Voters are generally hard-pressed each year to come up with a list of just five actresses to fill out this category. Certainly it is no fault in the stars themselves, but rather the lack of great roles for women in movies. That definitely was not the case this year. Consider the likes of four-time nominee Annette Bening in a career-best performance in 20th Century Women; five-time nominee Amy Adams nominated for every precursor award for stirring work in Arrival; two-time nominee Jessica Chastain tearing up the screen as Miss Sloane; Taraji P. Henson, wonderful in Hidden Figures; and so on. And those are just the ones that didn’t get nominated. Actually, it was heartbreaking to see the Solomon–like choice actors’ branch voters had to make this year. Who do you leave out? Who gets put in? It was a tough decision, but here is the handicap of the five who made it.
With over 100 films to her credit, it seems incredible that this French star is enjoying only her first Oscar nod in a career that has made her one of the most revered by her peers and public alike. Huppert has swept through awards season, winning LA and NY Critics’ Awards, a Globe and more for a role turned down by a lot of A-List stars who felt the story of a woman who sought her own brand of revenge after being raped was just too risky. The French-language movie was going to be an American production for director Paul Verhoeven until Huppert agreed to play the role. It worked out.
Ethiopian-born Negga, who grew up in Ireland, is probably the least known of this impressive list of nominees. But as Mildred Loving, the soft-spoken African-American who married a white man in 1950s Virginia where interracial marriage was banned, she brought a common decency and quiet dignity to a woman whose case changed everything when it went all the way to the Supreme Court. She won a Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nomination and proved that authentic and real can be a path to an Oscar nomination.
Taking on an iconic American figure like Jacqueline Kennedy is daunting for any actress, but doing it in a unique movie set around the harrowing days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is a true challenge. Portman, who won an Oscar six years ago for Black Swan, proved then that she was up for a challenge, and proves it again now nailing the accent, the look, but most importantly the essence of perhaps the most intriguingly admired and mysterious woman of the 20th Century.
La La Land
Stone had already made two films with Ryan Gosling, so they knew they had the chemistry, but what they didn’t know was if it would endure through singing, dancing and taking to the skies of the Griffith Observatory. But Stone simply enchants as an aspiring actress chasing her dreams in the city of stars, and won Globe, BAFTA, and SAG Awards. This is her second Oscar nomination after a Supporting nod for Birdman. In between she starred on Broadway in Cabaret, which was not a bad warm up for this rarest of birds, an original screen musical.
Florence Foster Jenkins
What can you say about Meryl Streep? This represents her incredible 20th nomination. That is eight—count ‘em—eight more than any other actor has ever had. She just keeps breaking her own record, and for this role it’s appropriate since a lot of people would love to break the records made by Jenkins, a pretty bad singer who couldn’t quite hit the right notes but loved music anyway. Streep invests her with touches of humor, pathos, heart and, yes, those tunes. It is a delicious comic performance that never drifts into parody or over the top silliness. As always Streep keeps it right on key.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Whether it is just coincidence, the copycat syndrome or simply that these were the only five actresses voters could agree were the best candidates for Supporting Actress this year, the five Oscar nominees in this category match exactly what both the Golden Globes and SAG came up with. If the results from those two contests are any indication then Fences star Viola Davis, recreating her 2010 Tony winning performance as Rose, has this in the bag. Winner of SAG, BAFTA, the Globe, Critics’ Choice and other critics’ prizes, this appears to be now three-time Oscar nominee Davis’s year.
If there is a spoiler it will obviously have to come from the strong group of four other women she has been spending awards season with. Two of them already have an Oscar on their mantle and might be considered long shots to add another one this year, though both are superb. The Hours Best Actress winner Nicole Kidman is enormously touching as the adoptive mother in Lion, while Davis’s Oscar winning co-star in The Help, Octavia Spencer, is a key part of the terrific trio of math geniuses in the crowd pleaser Hidden Figures. On just her first nomination, Naomie Harris as the crack addicted mother in Moonlight is the third Black actress up for Supporting Actress this year, a record breaker for one category in the year #OscarsSoWhite is, well, so last year. Rounding out the fivesome is Michelle Williams, who manages to do so much in so little screen time as a grieving mother in Manchester by the Sea.