Oscar Experts Typing: Ann Dowd has ‘Mass’ support, but can she hold off the competition?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, with “Mass” hitting theaters, we look at Best Supporting Actress.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! It’s Friday and movie theaters will be hopping this weekend like it’s February 2020. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” broke box office records last week with its pandemic debut and is poised to once again rake in the money. (For Your Consideration: Tom Hardy in the Best Actor category, what if I’m not entirely kidding?) Meanwhile, after what feels like an eternity, “No Time to Die” is finally here, too. This is the last go-around as 007 for Daniel Craig and a swan song that maybe could land multiple Oscar nominations because of its top-shelf technical bona fides — and that’s before it could break the “Venom 2” pandemic box office record for movie openings. What a time to be not die? (If it is to be said, so it be, so it is….) We discussed Bond, James Bond, this week already, so let’s put a pin in 007’s martini for a moment and look at another theatrical debut sure to burn up the box office: I’m talking, of course, about “Mass,” a four-hander starring Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Jason Isaacs about grieving parents in the wake of a school shooting. We’ve both seen this drama from Fran Kranz — an actor best known for “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Dollhouse” — and at the risk of typing for you, we both agree: it’s Very Good. As we also discussed this week, “Mass” is a highly accomplished movie, where all four actors are given the time, space and material to really succeed. Watching this on my couch during the virtual edition of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I found myself overcome with emotion on more than one occasion. “Mass” is an acting showcase that feels like it could be a major player among the thespian branch — particularly for Dowd. The “Handmaid’s Tale” Emmy winner is the top choice by a wide margin among users and Experts in the Best Supporting Actress race, and having seen some of her closest competition — Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog” and Marlee Matlin in “CODA” — I’m not sure this category is even really close? The combination of a beloved performer giving a showcase work could simply allow Dowd to just run away with things. What do you think? Should we start engraving Ann’s award right now to save some time?

joyceeng: I think everyone wants to engrave Dowd’s name on it right now — don’t get me wrong, I would love to see her be known as “Academy Award winner Ann Dowd” forever and always, and she is excellent in the film and would be a deserving winner. But I think her ostensible runaway pole position is a result of her head start on her competition (not to say a Sundance film can’t survive a whole season) and the interwebs very much being like, “We here for you,” and trying to manifest this victory. She also fits the profile of a supporting champ — veteran character actress getting her due — and some of us are old enough to remember when she financed her own Oscar campaign for “Compliance” only for the Oscars to incept Patti Levin. So you are basically heartless if you don’t want this for Ann Dowd. But as I said earlier this week, “Mass” is Very Small and will need a lot of support and visibility with all the big hitters arriving now, and having seen it, I found all four actors to be equally great. YMMV, but I don’t know how you could just single out Dowd as the sole standout. Support can coalesce around one actor or aspect of a film, but, in this category specifically, I’m not sure how anyone can watch “Mass” and not consider Plimpton, who hasn’t come close to receiving the buzz Dowd has had (I was glad to see a joint Los Angeles Times feature on them). They’re both superb and heartbreaking and would be worthy nominees, but right now “Mass” doesn’t feel like it’s strong enough to carry double nominees here. This category is pretty fluid, though, especially as we await word on Caitriona Balfe’s placement for “Belfast.” You’ve been a staunch supporter (no pun intended) of Balfe running here. Is it lights out once/if she does?

