Following the bombshell announcement that Michelle Williams will contend for Lead Actress at the Oscars for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans instead of Supporting Actress, both of these two races have been thrown into disarray. For starters, is there a world where Williams isn’t even nominated for Lead Actress now? I wouldn’t go that far yet – her incredibly acclaimed performance doesn’t just stop being acclaimed because she shifted what category she’s being campaigned in – but it does mean she’s giving up a slam dunk win in Supporting Actress and making things unnecessarily harder for herself by going up against the likes of Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Olivia Colman, and Viola Davis.
But that’s not the point of this piece. Instead, my first thought was – who the hell is winning Best Supporting Actress now? We’d had this award sealed up for Williams for almost a year – or maybe since her involvement in The Fabelmans was even announced – and even after the fall film festivals, there was no clear alternative or “runner-up.” There are quite a few actresses who appeared to be solid contenders for nominations (the Women Talking ladies, Kerry Condon, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, etc.), but no one had the unanimous praise necessary to pull off an upset win against Williams. But now, with that formerly preordained frontrunner AWOL, we’ll have to reevaluate that.
In Williams’ absence, these are the actresses Gold Derby lists as the ten likeliest to score a Best Supporting Actress nomination, based on the combined odds of the predictions of experts, editors, and users. Unsurprisingly, both of Women Talking‘s biggest Best Supporting Actress bids find themselves at the top of the pack. For a few weeks, we’ve debated whether or not Women Talking can actually get two actresses in, but with Williams gone, that looks a helluva lot more possible. Still, no one seems to agree on who the likelier contender of the two is. Jessie Buckley is said to have the stronger/more significant character arc, while Claire Foy is continually hailed as the “showstopper” with the meaty monologues and surefire “Oscar scenes.” Yet, Buckley is already a “member of the club,” having been nominated for an Oscar just last year in this same category for The Lost Daughter, while Foy was snubbed in 2018 for her supporting work in Damien Chazelle’s First Man. Also, will it be too tough for voters to decide on which Women Talking actress to give this award to, given that everyone seems to have a different “standout” (and maybe one that’s not even Buckley or Foy)?
Up next, Gold Derby lists Stephanie Hsu, for Everything Everywhere All at Once. As many of you know, I’m incredibly high on this film’s Oscar chances, though I have been skeptical of Hsu for a few weeks, simply based on how stacked this category was becoming with contenders, and how her co-stars Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan had the “larger” Oscar narratives thanks to the longevity of their careers. But, Hsu is undeniably a showy standout in EEAAO, and she can absolutely take advantage of Williams’ absence and squeak into the final field – though I would doubt a win right now, given how fresh a face she is in the industry, and how most of the “win talk” for an EEAAO performer has centered around the aforementioned Yeoh and Quan. Behind her, there’s Vanessa Kirby for The Son (who is receiving raves even from those who hate her film), but since The Son has fallen flat on its face following mediocrely received premieres at the Venice Film Festival and TIFF, I’m kinda counting her – and co-star Laura Dern, at the bottom of the list – out completely for the time being.
Now, these next three are contenders I’ve been very confident in as of late. There’s The Whale ladies – Sadie Sink and Hong Chau – and then The Banshees of Inisherin scene-stealer Kerry Condon. Let’s start with The Whale. It seems to be universally agreed upon right now amongst pundits and critics that Hong Chau has the more “Oscar-friendly” role between her and Sink. It’s a more multidimensional part, and she has the clearer “Oscar clips” (not to mention the fact that Chau already came close to a nom five years ago, for Downsizing). Meanwhile, Sadie’s character is said to be a bit abrasive for much of the movie (though many others have still praised this part of her performance as well), but she does really shine in the third act – and especially in the final scene – which is a crucial moment for both her and lead Brendan Fraser that could catapult them both to Oscar recognition, especially now that a spot has seemingly cleared up (but can two films get two Best Supporting Actress nominees in, between this and Women Talking?!).
