Octavia Spencer in ‘The Shape of Water’: Oscar history in the making

Since the Academy Awards introduced the Supporting Actress category at the 9th Oscars in 1937, seven women have reaped three or more bids in a single decade. This year, Octavia Spencer is predicted to join that elite group for her touching performance in Guillermo Del Toro‘s romantic fantasy “The Shape of Water.” She won in 2012 for her scene-stealing role as maid Minny Jackson in “The Help. Last year she scored another nomination for portraying NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in “Hidden Figures.”

In  “The Shape of Water,” which just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Spencer plays Zelda, friend and co-worker of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), the picture’s lonely, mute leading lady who bonds with a mysterious creature. Spencer was singled out in many of the rave reviews for this Fox Searchlight release, which is due out Dec. 8. Should she surface again as a Best Supporting Actress nominee, Spencer will follow in the footsteps of seven titans of the silver screen who too pulled off three, and in some cases even more, nominations over a single decade.

In the 1940s, three women emerged time and time again in this category. Ethel Barrymore, the legendary “First Lady of the American Theater,” was a four-time Best Supporting Actress nominee in the ’40s, first gracing the category with a win as dying mother to Cary Grant‘s Ernie Mott in “None but the Lovely Heart” (1944). Nominations followed for her turns as a bedridden family matriarch in “The Spiral Staircase” (1946); a neglected wife in “The Paradine Case” (1947); and a wealthy widow in “Pinky” (1949).

Scoring three nominations in the category over this decade was Anne Revere, first recognized for her portrayal of Louise, mother of the title character (Oscar winner Jennifer Jones) in “The Song of Bernadette” (1943). Revere won this prize two years later for another matriarchal turn, this time as mom to the title character (Elizabeth Taylor) of “National Velvet” (1945). Her final appearance in the category came for yet another portrayal of a mother, this time around to Gregory Peck‘s Philip Green in “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947).

And Agnes Moorehead garnered nominations for her portrayals of the lovelorn Aunt Fanny in “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942); a glamorous French aristocrat in “Mrs. Parkington” (1944); and the chilly Aunt Aggie in “Johnny Belinda” (1948). Moorehead was not victorious on any of these occasions, nor did she prevail on her fourth and final Oscar nomination two decades later, for “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964).

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Dominating the category in the 1950s was the inimitable Thelma Ritter, who received not three, not four but five Best Supporting Actress nominations over the decade. Honored were her turns as Broadway star Margo Channing’s (Bette Davis) crusty but wise maid Birdie in “All About Eve” (1950); a working-class mom in financial straits in “The Mating Season” (1951); crippled singer Jane Froman’s (Susan Hayward) droll nurse Clancy in “With a Song in My Heart” (1952); a professional informant in “Pickup on South Street” (1953); and a boozy housekeeper in “Pillow Talk” (1959). Ritter would not triumph on any of these nominations, nor in her final Oscar bid the following decade, for “Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962).

In the 1970s, it was Lee Grant who emerged a favorite in Best Supporting Actress. Previously nominated in the category for “Detective Story” (1951), Grant’s first appearance in the ’70s came at the very start of the decade with her performance as a shrill society mom in “The Landlord” (1970). The actress took home the golden statue for her turn as a hairdresser’s (Warren Beatty) wealthy mistress in “Shampoo” (1975) and a final career nomination followed for portraying a Jewish refugee, en route from Germany to Havana, in “Voyage of the Damned” (1976).

The following decade, Glenn Close garnered three consecutive Best Supporting Actress nominations, for her turns as a World War II-era nurse-turned feminist icon in “The World According to Garp” (1982); a woman mourning the loss of her college friend in “The Big Chill” (1983); and baseball player Roy Hobbes’ (Robert Redford) childhood sweetheart in “The Natural” (1984). No wins were achieved, nor did Close later triumph with Best Actress Oscar bids for “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988), and “Albert Nobbs” (2011).

Most recently, it was Cate Blanchett pulling off three Best Supporting Actress appearances in a single decade. Over the 2000s, she scored a win for portraying four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator” (2004) and followed that up with two more nominations, one for playing a disgraced history teacher in “Notes on a Scandal” (2005) and the other for her turn as folk singer Jude Quinn in “I’m Not There” (2007).

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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