that sweeps the precursors, there’s a Marcia Gay Harden or Tilda Swinton that surprises in the last minute. If that’s going to be anyone, it would be Florence Pugh as “Little Women” gains steam or Scarlett Johansson if “Jojo Rabbit” starts winning multiple prizes.

Will Win: Laura Dern – “Marriage Story”

Should Win: Florence Pugh – “Little Women”

Could Win: Florence Pugh – “Little Women”

Should have been nominated: Jennifer Lopez – “Hustlers,” Jo Yeo-jeong – “Parasite,” Zhao Shuzhen – “The Farewell”

Which Actress in a Supporting Role are you rooting for at the Oscars? Who should have been nominated? Comment below and share your thoughts! Also, make your picks at the Circuit Hub.

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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman

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