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It is difficult to recall who last year's other nominees for Best Supporting Actress Oscar even were thanks to the full-throated and heartbreaking turn Anne Hathaway gave in Tom Hooper's adaptation of the Les Miserables musical. The night was all hers, and rightfully so. But this year, the race is an absolutely fascinating one, featuring two previous Oscar winners (one a longtime A-lister the other an adored It Girl), an under-sung character actress, one acclaimed octogenarian, and one ingénue recognized for her first-ever film role.
Hailing from such buzzed about features a Blue Jasmine, American Hustle, Nebraska, August: Osage County and 12 Years a Slave, each of these actresses has earned plenty of ink over the last few months. But only one will win on Oscar night. Whose in it to win it and who will have to say, "Just getting the nomination is such an honor?" Allow me to break it down.
DARK HORSE: Sally HawkinsIn Blue Jasmine, the English actress transformed herself into a lower class single mom, looking for love in all the wrong places. She was terrific, proving a perfect foil to Cate Blanchett's broken title character. But while Blanchett's brilliant portrayal of a downward spiral has her pegged as a frontrunner in the Best Actress race, Hawkins is destined to be left in the dust in Supporting. It's not that she's not deserving; it's just not her year. I mean, have you seen the competition?
CONTENDERS: Julia Roberts And June SquibbLet's get real: Previous winner Julia Roberts was practically guaranteed an Oscar nod for August: Osage County from the moment she was cast. Playing opposite Meryl Streep (a contender in the Lead category), she was offered a meaty role with Barbara Weston, favorite and furious daughter of a cruel pill-popping matriarch. And Roberts dug in, convincingly hurling f-bombs and plates of fried fish while matching Streep for energy and gravitas. However, there's two things that hurt her chances on Oscar night. One is that August: Osage County is a pretty lame movie outside of its central performances, and two, Roberts' relegation to the Supporting category reeks of award season politics. She and Streep were both leads, but wisely the Weinsteins broke them up to cover more ground. It has gotten the movie more nominations, but it won't equal a win for Roberts.
As a mouthy matriarch in her own right, June Squibb has had critics raving over her turn in Alexander Payne's bittersweet comedy Nebraska. She's been nominated left and right for Critics guild honors, and even snagged a Golden Globe nod. However, it's noteworthy that out of 20 nominations, she's only taken home two awards so far. Undoubtedly, her no-nonsense performance has won her tons of fans in the press, but it won't be enough to take home the gold on Oscar night.
FRONTRUNNERS: Jennifer Lawrence And Lupita Nyong'oI know you were hoping for a clear edge in your office Oscar pool, but honestly this race is too close to call!
Even the film's detractors confess that Jennifer Lawrence is the best part of David O. Russell's American Hustle, in which she played a venomous housewife. The film itself seems a favorite for Oscar night, boasting ten nominations, and many of them in major categories, including every acting race, Best Directing, Best Original Screenplay, and of course Best Picture of the Year. It won a trio of honors at the Golden Globes, including a statuette for Lawrence. Plus, the queen of off-the-cuff remarks and wacky red carpet moments is beloved by the Academy. At 23, she's already a three-time nominee, having earned her first for Winter's Bone and her second for Silver Linings Playbook, for which she won and with flare. She'd be a lock for a repeat win this year if it weren't for the rise of an exhilarating new talent.
Astonishingly, Lupita Nyong'o made her film debut with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which has 9 nominations at the Academy Awards. In it, she offered a performance so delicate and heartbreaking that it had some claiming her a frontrunner back in October, when the film hit the New York Film Festival. Of course that was before critics had seen American Hustle. Frankly, it's difficult to pick between these two performances that are both electric and mesmerizing. We just don't know how the Academy will make the call. Will they pick the ingénue they already love, or will they see this new talent, who dazzles on the red carpet and on the screen, and throw their accolades at her feet? Nyong'o lost to Lawrence at the Golden Globes, but she beat her at the SAG awards. Who will come out on top at the Oscars? Between these two, your guess is as good as ours.
Check out our breakdowns on the other categories here.