It’s certainly not the “best” performance that always wins—or even gets nominated. There are always other considerations that go into winning the award. For instance, a performance night be the crowning achievement of one’s acting career, and that might put someone into the win column when there are other, better performances in that category.
It might be that it’s just a really great role with a good fit, as J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Or it may be a new discovery making his/her mark in a film that shows off one’s talents well, as with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Or it could be an example of buzz and momentum. Some films have great buzz at the beginning of the Oscar season, but lose it after a while, and a performance gets lost, or at least less attention is paid. And some films seem to gather momentum at either the right time or the wrong time, and someone might win on the coattails of a film that is peaking in interest at voting time.
This year, the Best Supporting Actress category include the following
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
I was excited when I heard that Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated for The Hateful Eight, though as all my film students know by now, Tarantino is not my favorite director. But Leigh is an accomplished veteran that many thought would have won an Oscar by now. She’s pulled back a bit in recent years, and this is as strong a comeback as any this year. But the film didn’t make the mark many thought it would, and it looks as if Leigh’s award is the nomination itself.
Rooney Mara in Carol gives an ethereal performance in a film that’s already too twee and precious. It’s solid work, but nearly floats off the screen. Again, the nomination is the award.
Rachel McAdams’ nomination is a bit of a mystery, unless the Academy wanted to balance the genders by granting a female nomination next to Mark Ruffalo’s in Spotlight. She’s very good, but so is everyone in the cast. The nomination is a nod to the entire cast, which is one of the strongest of the year. McAdams has been thought of as a strong rom-com actress, and hasn’t been considered an Oscar contender until just now. The nomination is her reward, and Spotlight’s.
Kate Winslet is already a multiple nominee (seven nominations, including this year’s) and relatively recent Oscar winner (for The Reader). And she won the Golden Globe for this performance in Steve Jobs. But her Oscar win, and the fact that at her young age, she will likely be a future Oscar winner at some point, probably puts her out of the winner’s circle. But this could be the dark horse performance that surprises everyone.
Alicia Vikander is the girl of the moment. She is nominated as Best Supporting Actress this year for The Danish Girl, but many think of it as a lead role, which often works in the nominee’s favor. Vikander also turned in a star-making performance in this year’s Ex Machina, which recalls Diane Keaton’s win for Annie Hall, which to many of us was a win for her work in that film as well as her dark dramatic work that same year in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Somewhat as in the early years of the Academy, which recognized an actor’s work in more than one film in a given year, there might be at least an unspoken recognition for Vikander’s work in the two films, which could easily put her over the edge. She has won several awards for each of these films this year, and as the It Girl right now, this looks like her year.
Should Win: Kate Winslet or Alicia Vikander
Will Win: Alicia Vikander