“This was very disrespectful.” – the state of the Best Supporting Actress race, a new clip from A Most Violent Year & a new trailer for The Imitation Game

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From one extreme to the other. In the Oscars, you can never tell how the next year is going to turn out. If there’s going to be a million contenders (see: the current Best Actor race) or if there’s going to be a clear winner from day dot (see: Best Actress this year). Last year, Best Supporting Actress was a hot category. We had newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who did give one of the best performances of the year and ultimately did prevail over crowd favourite Jennifer Lawrence, one of the best things about American Hustle, who, of course, had only won a year earlier. We had Oprah, Julia Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams, Margo Martindale, Sarah Paulson, Octavia Spencer, and June Squibb. On the fringes, Naomie Harris and Kristin Scott Thomas (woof, imagine if she’d made it in…), and, of course, the critics big push for change – Scarlett Johansson. This is just a few of the contenders floating around in November last year. This year, it’s November, a time where all the chips are starting to fall into place, and…there’s not a lot happening. Here is pretty much every realistic contender, arranged by probability.

Good chance – Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman)

Has a chance – Carrie Coon (Gone Girl),  Laura Dern (Wild), Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Kristen Stewart (Still Alice), Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice)

Long shot – Jessica Lange (The Gambler)

Not seen – Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods)

That list is when you reach, when you think of everyone that could possibly be in contention. If you look at the ‘good chance’ classification, you get four predicted nominees at this time: Arquette, Chastain, Knightley, Stone. For now, we’ll substitute in Stewart to make up five. 

Arquette is still currently the one to beat for her work in Richard Linklater’s 12 year passion project Boyhood (which is out on DVD in January in the US, and just finished its run in Australian cinemas). However, she hasn’t quite reached the status of being unbeatable a’la Cate Blanchett in Best Actress last year, which means if another contender starts winning when the precursors start to be handed out, she’ll start to drop. Also, there’s the ever-present concern that IFC Films won’t be able to carry out an acting category campaign.

But if Arquette, the current all-around favourite, doesn’t win, who will?

That’s when it gets tricky. As we saw last week, if the button-pushing NY Times article is to be believed, Chastain is currently engaged in some kind of weird tug-o-war between Christopher Nolan and A24. She’s apparently contractually obligated to not talk about A Most Violent Year (which is releasing at the last possible moment, December 31 via. A24 in the US; and February 26 via. Roadshow in Australia) until December, by which time, the winners names will be pretty much getting ready to be printed on the envelope. Her performance in Violent Year, while reviews say is smaller than it should be, has all the elements of reeling in the win – an accent, a wig, a different part to what we’ve seen before (except, for Chastain, every part is nothing like what we’ve seen from her before), what looks like some showy scenes, including this one. Clearly, A24 are positioning her as their biggest bet from the beginning.

Chastain’s heading towards another year like 2011/12, where it’s not if she’s getting nominated, it’s what is she getting nominated for. Of course, there’s always a good chance that having two performances in contention in the same category will split the vote and cancel each other out, which is a definite possibility in this situation, where neither has made themselves a strong frontrunner. In any other situation, she’d be a very strong #2. But here, on one hand, she’s in a film from a distributor in their first year of Oscar campaigning that hadn’t even been seen until last week, and on the other, she’s arguably the best part in a Christopher Nolan film, which aren’t really known for their acting nominations, which may end up being too dense and underwhelming for voters.

So…who next? The next logical choice is probably Knightley, who, fun fact, has only been nominated once, for Pride and Prejudice, 8 years ago. Yup, she wasn’t nominated for Atonement, the film where she wears that green dress that’s nearly an iconic character in itself, the film that continues to slay audiences, including myself (I was 12 when it came out, so I wasn’t allowed to see it then and purposely saved myself from knowing anything about it until I finally watched it this year).

Yep, this one.

Knightley has been having a bit of a mini-comeback lately, with her less tragic roles in Begin Again and Laggies, and now in The Imitation Game (out November 28 via. The Weinstein Company in the US, and January 1 via. Roadshow in Australia), a film that has ‘potential Oscar juggernaut’ written all over it (Weinstein’s campaigning + prestige British biopic about an important figure + performance from a very respected star). In Best Picture, we could have another The King’s Speech vs. The Social Network style faceoff between The Imitation Game and Boyhood on our hands. Of course, Knightley could be overshadowed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s playing the lead role of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma code during World War II. After his rather lacklustre year in 2013/14, where he was trying to focus on way too much, Weinstein could go back to honing in on one performance, in which case, Cumberbatch will prevail.

Then there’s Stone in the adored but somewhat divisive Birdman (currently expanding in the US, out January 15 via. Fox in Australia), who has an excellent chance with Fox Searchlight behind her, and Stewart in the TIFF favourite, late-breaking Julianne Moore Oscar vehicle Still Alice (out December 5 via. Sony Pictures Classics in the US, January 29 via. Icon in Australia). More about both of these will be revealed in the months to come, and, of course, there’s one major contender for a nomination remaining – Meryl Streep in Disney’s Into the Woods (out December 25 in the US, January 8 in Australia).

On the dark horse front, look out for Carmen Ejogo, whose film Selma got a very enthusiastic reception out of AFI, however, early word says that Oyelowo’s turn as Martin Luther King Jr. is the only performance that is substantial enough to be nominated; and Carrie Coon, whose film Gone Girl is still dominating the box office around the world. We’ll see. In any case, this looks like it may end up being a year where precursor wins are spread across a number of contenders. This race is ripe for change.

Best Supporting Actress predictions (November 15)

  1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  2. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year/Interstellar
  3. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  4. Emma Stone, Birdman
  5. Kristen Stewart, Still Alice
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