The two women who are leading the race for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars this year both stride into their movies wearing heels, ready to take absolutely no bullshit from any man. In Marriage Story, Laura Dern is Nora, a fearless, high-powered divorce lawyer who coaches Scarlett Johansson's Nicole through her separation from her husband (Adam Driver) with gusto. Meanwhile, in Hustlers, Jennifer Lopez is Ramona, an entrancing mother hen stripper who wrangles a group of women into a get-rich-quick scheme as the 2008 recession rages. Ramona and Nora would probably never meet in the real world, but on screen, they share the same "fuck men" energy that makes them exhilarating to watch. But who will win the Oscar? I have some thoughts.
The Chopped Cheese Pizza Has Arrived!
Dern is a good bet. The two-time nominee (and Academy Board member) owns every scene she's in despite the fact that Nora is a true supporting role. At the Toronto International Film Festival premiere, one of her monologues had the audience bursting out in applause mid-film. Dern rewrites the possibly sexist role of the ball-busting attorney into something that's far more comfortable than a stereotype. She's impeccably dressed and fighting what is, for her, a good fight: It's the American legal system that's the villain here. One knock against her winning that I've heard floated is that Nora seems too similar to Dern's Emmy-winning turn on Big Little Lies as Renata Klein, in that they are both tough rich ladies in designer duds. But they are distinct characterizations who just happen to share some of the same taste in businesswear.
Right now, I'd wager Dern's closest competitor is Lopez, which would be a different kind of coronation. Lopez has been rarely given a script as meaty as Hustlers and an Oscar would be an affirmation of her movie star power. But old prejudices might seep in, and the Academy might scoff at the Gigli of it all. Or her 2020 Super Bowl performance could convince voters that she's one of the hardest-working women in show business who absolutely deserves this honor. Both scored Golden Globe and SAG nominations so the race is on.
The other contenders
My biggest failure in the first draft of this post was underestimating the potential love for the performances in Bombshell, Jay Roach's retelling of Roger Ailes ouster at Fox News over charges of sexual harassment. After the Globe and SAG nominations it looks like Margot Robbie is in the running for this and not her role as as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman meanwhile got a boost from the SAGs for her turn as Gretchen Carlson.
Despite the fact that you should never discount Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh makes the strongest impression in Greta Gerwig's Little Women as Amy. Gerwig's structure offers Pugh the biggest showcase as her character evolves from a childish brat into a young woman conscious of the limits society places on her. (Pugh's desperate, terrifying work in Midsommar is another reason to anoint her as the next thing.) She's been excluded from recent nominations, while Scarlett Johansson's work in Jojo Rabbithas gotten her in, giving her the potential to be a dual nominee this year.
I'm hopeful that Chinese star Zhao Shuzhen will get in for her tender work in The Farewell, playing a grandmother with a cancer diagnosis of which she is unaware. Another potential nominee? Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein in The Report.
You might want to keep Da'Vine Joy Randolph on your radar thanks to her exuberant work in Dolemite Is My Name. It would be great if love for Parasite extended to nominations for Jo Yeo Joeng and Park So Dam, both of whom are excellent. Also: Idina Menzel gets the best scene in Uncut Gems. Just saying.
My way too early nominee predictions
Laura Dern, Marriage Story Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell Margot Robbie, Bombshell Florence Pugh, Little Women