Up until Thursday’s Critics’ Choice Awards, Jennifer Lawrence (“American Hustle“) had an advantage against Lupita Nyongo (“12 Years a Slave“) in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race: People already knew her.
Lawrence has been delivering charming interviews and acceptance speeches for a couple of years now, while newcomer Nyongo is mostly known as her long-suffering “12 Years” character. That changed when Nyongo bested Lawrence at Critics’ Choice and got her first chance to take the stage in front of a national audience.
She received a standing ovation from many in the crowd when her name was announced, including a proudly beaming Oprah Winfrey, despite the fact that Winfrey was her rival in the category and just that morning had been snubbed by the Oscars. Nyongo then delivered a heartfelt but articulate speech that may have rewritten the Oscar narrative in her favor.
I don’t usually put much stock into the idea of acceptance speeches as Oscar auditions; unless you jump on stage wearing a swastika or punch Miss Golden Globe in the mouth, chances are if academy voters like you they’ll still like you no matter what you do or say. And if they like someone else, it’s hard to change their minds.
But an Oscar narrative is often important, because Hollywood likes to stage the happy ending to whatever movie formula you best fit into, like the Overdue Veteran (Jeff Bridges, Christopher Plummer), the Breakout Star (Adrien Brody, Jean Dujardin), or the Scrappy Underdog (“Argo“).
Last year’s Best Actress victory for Lawrence fit the narrative of the Crowning of a New Hollywood Princess, which also benefited other 20-something winners like Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”), Angelina Jolie (“Girl, Interrupted”), and Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”).
That’s where Nyongo’s speech might have helped her. Taking the stage at Critics’ Choice, she showed a bit of that New Hollywood Princess, telling an emotional story about how she was encouraged to give Hollywood a try, and look at her now – they like her, they really like her.
But her standing ovation wasn’t just because she was young and gracious. It was because she was winning for a Courageous Role in a Noble Film. That’s another powerful narrative that often results in Oscars (Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry”; Brody in “The Pianist”).
So now that we’ve gotten to know Nyongo as a winner and have seen an Oscar narrative take shape, can she beat Lawrence at the Oscars? Lawrence also passed her Oscar audition at this year’s Golden Globes, but the credits already rolled on her narrative when she won Oscar last year.
Below, watch Nyongo and Lawrence’s acceptance speeches. And then vote for the one you think is most likely to repeat at the Oscars or weigh in with your prediction as to who else could win Best Supporting Actress.