Oscar spotlight: Ann Dowd (‘Mass’) stands out among a quartet of heartbroken parents

Ever since Gold Derby’s Oscar predictions center opened in early February of this year, Ann Dowd has been the favorite to win Best Supporting Actress for her finely nuanced emotional performance in the Sundance Film Festival standout “Mass.” The Bleecker Street release opens on October 8 in theaters.

First-time director and writer Fran Kranz, making his feature debut, focuses on two married couples: Jason Isaac and Martha Plimpton portray grieving parents whose son died in a school shooting, while veteran character actress Dowd and Reed Birney play the parents of the perpetrator. Set in a serene setting of a rural Episcopal church in Sun Valley, Idaho, each couple — who have angrily confronted each other before — try to make sense of how and why such a horrifying tragedy took place while their emotions ebb and flow. The intimate setting allows them eventually to go beyond a blame game, especially when Dowd reveals that her son was bullied in school and was troubled.

While the quartet of performers all find ways to show how the tragedy, which involved explosives as well as gunfire, have changed their very existence, it is Dowd who makes the biggest impression. Now 65, the actress famously took it upon herself to get into the Oscar race in 2012, when she earned glowing reviews for “Compliance.” She aced her supporting role as a gullible restaurant manager who believes a prank caller posing as a cop when he convinces her to torture her female employee for a supposed theft. She earned rave reviews for her role, but it was shown in a small number of theaters after Magnolia Pictures picked up the title at the Sundance Film Festival. The company didn’t have the budget to send screeners, so the actress and her husband decided to put up the $13,000 to send out screeners themselves.

She didn’t make the cut at the Oscars, but even with little campaigning, she did claim the National Board of Review’s Best Supporting Actress award as well as Indie Spirit and Critics Choice nominations. She does have another gold knickknack as well, an Emmy she snagged in 2017 for her supporting drama role as Aunt Lydia in the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

According to the combined predictions of Gold Derby users as of this writing, more then 2,000 predict Dowd will be nominated, and more than 1,300 of those think she will be win while her odds, giving her leading odds of 4/1 over Marlee Matlin for “CODA” (6/1 odds), Kirsten Dunst for “The Power of the Dog” (13/2 odds), Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story” (10/1 odds), and Judi Dench for “Belfast” (13/1 odds). Will she hold on to her lead throughout the season?

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