If there’s anything that we Derbyites love, it’s a hot Oscar race in a major category. A toss-up. A free-for-all. A complete mystery. A case where we don’t expect to know the outcome until the moment that the envelope is opened. (The 2012 Best Supporting Actor sweepstakes comes to mind, when Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained” waltzed off with the prize following a fiercely fought battle featuring five previous Oscar champions.)
This year, our hopes of such clashes seem to be dwindling. Most of us agree that Gary Oldman in “The Darkest Hour” is headed for the brightest hour of his life. And many (though hardly all) of you concurred with my recent assessment that Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will soon have two Academy Awards inside her silver showcase.
While I don’t want to turn into the Grinch who stole Christmas, I’m afraid that there’s another contest that has pretty much been decided. Here are five reasons why Allison Janney in “I, Tonya” will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar over Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird.”
Janney has the more traditional Oscar role.
All things being equal, academy members are generally inclined to reward the performance that is deemed the most challenging, the most transformative or the most dramatic. In this regard, Janney poses a triple threat. She plays a real person quite unlike anyone she’s ever portrayed before. She’s physically transformed on screen (the hair, the costumes, the makeup – even that pecking parakeet.) And most importantly, she’s constantly and craftily acting for the camera. Metcalf is wonderful in “Lady Bird.” It’s a beautifully written part and you feel like you’re watching a real person on the screen. However, the normalcy almost works against her. Couldn’t many other actresses have played the part just as well? Tackling Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona Golden was arguably the harder task, making Janney more likely to be Oscar’s golden girl.
Janney will win the SAG Award.
That’s right – Janney has SAG in the bag. While academy members have been more open to rewarding subtle, nuanced performances in recent years (Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea,” Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies,”) SAG voters still prefer more theatrical ones (i.e. Denzel Washington in “Fences” last year.) Make no mistake: it’s Janney who puts on the greater show. Furthermore, the extremely popular Janney is a SAG staple – currently enjoying her impressive 16th nomination. She holds two statuettes for Outstanding Female Actor in a Drama Series for “The West Wing,” plus two additional awards for her work in the show’s ensemble. On the film side, she’s been honored as part of the SAG-winning casts of “American Beauty” and “The Help” and also recognized as part of the nominated teams from “The Hours” and “Hairspray.” Throw in her Emmy-winning role in “Mom” and her long list of film credits (every time I go to the movies, I see Janney pop up) and it’s hard to imagine her losing. Meanwhile, Metcalf has only one previous SAG bid, for her ensemble work in “Desperate Housewives.” Unless she somehow beats Janney at SAG, she’s a desperate Oscar contender.
Playing evil wins Oscars.
Pop star Nick Lowe famously crooned that it’s “Cruel to Be Kind.” Interestingly enough, AMPAS is often kind to the cruel. Many a corrupt or calamitous character has received his/her comeuppance by coming up on stage to accept the Academy Award. The supporting field in particular is filled with such phenomena. In the past 15 years alone, Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago,” Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men,” Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Mo’Nique in “Precious,” and J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” all whipped the competition after being notably nasty on the big screen. This year, it’s Simmons’ co-star from “Juno” Janney who was so beautiful at being bad. That may be a good thing in her fight against the more measured Metcalf. If history is any judge, another villain may be headed for Oscar victory.
“I, Tonya” will reap multiple Oscar bids.
The greatest threat to Janney’s Oscar hopes would be an “I, Tonya” shutout in all other categories. It’s just very difficult (though not impossible) to win on a film’s sole nomination. Fortunately for “Janney,” her project has been performing better-than-expected so far this season. Three Golden Globe nods, including one for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. A Producers Guild nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture. Five BAFTA bids including Best Original Screenplay. At this point, title star Margot Robbie seems almost certain to make the Best Actress Oscar lineup. Citations for Costume Design and Makeup are possible, and a slot in the Best Picture category isn’t out of the question. Even though it won’t fly as high as “Lady Bird,” a solid showing by “Tonya” is a good omen for Allison.
Metcalf may have peaked too soon.
For a while, it appeared that the early “Bird” would indeed catch the worm. “Lady” Metcalf claimed most of the critics’ prizes, positioning her as the Oscar favorite. But remember, initial accolades don’t always translate into major league awards success. Her defeats at the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice ceremonies were alarming. Further losses at SAG and BAFTA probably mean that she’s down for the count. It isn’t her fault. It happens all the time. Shohreh Aghdashloo in “House of Sand and Fog,” Virginia Madsen in “Sideways,” and Amy Ryan in “Gone Baby Gone” all saw their Oscar chances gone after stumbling midseason. Barring a major turnaround, expect Janney to say “Hi, Oscar” for “I, Tonya,” while Metcalf sings “Bye Bye Birdie” to her “Lady Bird” Oscar dreams.
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.