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Christopher Rosen: If Balfe ends up as a Best Supporting Actress participant, I think she would be tough to beat — if only because “Belfast” is an early Best Picture frontrunner and history would suggest an acting winner usually comes with the top prize as a package deal. But while I agree with you about Plimpton, who is revelatory in “Mass” — she gives a raw-nerve performance that sits on the razor’s edge for the entire running time — I keep thinking Dowd could go wire-to-wire. As we previously mentioned, people do like “Mass.” It’s anecdotal, but everyone I’ve spoken to who has watched “Mass” has loved it — something its 94% Rotten Tomatoes score backs up. And the more people do watch it — the more Bleecker Street gets this cast in front of people, either at screenings or via Zoom screens — the better chance it has to break through. “Mass” is small, yes, but its emotional impact rivals the biggest movies I’ve seen this year — including frontrunners like “The Power of the Dog” and “Belfast.” What if “Mass” is to Ann Dowd what “Whiplash” was to J.K. Simmons? Yes, “Whiplash” got into the Best Picture race and scored multiple nominations — something I’m not sure “Mass” can pull off — but the similarities do feel strong: both are Sundance movies, both are built on beloved character actors who give arguably career-best performances. I don’t know, something about it feels fated. But since you tossed me Balfe as an alternate, I’ll tee you up to talk about Aunjanue Ellis for “King Richard.” You know I’m bullish on that one as a Best Picture contender — and Ellis has vaulted into the top five in our odds. Does she present as the best viable contender outside of Dowd? Or is Dunst still the runner-up?

joyceeng: Well, we know Dowd will definitely campaign! The key difference between “Mass” and “Whiplash” is that the latter is, for the lack of a better term, an easier sell. The former’s subject matter will be tough for some people — you said you thought for a split second that they might show the shooting (they don’t). But yes, I don’t know anyone who’s seen “Mass” who’s hated it; it’s a matter of getting it seen by the right people. Anyway, I have Ellis getting in. I haven’t seen “King Richard” yet, but based on reactions, it feels like it can be a top five contender with nominations across the board. The Emmys and Oscars are not the same at all, but Ellis seems to have peer support based on her two surprising Emmy bids the past few years, including one this year for “Lovecraft Country” over her co-star Wunmi Mosaku. On paper, it reads like the Long-Suffering Wife role, a favorite Oscar trope, but I trust Ellis to bring more to the table as Oracene, who’s just as important an architect in Venus’ and Serena’s careers as Richard Williams, even if he wrote the blueprint. Maybe if “King Richard” explodes and Will Smith wins, she can get swept up. Who really knows right now? But without Balfe here (for now), I have Dunst in first at the moment. It’s not a pick I’m confident in, but she’s someone who is overdue for some industry love (and hasn’t been shy about voicing it) and seemingly finally has an awards-friendly vehicle. Where do you fall on Dunst?

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Christopher Rosen: I feel the same way about Dunst that I did about Amanda Seyfried last year: she absolutely deserves a nomination, will be on the receiving end of numerous high-profile magazine covers and photo shoots throughout the season, and probably won’t win. But she’s great in “The Power of the Dog” and has two things going for her in addition to the power of her work: she shares scenes with two other likely nominees, in Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and appears in a guaranteed Best Picture contender. That can play — and as a fan of Dunst from back to her “Bring It On” breakout, I hope it does. But before we head off, Joyce, how about we each pick a long-shot contender or under-the-radar performance that maybe deserves mention. Since I’m typing, I’ll go first and throw a Hail Mary in the first quarter: Ana de Armas in “No Time to Die.” I know, it’s wacky. There’s little chance that happens and she isn’t going to campaign for any awards consideration. But having seen “No Time to Die” this week, she unequivocally rules. De Armas is in “No Time to Die” for 15 minutes and I’d argue she steals the entire thing. We’re probably a year away from the Ana de Armas full-court press with Netflix’s “Blonde” set for 2022, but I’d go to bat for her right now. Why not? But what about you? Give me an early season hopediction.

joyceeng: Wow at the “Interview with the Vampire,” “Little Women” and “Jumanji” erasure! It does feel like Dunst is serving Seyfried teas and may come up short of the prize, just like the Toros did. Imagine if “Blonde” were still slated for this year in that packed Best Actress race. If we’re hopedicting like this, then I will throw my hat in on behalf of another Amy March: Florence Pugh in “Black Widow.” The long overdue Natasha solo act feels like a distant memory (you can watch it now on Disney+ though!), but Pugh was absolutely winning as pocket connoisseur Yelena, who’s definitely not a total poser. You could say I had a vested interest.

Oscar odds for Best Supporting Actress
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