When the Weinstein Company ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, retracted its decision to have August: Osage County star Meryl Streep campaign in the Supporting Actress category, it proved to be great news for Streep’s co-star Julia Roberts. Indeed, even August writer Tracy Letts claims Roberts’s part is a leading role, but debating category fraud is as futile as hoping Armond White won’t taint a New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, and given the competition, Roberts never would have landed a Best Actress nod anyway. But with Streep bumped into leading contention, Roberts seems to have become a Supporting Actress lock, not only because she steals the show with her bitiest turn since the one that won her an Oscar, but because she’s part of a smaller crowd in which she simply can’t be overlooked by her adoring peers. Some see Roberts as the wild card; I see her as an industry-beloved shoo-in.
Similar thoughts could be applied to Oprah Winfrey, whose frontrunner status may have cooled along with the support for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but who, like Roberts, is an un-ignorable megawatt star who delivers the standout turn of her film’s ensemble (Winfrey also has what we’ll call the “moonlighting benefit,” nailing a gig that isn’t her day job, but certainly could be). Stealing Winfrey’s lead, of course, is 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, a stunning breakout fresh out of drama school, whose wrenching scenes of desperation in Steve McQueen’s horror show are among the most unshakeable of 2013.
Still, some would argue that Jennifer Lawrence, with her work as a shrewd broad in American Hustle, has the edge over Nyong’o, as the two women have been basically neck-and-neck in the precursors, and Lawrence’s no-end-in-sight hot streak puts her at an extreme advantage. Regardless, both women are definitely in the game, but who will join the starlets and the legends as the fifth contender? Conventional wisdom says it comes down to Nebraska’s June Squibb and Blue Jasmine’s Sally Hawkins, rather than more deserving ladies like Crystal Fairy’s Gaby Hoffman or Blue Is the Warmest Color’s Leà Seydoux. Hawkins unseated Winfrey on the Golden Globes shortlist (which is odd, considering the Hollywood Foreign Press typically bends over backward to fill the house with the biggest and brightest), but odds are Oscar’s roster will mirror that of the Screen Actor’s Guild.
So who else gets screwed? Personally, I would have loved to have seen more attention paid this season to 12 Years a Slave’s Adepero Oduye, whose character, when mourning her children in agony, is just as heartbreaking as Nyong’o’s Patsey. And someone is going to have to answer for the seemingly inevitable shutout of Scarlett Johansson, right? The woman who should, by now, have as many Oscar nods as Amy Adams gave her two best performances this year in Don Jon and Her, the former seeing her transcend caricature and hoist up a misguided satire, and the latter requiring only her voice to leave a shattering emotional impact. These fingers are crossed, but Johansson seems doomed to be passed over by the loudest women in the room, one of whom flashes her vagina at a gravestone, and another who barks at a co-star, “Eat your fuckin’ fish, bitch.” (I’d make some kind of connection there, but I don’t want to be, ya know, vulgar.)