Any category that includes Oprah and the vocal stylings of Scarlett Johansson as the voice of a computer as potential nominees is gonna be one with surprises. Although neither of those nominations managed to materialize, it was certainly one of the more interesting categories to watch develop this year. If Oprah had received a nom for Lee Daniels' The Butler, she would have been only the 3rd black actress to have 2 acting nominations. The others are Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis. Johansson has yet to be recognized by the Academy. (What are they waiting for?) But of the 5 women nominated, this year's race comes down to only two: JLaw vs. Lupita.
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Previous Oscar Nominations: Despite just missing out in what was certainly the 6th place slot in 2008 for Happy Go Lucky (for which she tearfully won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy), this is Hawkins first nomination
The Role: Ginger, the well-meaning, lower-class, adopted sister of Cate Blanchett's neurotic Jasmine. She never met a feather-adorned poncho she didn't love.
Why She's Here: When Jasmine debuted this summer, it seemed that the only thing people could talk about was how amazing Cate Blanchett was in it. She dominates the film. But luckily the earlier release allowed people to re-watch, look at more than Blanchett's acting tsunami and remember that Hawkins as her supportive, put-upon sister was equally as good. The role is definitely not as flashy as Blanchett's, but her Ginger is the emotional heart of the film. Hawkins is great with what she's given. I just wish there had been a few more sisterly bonding scenes between the two, so that we understood a little more of their dynamic. She also gets saddled with a subplot involving an affair that leads to nowhere. But the overall love of the film and the fact that she missed out on a previous nomination is why she heard her name called on the morning of nominations.
Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle
Age: 23 and the youngest actor of either gender to score 3 Oscar nominations
Previous Oscar Nominations: Best Actress Winter's Bone (2010) and she won Best Actress last year for Silver Linings Playbook
The Role: The unhappy housewife of con artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). Rosalyn Rosenfeld enjoys sweet and sour smelling nail polish, sing-a-longs to Paul McCartney songs, and distrusts science ovens for stealing food's nutrients.
Why She's Here: I don't know if you've heard, but people really seem to love that Jennifer Lawrence. After last year's Oscar win in which she walked each red carpet saying whatever thought came into her head, the internets officially named her their new BFF. And it sure didn't hurt that she also stars in the wildly popular Hunger Games films. So, it only makes sense that she finds herself with another nomination for her scene-stealing work in American Hustle. She is certainly a jolt of energy whenever she's on screen in the film, setting scenes on fire-literally. But, as enjoyable as she is to watch, I always felt like I was watching a high school production where teenagers make-belive at playing adults. She's entirely too young for the part of a middle aged housewife (When did she have that kid? When she was 12?) and nothing about the performance seems authentic or believable. Having won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for this role, she's definitely a threat to win. But having just won last year, it seems a little too soon to reward her again.
Lupita Nyong'o 12 Years a Slave
Age: She turns 31 the day before the Oscar ceremony. Is an Oscar her belated birthday present?
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is her film debut
The Role: Patsey, the prized slave and object of her owner's affection (Michael Fassbender). She is met with scorn by his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson) and gains the friendship of Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Why She's Here: No one knew her name when she was cast in this film during her senior year of Yale Drama School, but after her breathtaking performance and whirlwind rise to fame, thanks to her stunning red carpet fashions, we all know her name now. Lupita Nyong'o has emerged as the breakout star of 2013 and even if she doesn't come out victorious on Oscar night (she must!), it's just the start of what will hopefully be a long and successful film career. As Patsey, Nyong'o is heartbreaking. She plays a woman that has never known freedom of any sort her entire life. Her spirit is so broken down that in one scene she even begs Solomon to have mercy on her and take her own life–She doesn't have the strength to do it herself. After Solomon gains back his freedom, she has found a place within our hearts that one can't help but think what will become of Patsey now. After wins from critics and SAG, hopefully Nyong'o's own fate is met with a Best Supporting Actress win.
Julia Roberts August: Osage County
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is Roberts' fourth nomination. She has been nominated previously in this category for Steel Magnolias (1989) and twice for Best Actress: Pretty Woman (1990) and her Oscar winning role as Erin Brockovich (2000)
The Role: Roberts plays Barbara Fordham, the eldest daughter of the Weston family (headed by acid-tongued matriarch Violet, played by Meryl Streep). Barbara returns to her childhood home after the disappearance and death of her father.
Why She's Here: Despite mixed reviews, Roberts found herself with lots of "best in show" notices for her turn in this family (melo)drama. Roberts does solid work in the film, even if the film itself does come off as little more than a flat television movie. She's also given the film's most memorable quote as she barks at Meryl Streep's Violet to, "Eat the fish, bitch!" But she is clearly a lead in the film (she may even have more screen time than Meryl Streep) and doesn't belong in this category, taking the slot from one of her many co-stars, including Margo Martindale in role that won a Tony award on Broadway. In years to come, I feel not only will this role be the hardest to recall of Roberts' nominations, but also the most forgettable of this year's lineup.
June Squibb Nebraska
Age: 84 If she wins she would be the oldest winner in this category, but that ain't gonna happen
Previous Oscar Nominations: First nomination
The Role: The sassy, foul-mouthed, Kate Grant, wife to would-be millionaire Woody (Bruce Dern). She makes her husband's life a living hell by insulting him at every chance ("You dumb cluck").
Why She's Here: This has to be my least favorite nomination in this category, but I get why she's here. Squibb is comic relief in the film and you can never underestimate the appeal of a cussing old lady. The role is a shrew of a woman. Everything that she spews out of her mouth is negative. She is unrelenting in her hatred of everyone and everything. Even the scene where she "defends" Woody from his relatives is just an attack on them. Not coming to his defense at all, she only redirects the anger. I couldn't stand the time I had to spend with this miserable woman.
Who Will Win: I'm giving the edge to Lupita Nyong'o
Who Should Win: Nyong'o - without a doubt