Let’s circle back to Condon. I put her in almost immediately after the rave reactions started to roll in for her performance following The Banshees of Inisherin‘s highly praised Venice premiere, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, especially with Williams out of the picture. She’s a fierce and foul-mouthed scene-stealer in a film that’s going to be a top Best Picture contender, and she gives quite a few people’s favorite performance in the film. Still, the win chatter around Banshees has centered around Colin Farrell for the most part – and like the aforementioned Stephanie Hsu, she’s an incredibly fresh face (especially in America) – so I’m not sure she’s our new winner. But you should for sure have her in a top five for now. What of Thuso Mbedu, who is ranked a bit below her for The Woman King? I can see it – especially if The Woman King breaks through in a major way with The Academy – but she’ll face internal competition in this category from co-star Lashana Lynch, and the jury is still out on The Woman King‘s nomination ceiling, and what all it will contend for.
(Additionally, the only other prospective nominee I’d really consider who isn’t listed in Gold Derby’s top ten is Janelle Monáe for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, but, as I’ve said quite a bit throughout this piece, I think Williams’ evacuation boosts her chances for a nom, not a win. She also received raves following the Glass Onion TIFF premiere, but I’m not sure it was the kind of widespread support that signals a new “sweeper.” Can it become that? Maybe so! But as of now, I’ll hold off.)
The only contender I haven’t yet discussed here from Gold Derby’s top ten is Jean Smart for Babylon and that’s because… she’s kind of essentially a cameo? Don’t get me wrong, “cameo-y” supporting performances can get nominated in these categories – and even win (Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, anyone?) – but it’s very rare. Going off of the script that’s been floating around for Babylon (as well as taking early word about the film into account), Smart has few scenes for herself aside from one key monologue/(Oscar moment?), and is probably more of a background character for most of the movie as opposed to a prominent supporting player. But that’s not the only actress Babylon can campaign in this category…
For quite some time, I – and many others – have assumed that Margot Robbie would run lead for her work here, especially after that terrific teaser trailer gave us our first sneak peek of how significant and showy her performance would be. However, I – and those same others – have been quick to remind everyone that, while Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are the top billed actors in Babylon, newcomer Diego Calva’s character is the true lead. We start the story with Manny, we end the story with Manny, and, for the most part, we see all these other colorful characters through his eyes as well. There’s a lot that Robbie and Pitt get to do on their own as well – particularly in the second act – but at the end of the day, this is Manny’s movie through and through (especially in the third act, when the character really comes into his own and takes control of the narrative, at the expense of others like Robbie and Pitt), and if Paramount wants to play… they can stick Robbie in supporting alongside Pitt (since many of us assume that’s where he’s headed, too.)
There’s also history to consider in terms of what category placement is more beneficial for Robbie (without even addressing the fact that spots in Best Actress are quickly becoming more competitive by the moment). The last time a contender from a “late-breaker” (a film that eschewed festival premieres or a spring/summer release) won Best Actress was 11 years ago – Meryl Streep, for The Iron Lady. Meanwhile, the last time a contender from a “late-breaker” won Best Supporting Actress? Just last year – Ariana DeBose, for West Side Story (and before her, it was Viola Davis, for Fences – who actually reminds me of how Robbie straddles the line between lead/supporting). Robbie – and Paramount – are playing with fire by holding Babylon back, and though she supposedly has the goods to be win-competitive in whatever category she contends in, it’s incredibly clear that, without a clear frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress now – and with a performance that can go either way – this would be her better bet.
I’ll refrain on fully updating my Best Supporting Actress predictions until Friday – as I still need to make sense of the mess that is Best Actress now as well – but since it’s still so early (let’s not forget that it’s literally September 21st), I might be inclined to go with my gut and take a risk putting Robbie at #1 right now. It’s nowhere near a “sure thing” that this is the path she ultimately takes, but it’s one that’s available to her nonetheless, and it all depends on how badly she – and Paramount – want to win. If Robbie doesn’t go supporting, I’d probably place one of the Women Talking ladies at #1, but that’s a whole other discussion, as we still don’t know for sure who will pull ahead – or if the passion for each contender individually is so strong that they cancel each other out.