1. She has a co-leading role.
History has shown us time and time again that size does matter when it comes to the secondary acting categories. Just last year, Christoph Waltz in“Django Unchained” pulled off a somewhat surprising win in a highly competitive Supporting Actor race, probably helped by the fact that he had significantly more screen time than most of his fellow nominees. (How could a semi-cameo role like Alan Arkin’s in “Argo” even compete?)
Over the years, the Supporting Actress trophy in particular has gone to countless performances that were arguably leading or semi-leading: Eva Marie Saint in “On the Waterfront,” Patty Duke in “The Miracle Worker,” Goldie Hawn in “Cactus Flower,” Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon,” Vanessa Redgrave in “Julia,” Jessica Lange in “Tootsie,” Peggy Ashcroft in “A Passage to India,” Geena Davis in “The Accidental Tourist,” Mercedes Ruehl in “The Fisher King,” Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny,” Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite,” Juliette Binoche in “The English Patient,” Marcia Gay Harden in “Pollock,” Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago” and Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls,” among others.
Winfrey is visible in “The Butler” for much of the film’s duration, and with substantial (and memorable) dialogue. It currently appears that most of the other potential contenders in this category (Lupita Nyongo in “12 Years a Slave,” Octavia Spencer in “Fruitvale Station,” Margo Martindale in “August: Osage County,” June Squibb in “Nebraska,” Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine” and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”) have traditional supporting parts.
There’s simply more of Oprah to love, and that’s good news when it comes to the Oscar.
2. She plays the long-suffering wife and mother.
Gold Derby has frequently discussed the awards glory that often comes from playing the sympathetic yet misunderstood spouse and/or parent of a film’s central character, especially in the supporting races. Take for example the Academy Award wins by Alice Brady in “In Old Chicago,” Jane Darwell in “The Grapes of Wrath,” Donald Crisp in “How Green Was My Valley,” Anne Revere in “National Velvet,” Melvyn Douglas in “Hud,” Cloris Leachman in “The Last Picture Show,” Beatrice Straight in “Network,” Meryl Streep in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck,” Brenda Fricker in “My Left Foot,” Jim Broadbent in “Iris,” Jennifer Connelly in “A Beautiful Mind” and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter.”
Winfrey’s Gloria Gaines in “The Butler” seems almost tailor-made for awards attention. And not only is she terrific in the role, she both ages and dies on screen. Academy voters will surely take notice.
3. She will likely take the Golden Globe Award.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. typically crowns the early frontrunner, and its members love to reward big stars. So how can Oprah possibly lose?
She’s been seen as the favorite since her film’s release in August. Plus, her star power may be brighter than all of the other nominees combined. (Will the group really pick an unknown like Nyongo?) Supporting Actress will likely be one of the first awards of the night. What could be better than kicking off the show with the former queen of talk taking to the stage? Winfrey could get a standing ovation and will surely deliver a knockout speech. The boost that she’ll get could put her on track to an easy Oscar victory.
4. She will likely take the Screen Actors Guild Award.
Like 2011’s “The Help,” “The Butler” may benefit in the SAG competition from its August release date and $100 million-plus box office gross. (Recall that “The Help” won three awards, including ensemble and both female acting prizes for Viola Davis and Spencer.)
There’s a good chance that Winfrey’s performance will be the most widely seen among this year’s supporting actress nominees. The diverse SAG membership will probably respect Winfrey for her decades of work in television and her commitment to numerous causes. And it’s not like she’s a novice to acting. Most actors will remember her from her standout (and Oscar-nominated) turn in “The Color Purple” almost 30 years ago. “The Butler” might even take the SAG Outstanding Cast honor. If she and the film win big at SAG, it may be hard for Winfrey to not win the Oscar.
5. She represents the best chance for “The Butler” to win a major category.
While it may not be a lock, there’s a good chance that the well-received film will make it into the 2013 Best Picture race. It has a large and Oscar-friendly cast, historical significance, excellent reviews and box office, and strong technical credentials.
If “12 Years a Slave” wins several of the top races (Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and maybe Supporting Actor,) Supporting Actress may seem like a logical place to reward a different film. And even if “The Butler” doesn’t make it into the top race, Winfrey could still stand to benefit. A vote for her could be seen as compensation for the film’s snub. So both Oprah and her “Butler” could end up being well served on Oscar night.
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