The State of the Best Supporting Actress Race

And we’re off to the races!

In one weekend, thanks to the premieres of Women Talking (at the Telluride Film Festival) and The Whale (at the Venice International Film Festival), the race for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar is starting to heat up, but there’s still quite a few contenders yet to be seen (including The Son‘s Laura Dern, The Fabelmans‘ Michelle Williams, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery‘s Janelle Monáe later this week) and some more from movies released earlier in the year (like Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Stephanie Hsu) who deserve a second look. So, without further ado, here are the films that feature the biggest Best Supporting Actress contenders of the season (along with an analysis of where they stand in the race), in order of release:


Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis)

Given that Everything Everywhere All at Once is widely expected to be one of our biggest awards contenders overall this season, it stands to reason that it’d show some strength in nearly every category, and Best Supporting Actress is no exception, thanks to two solid supporting turns from Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis. However, Curtis’ role is a bit smaller – and more one-dimensional than Hsu’s – so I’d give Hsu the edge for sure if I had to single out just one potential Best Supporting Actress nominee from the film, and it helps that she has several extremely emotional scenes to show off all season long as both Joy, the disenchanted daughter of Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn and Ke Huy Quan’s Waymond, and the tyrannical Jobu Tupaki, Joy’s evil multiversal counterpart who plays the antagonist in the film (and we all know how the supporting acting categories love an antagonist). There is a world where Everything Everywhere All at Once solely becomes the Michelle Yeoh/Ke Huy Quan show – given that they are bigger names with stronger individual narratives than Hsu, whose nominations would also honor them for their lengthier (and oft-underappreciated) careers – but if the film overperforms with nominations, it’s easy to see how Hsu could be swept up alongside these two, as her powerhouse performance speaks for itself (though A24 could have an embarrassment of riches in this category, as you’ll see below).

Dolly de Leon in Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness (Dolly de Leon)

As an ensemble comedy with no true lead, it’s assumed that almost all of the actors in Triangle of Sadness will compete in the supporting acting categories at this year’s awards ceremonies, but none have received as much attention and acclaim as Dolly de Leon as Abigail, the comical toilet manager on the film’s central cruise ship who takes matters into her own hands when things go south on this trip. Almost everyone who has seen the film – whether they liked it overall or not – has come out raving about De Leon, saying that she steals every scene she’s in and has most of the best lines. The only downside to De Leon’s campaign is that a) she’s said to only be a major player in the film’s third act (which could mean she’s overshadowed by Best Supporting Actress contenders who have a bit more to do in their respective movies) and b) she’s an unknown to American audiences and the Academy. However, as critics groups begin to become more influential in the awards race, a slew of Best Supporting Actress wins for De Leon could elevate her profile considerably and help enliven NEON’s efforts to get her into the Oscar race.

The cast of Women Talking

Women Talking (Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy)

Given that this is an ensemble drama with an almost all-female cast (aside for Ben Whishaw), pretty much every actress from Women Talking is going to contend in the Best Supporting Actress category (save for maybe Rooney Mara, who is said to play the character closest to a lead), which could lead to potential in-fighting if notable standouts don’t emerge quickly, but thankfully, following the film’s promising premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, support seems to be coalescing around Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy first and foremost, which makes sense both on account of the poignant parts they play and where each actress is at in their respective career right now. For starters, Buckley is coming off of her surprise first Oscar nom from last year for The Lost Daughter which put her on the map with the Academy in a major way, while Foy – already an Emmy winner – is still reeling from her snub for 2018’s First Man (a nomination she likely would’ve received if the film was a bigger contender overall) and now that she’s a movie that’s sure to be a stronger player across-the-board, she could finally receive the recognition that eluded her four years ago. There are quite a few films with more than one Best Supporting Actress contender on this list, but of all of them, I’m most confident in Women Talking actually getting two in – unlike other films, where there’s a clear stronger contender and someone who could “coattail,” everyone seems to be on even footing here (with Buckley and Foy faring best), which could allow for stronger support for multiple actresses, though vote splitting should remain a concern.

Sadie Sink in The Whale

The Whale (Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton)

After The Whale had its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival this weekend, it was said to have not one, not two, but three potential Best Supporting Actress contenders with Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton, though the fact that Morton only has one scene (supposedly around 10 minutes long) probably means that this race is mostly between Sink and Chau. Sink has the bigger role of the two – and the biggest role in the film aside from Brendan Fraser – but as his devilish and disenchanted teenage daughter, some have labeled her role as a tad “one-dimensional” (at least until her character gets the chance to evolve emotionally in the film’s final stretch). Still, Sink will have no shortage of showy scenes to spotlight this season thanks to her constant tirades and contentious confrontations with Fraser’s Charlie, and it helps that she’s a bit of an “it girl” right now coming off the success of Stranger Things 4 and Taylor Swift’s All Too Well: The Short Film (and I’m curious to see if SAG – the voting body most generous to younger actors – throws Sink a bone). But Chau already seems to be the most celebrated Best Supporting Actress contender in The Whale by critics, who have noted her dual strengths as both a comedic and dramatic presence in the film and praised her more understated part in contrast to Sink’s. And while Chau still (sadly) isn’t a huge name in Hollywood, she did come quite close to an Oscar nom a few years ago for Downsizing, and thus, like Claire Foy above, could find herself in a stronger place in the awards conversation this season in a film with a more solid standing overall.

Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin (Kerry Condon)

With The Banshees of Inisherin proving to be one of the biggest hits at the Venice International Film Festival so far (a 12-minute standing ovation!), it’s clear that the film, the performances from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and Martin McDonagh’s scorching script are all now solidly in the Oscar race, but don’t count out Kerry Condon as Farrell’s fiery sister either, who has been receiving nearly equally as strong of praise as Farrell and Gleeson, and could find herself as a dark horse even in a Best Supporting Actress race as stacked as this, should critics go to bat for her. The supporting categories are usually more generous to newcomers and “fresh finds,” and if Banshees continues to be a big player this awards season, Condon could benefit from “the rising tide that lifts all boats,” especially as a supposed scene stealer who surprises viewers with how well she holds her own against her more well-known male co-stars. It’s still early days for Banshees (and Condon), but keep an eye on her.


Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby in The Son

The Son (Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby)

Premiering at the Venice International Film Festival later this week, Florian Zeller’s The Son is another film with two Best Supporting Actress contenders, each with quite an admirable history with the Academy – as one (Laura Dern) is an Oscar winner, and the other (Vanessa Kirby) is a recent nominee. Dern has the more openly emotional and sympathetic role in the movie as the ex-wife of Hugh Jackman’s Peter and the mother of the titular struggling son (you can already see what may be one of her “Oscar scenes” in the film’s recent teaser trailer), but, based off of the play, Kirby’s role is probably around the same size, and she plays quite a unique role in the plot as Peter’s new wife who continually clashes with his son and comes between the two of them, as she seeks to safeguard her life with Peter and their new baby daughter. Going off the material we’ve heard each has – along with their present standings in Hollywood – I feel safe assuming that Dern might be in a stronger place right now, but I could just as easily see voters nominate both actresses, especially if The Son becomes an even bigger contender than we’re already expecting overall. I’d still say Women Talking is the movie most likely to get more than one of its supporting actresses nominated (and I don’t think two films will), but The Son is right behind in my mind.

Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans (Michelle Williams)

If you’re going to have one name on your Best Supporting Actress predictions this far out, it better be Michelle Williams, who is not only seemingly a surefire nominee for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, but also widely assumed to be the frontrunner as well (especially if early raves about her work are to be believed). Playing a character largely modeled after Spielberg’s own mother – a role that also delves deep into her struggles with mental illness – there’s no shortage of meaty material here for Williams to tear into as an actress, but it also helps that she has one of the strongest overdue narratives of anyone in the industry at the moment. This would be her fifth Oscar nomination – after Best Actress nods for 2010’s Blue Valentine and 2011’s My Week with Marilyn, and Best Supporting Actress nods for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and 2016’s Manchester by the Sea (two races where she was likely the runner-up) – and after she swept the television awards circuit for her work in 2019’s Fosse/Verdon, it seemed like an Oscar had to be coming soon, and here’s her opportunity. No matter who else fills out this category between now and March, expect to hear Williams’ name in the line-up all season long – and likely on Oscar night, too.

Janelle Monáe in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Janelle Monáe)

Though the first Knives Out didn’t have any major contenders for acting awards three years ago (save for Daniel Craig’s and Ana de Armas’ Golden Globes nominations) – and was inexplicably snubbed for the SAG Ensemble award – early word on Janelle Monáe’s performance (as a character named Cassandra “Andi” Brand, a tech entrepreneur) is hot, and given that she was the first actor featured in a solo photo from the film by Netflix, it seems that the streamer knows what they have on their hands. It’s still early days with Glass Onion, and we won’t know for sure what Monáe’s performance is like until the film premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival later this week, but one thing that might help Monáe is the fact that, after Bardo‘s critical underperformance at Venice and Telluride this week, Glass Onion may end up being Netflix’s #1 priority this awards season. And if they throw all their weight behind the film – and it starts to pick up some major nominations – Monáe would receive an even stronger push for Best Supporting Actress, and she could find herself higher up in the rankings than ever expected.

Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, and Samantha Morton in She Said

She Said (Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, and Samantha Morton)

Though we’re still waiting on official category placement for She Said (and will likely know more after its premiere at the New York Film Festival), it’s widely assumed by many pundits right now that one of the headliners – Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan – will go lead and the other will go supporting, and with Mulligan being the “bigger name” (and two-time Oscar nominee), we’ve tentatively placed her in lead for now and Kazan here. However, even beyond Kazan, there’s Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson playing a senior editor at the New York Times who oversees Mulligan’s and Kazan’s characters efforts to expose Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton as one of Weinstein’s victims (however, just like in The Whale, early word has implied that she only stars in a single scene in this film too, which could diminish her chances significantly outside of a few critics groups who might pair her parts together). With the likely biggest arc, Kazan probably has the best shot of this trio, but going up against bigger, broader, and more openly emotional Best Supporting Actress contenders could be tricky, so we’ll simply have to see which supporting actresses are still standing when She Said premieres and if Kazan’s performance is strong enough to take them down.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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