This year’s Best Supporting Actress category features a “Who’s Who” of Oscar novices. Only Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara are veterans to the ceremony. Most view this category as a two-horse race: Winslet for Steve Jobs and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. Four weeks out from the show, the competition appears to be neck-and-neck between two distinctly different actresses—Winslet a long-time Hollywood heavyweight and Vikander a radiant starlet. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
WINNER: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
2015 was the year that Alicia Vikander broke out onto American movie screens with a vengeance. 2016 will be the year she cements herself as a perennial contender among Hollywood’s elite. How so, you might ask? By taking home that coveted gold statue on Oscar night for her brilliant role as the real-life Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. Right up until I started writing this post, my vote was for Winslet’s performance in Steve Jobs—she really was stellar. But with wins at the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards ceremonies, Vikander is deserved in leaping past one of film’s greatest actresses for this award. The Danish Girl tells the true-life account of Einar Wegener (who later became Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery) and his wife Gerda. Honestly, I did not enjoy the film much. It looked great (all Tom Hooper films do; e.g., 2010’s The King Speech), but Redmayne did not sell it for me as a viewer. Despite this critique, Vikander stood out brilliantly as the lone bright spot in an otherwise boring movie. As her husband began to struggle with his identity, Gerda, the love of his life, struggled through denial and rage; through sadness and acceptance. Those emotions told the true story, and Vikander delivered each line, each look, and each tear with stunning delicacy—the grandeur of the 27-year-old Swede’s acting was nothing short of moving. Vikander has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
- Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Kate Winslet did almost everything she could in Steve Jobs to earn my vote for Best Supporting Actress. The only thing standing in her way was the up-and-coming Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl. As has been mentioned, this category will come down to these two actresses. Whether she wins or not, Winslet will forever be ingrained in Silicon Valley history with her daring portrayal of Apple’s head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman. Steve Jobs was a tremendous film, but it felt more like a stage play, something I was not expecting. There are only three scenes in the entire film, set behind the scenes at three separate Apple-product launches, and Winslet makes a stunning mark on the entire movie. While Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) struggles throughout with the debacle that is the crossroads of his personal and professional life, Hoffman is always the one by his side to reconcile his troubles. I rarely say this—because it is one of the most pretentious-sounding comments regarding film—but I truly forgot Winslet was playing Hoffman. She was that entrenched into this character. She mastered the accent (a product of English mixed with Hoffman’s Polish and Armenian origin), delineated the requisite emotions of a strong, independent woman, and even stole the show from Fassbender at times. Never have I watched Winslet shine like this; not since Titanic and The Reader. She won the Golden Globe for this performance, so I would not be surprised if somehow she pulls off the Oscar victory—she would deserve it. Winslet has previously been nominated for six Academy Awards (four for Best Actress and two for Best Supporting Actress), winning only for her leading role in 2008’s The Reader.
- Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Rachel McAdams has always been one of my favorite actresses, but I never have thought of her as someone deserving of an Oscar nomination for anything in her career; that all came to an end when I saw Spotlight. In Spotlight, McAdams portrays the real-life Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Entertainment Weekly perfectly described McAdams’s difficult role: “[She] plays a woman who is equal parts determined journalist and loyal granddaughter of a devout Catholic.” That personality dichotomy created an oasis of potential for McAdams to explore—she nailed it! One minute, her character is wrought with emotion, as she is on the receiving end of some horrifying details of a rape victim’s story; the next minute, she is shown at mass with her grandmother. The Pfeiffer character is torn with the turbulent circumstances she finds herself in, wrestling to make sense of it all. McAdams hits the nail on the head in what can only be described as a performance built upon subtle nuances. McAdams has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
- Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, seven of those eight main characters are men—Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the lone woman. She is an outlaw that is being brought in by a bounty hunter to face justice for murder. Daisy Domergue is a truly unique character—the preeminent result of Tarantino’s wild and twisted mind games. She curses frequently, tosses racial slurs around willingly, and yet evokes a faint sense of sympathy for her character as John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) batters her throughout the film. The character is as diverse as she is crude; as complex as she is filthy. And Leigh delivers a memorable performance. I had high hopes for The Hateful Eight, but in most ways the film left something to be desired. However, of the few bright spots is Leigh’s grim, gory, and gnashing portrayal of Daisy. Whether it was her oddly interesting guitar ballad or her bloody façade towards the end of the film, Leigh brought Daisy Domergue to life in all the right ways. Leigh has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
- Rooney Mara (Carol)
In Carol, Rooney Mara portrays Therese Belivet, a department-store clerk in 1950s New York City. Belivet falls under the charm of the much-older Carol (Cate Blanchett), and before long, a deep and affectionate love affair strikes. Carol has garnered much attention worldwide for its ardent and amorous take on a taboo subject (given the time period the film is set in). Not only is the film receiving rave reviews (full disclosure: I am NOT one of them; the movie was bland, plodding, and you will not find it on my list of top films), but Blanchett and Mara are also being heralded for their adept performances. While I agree that the Blanchett did wonderful job in her leading role, Mara always seemed the subordinate performer. That is not necessarily an inherent knock on Mara, considering Blanchett is one of the all time greatest in this field; however, I really think Mara delivered the inferior performance in this category as a whole. While she is a tremendous talent in Hollywood, I truly think her uninteresting, unaffecting portrayal is due to a slow year in supporting female performances. If you watch Carol, hopefully you get something out of her performance. I know I sure didn’t. Mara was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).