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Oscars 2014: Video Evidence, Supporting Actress

Who deserves to win?


Lupita Nyong’o, ’12 Years a Slave’

[This is the second entry in “Video Evidence,” a series of video essays championing the most deserving Oscar nominees. For the full list of video essays, see the 2014 Oscars Video Evidence main page.]

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Total screen time: 18 minutes (14% of total film screen time)

Lupita Nyong’o has the momentum in this category, having won the Screen Actors Guild Award; and I don’t want to take anything away from her accomplishment, because she makes a compelling impression in her feature film debut. We see her character endure terrible abuse: rape, beatings, scratchings and lashings. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I wonder if we might be responding more to the horrible things inflicted on this character than to what Nyong’o as an actress is bringing to the role. If we value acting as not just occupying a role, but actively interpreting it, then I have to wonder if Nyong’o is really doing more than being the hapless recipient of these horrible acts.

Who Deserves the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress? from Kevin B. Lee on Vimeo.


Jennifer Lawrence, ‘American Hustle’

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Total screen time: 20 minutes (15% of total)

If you don’t see what I mean about acting as interpretation, look at Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn, the unhinged housewife in American Hustle and think about what another actress would have brought to the role. Few could make the character come alive the way Lawrence does. Some complain that she’s just too young for the part of a suburban mom, but to me, that’s part of the point. The whole movie is about play-acting: about people who pretend to be someone they aren’t and who  stretch the limits of credibility to get at a deeper personal truth. For Lawrence’s part, she’s able to take her character’s sense of dead-end despair and turns it into an empowering fury, channeling a demonic energy that lights up every scene she’s in.


Julia Roberts, ‘August: Osage County’

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Total screen time : 49 minutes (43% of total)

Roberts also lights fireworks in August: Osage County, though it feels more stagy and less spontaneous than Lawrence. Still, as far as showy bitchfests go, Roberts delivers, holding her own against Meryl Streep. In fact, Roberts performance is more laudable than Streep’s in that her character as to take more abuse than she dishes out. Those moments of taking in allow Roberts to craft a tragic heroine who’s unwittingly absorbed and inherited her mother’s rage, with poisonous effects on her own life.


June Squibb, ‘Nebraska’

June Squibb, Nebraska
Total screen time: 19 minutes (18% of total)

June Squibb’s performance in Nebraska is a lovely creation, so natural and unaffected, you’d be forgiven to assume that Squibb was an amateur plucked from the heartland, instead of a veteran actress of sixty years. The charm of the role benefits from a kind of “foul mouthed old lady” shock value, but Squibb’s offhanded delivery isn’t cheap at all. It touchingly conveys a life candidly reflecting on itself as it nears its end.


Sally Hawkins, ‘Blue Jasmine’

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine  
Total screen time: 28 minutes (30% of total)

In the case of Blue Jasmine, most of the praise is being heaped on Cate Blanchett as the title character, but Sally Hawkins gives an equally impressive performance as Jasmine’s put upon sister Ginger. In her own way, Hawkins’ character undergoes a more dramatic series of changes. In the opening, Hawkins conveys Ginger’s casual sense of inferiority. But later we witness her self-esteem awakening, as she’s inspired to reject her fiancee and seek a better partner. But one of the most impressive scenes is this one: watch how she navigates from feeling totally free with a new lover to feeling guilty about leaving her old relationship. Without any closeups, she’s able to convey a range of feelings through the slightest shifts in gesture and speech. Even from a distance, she controls the screen. That’s truly remarkable acting.

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  • baby-boi says:

    I stopped reading when you down played Lupita’s performance and over valued Jen’s. Out of all the actresses nominated, Jen’s performance is the most mediocre. Jen has raw talent but it’s clear she is untrained. She has never “wowed” me with any of her work. The closest she came was “The Poker House” but that was due to Lori’s excellent directing. When I see Jen’s films, I see Jennifer Lawrence playing “somebody”. I never see the character. Jen never seems to lose herself in the character. She’s more focused on “acting” the character rather than “being” the character. Jen is what you would call, in Theatre class, a “Spot Actress”. She can take it there when it calls for a very emotional performance, but everything else, she’s flat and monotone. Case and Point, she nails the Bathroom scene, but drops the ball during the Bedroom scene. When she says, “We fight, we f**k, that’s our thing” she delivers the line as if she was asking a friend out for tea. Not to mention that Ros’ accent goes and comes(editing and directing shares the blame here).She also rambles which causes viewers to miss certain points. This was clearly on display when she hosted SNL. 80% of her performances would have been a lot better if she understand which words to put emphases on. Bea Arthur could have made reading the phone book funny because she knew how to uses her words.

    Now, am I opposed to Jen winning?? NOPE! Jen nails the other half of acting. Acting is 50% of what you say and 50% of what you do. Jen’s body language and facial expressions are among the best in Hollywood. She just needs to work on her mediocre vocal deliver. IMO, it takes away from me grading her a Grade A actress.

  • zing says:

    I once had an acting teacher who said you can emote. You can cry. You can tear your hair out, beat your chest, and claw at your face to show us anger and helplessness and frustration. This is often much easier than tackling a role that calls for emotions that are less-charged.

    Lawrence, Squibb and Hawkins had the task of making a more subtle role pop and crackle to keep our attention.

    BIG emotional acting (for those BIG emotional roles) is often a lot easier than finding subtle business and moments for a character.

  • Carlos F. says:

    It’s rather unfortunate because your very articulate but from your video analysis the many subtle intricacies of Lupita’s performance went over your head.

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