They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Supporting Acting and Directing Races

By J. Don Birnam

February 18, 2016

The spies are never who you expect.

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The end is near folks. We look today to the harder of the main Oscar races—those for Directing and Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.

So far we’ve looked at the technical categories, here and here, at the shorts here, at foreign, animated, and documentary, here, and we have looked at Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson’s impending wins, as well as the writing races, here.

Supporting Actress: Dramatic to Triumph in the Year of Subtly.

The big questions in this category this year were whether Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl would end up in this category or, as they rightly belonged, in lead. Alas, this year category fraud prevailed and they ended up in supporting. Joining them are Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs, Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, and Rachel McAdams for Spotlight.

There are many reasons why Vikander is your safest best: she won the SAG; when Winslet has won (Globes and BAFTA) Vikander was in the lead category; Vikander is the lead of the movie, and leads tend to win when they’re in supporting (Patricia Arquette is but one example); she had a career year, with great turns in Ex Machina as well as Testament of Youth; Winslet has won already.

But the real reason to pick Vikander is that she gives the most obvious performance of the bunch. In a year in which subtle performances dominated movies, it is interesting to see the dominos aligning for the showier turns.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl was very moving and emotionally on point. But it is, in the end, a performance that relies a lot on crying, sobbing, gasping, and even screaming. There is nothing subtle or hidden about it, it is on the surface for one to see.

Rooney Mara, by contrast, turns in a fantastic, subtle and touching performance that really ought to win or could have in any other year. Her character Therese’s crying occurs spontaneously and quietly; it is not for show, but out of realism, as Therese’s heart is broken by the developments with Carol. The beauty in Rooney’s performance lies in what she conveys quietly, with her eyes and lips, with that look she gives Carol across the room at various points, and in the innocence she conveys along the way.




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The same could be said of the much-maligned performance by Rachel McAdams in Spotlight. Having refocused on it during my third viewing of the film, it became clear that McAdams turned in a pretty solid performance characterized by a no-nonsense subtlety and tenor. She listens intently, moves efficiently, and reacts appropriately. Again, because we are so used to bombastic, over the top turns, it was easy to dismiss her as the weak link in Spotlight. She’s really not.

Still, this Oscar is Vikander’s to lose. In a way, what is happening in this race is reminiscent of the Best Actress contest. In that race, Brie Larson gives the showiest of the performances. She screams and cries when she escapes the Room, she visibly screams at her kid in exasperation in the Room, and she screams at her mother in frustration when she’s home.

Not so, for example, the heart-breaking and subtle turns by Charlotte Rampling, Cate Blanchett, and Saoirse Ronan in that category. The first leads the entire movie with her expressions - of pain, confusion, love and adoration, and regret. Blanchett is second only to Mara in conveying the silent pains and anguishes that the gay women must have experienced in the repressive society they lived in. Ronan shines in demonstrating subtly how she is torn between two world, between the life she had and the life she wants to have.

For whatever reason then, the more “obvious” performances are winning over the subdued but touching ones. Go figure.

Here are the best supporting actress power rankings from a few days ago.

Will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Could win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs


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