In a year marked by awards season surprises and split decisions amongst major voting bodies, three of the four performance categories have been kept open heading into Oscar weekend. While Best Actress and Best Actor have become two-way races between Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett, and Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser, respectively, this leaves Best Supporting Actress as one of the most competitive categories of the night with multiple possible outcomes. This should come as no surprise, however, as the category has undergone massive shifts and pivots throughout the entire year that has left many prognosticators scratching their heads as to the direction that the final pendulum will swing.
Nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress are, in alphabetical order by last name: Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), Hong Chau (The Whale), Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin), Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All at Once), and Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Although there are, at minimum, three viable paths to a win amongst this crowd, the road to achieving even this level of consensus has been a long and tenuous one. Before even weighing the potential outcomes at the 95th Academy Awards, it must first be investigated how we landed with these five nominees.
To look back at the supporting actress race of 2023, the first sign of cracking that opened the door to pandemonium came from Universal Studios in late September when they announced that Michelle Williams would campaign as a lead performer for her role as Mitzi Fabelman in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical family drama. At the time, The Fabelmans had just held its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and was the presumed frontrunner to not only lead the Oscar nomination tally but also win major categories including Best Picture. The film won the prestigious People’s Choice Award which has a noted track record of leading to Best Picture nominations, and even wins (Nomadland and Green Book being the most recent to follow this trajectory to a Best Picture win).
Williams was the undisputed favorite in the early predictions for Supporting Actress with the decision confounding many as it appeared to place her in a category with an even deeper field, and therefore, lower her chances of winning her first Oscar. Although the decision did ultimately land Williams a nomination for Lead Actress, albeit a surprising one given the competition, she is confidently near the bottom of the field with The Fabelmans primed to go home empty-handed after a deteriorated campaign has left it lagging across the board.
In addition to Williams leaving the category, the five nominees have another factor to thank that helped them cross the threshold into a nomination with the Academy: vote splitting. Vote splitting has historically been a factor that can be a disadvantage for a film with more than one contender in a single category and ultimately slow the momentum for all of them. In the context of the 2023 race, there was no bigger casualty than the ensemble of supporting actresses in Sarah Polley’s Women Talking.
Although the film faced several variables that became obstacles to its awards trajectory, vote splitting between potential nominees Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley with no voting body ever coming to a consensus on the primary contender likely had a hand in leaving the film with no contenders at all. At the time of the Michelle Williams announcement, her move to lead was presumed to leave the door open for both actresses in their powerful roles conversing amongst a group of women in an isolated religious community who are grappling with their reality and their faith. This potential never coalesced, and despite the film consistently receiving praise for ensemble awards, individual performance momentum quickly halted. Even Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations were not enough to garner attention around either Buckley or Foy, even with Buckley having a previous nomination just last year.
With Michelle Williams and the women of Women Talking removed from the race, the pre-nomination field condensed to surround the current nominees joined by Carey Mulligan in She Said as another potential case of category fraud (BAFTA, Golden Globes), Janelle Monáe in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (CCA), and Dolly De Leon in Triangle of Sadness (BAFTA, Golden Globes) who could be argued as the sixth place finisher given the strength of her film showing up for writer/director Ruben Östlund in Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. De Leon’s surprising omission relative to the film’s general over-performance was the final hurdle for the five nominees standing, bringing us at last back to the race at hand.
In order to break down the paths to victory for each nominee, I will assess each from least to most likely to win:
5. Hong Chau (The Whale)
Although Hong Chau’s nomination was a welcome surprise given the category’s longstanding history of exclusion for AAPI performers, The Whale is generally weak at this point in the season with its only other nominations for Brendan Fraser and Makeup and Hairstyling. If the film finds a final wind at the home stretch, both of these nominations could see wins, but without a Picture or Adapted Screenplay nomination, the film as a whole is not strong enough to see Hong Chau cross the finish line with a win.
4. Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once)
There is no denying that Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang and Jobu Tupaki is one of the central heartbeats to the multiverse brainchild of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert that has taken the season by storm and become the leading frontrunner for Best Picture. Everything Everywhere All at Once has so much momentum going into the final ceremony, that there is even a universe where Hsu is one of the few, if not the only, losses of the night for the film simply because she may lose to her fellow co-supporting star, and that universe is much less far-fetched than any with hot dog fingers or weaponized butt plugs. Even at four, the chance of Hsu pulling off a shock win is not completely imaginary and with a recent win at the Indie Spirits, you can never say anything is impossible when it comes to this film. If you were to pull a “no guts, no glory” pick, Hsu wouldn’t be the worst choice given the volatility of this category, but heed caution as Hsu is a breakthrough face to the Academy who will tend to favor familiarity when faced with a contentious ballot.
3. Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)
Speaking of familiarity, ringing in at number three is Angela Bassett from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It almost feels wrong to have Bassett at three as a mid-season surge in momentum following Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Award wins in rapid succession propelled her to the front of the category. Since then, however, momentum has dwindled for the now two-time nominee with her first recognition at this level since 1994. Although an argument can certainly still be made for Bassett given the two major precursor wins that cannot be overlooked, her campaign stands at a crossroads going into the final night standing between the support of Academy familiarity and a previous nomination (the only nomination in the category to have this to their name) with an overdue narrative, and momentum that has shifted off of her in the closing weeks joined by the fact that no Marvel movie has ever won in a performance category. Angela Bassett could still do the thing once again, but with the importance of momentum and a recent loss at SAG, she appears to be riding third wheel to the next two names.
2. Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All at Once)
Many have questioned the viability of Jamie Lee Curtis’s nomination as tax collector Deirdre Beaubeirdre, but the fact of the matter is that she is here because she directly campaigned for it and because she is a crowd favorite amongst the actor’s branch. Curtis has a smaller precursor haul compared to both other contenders in the top three, but what she does own, and own alone, is the power of momentum. Momentum swings at the right place and at the right time cannot be underestimated when it comes to the Academy, and the show that Curtis put on at the live-streamed SAG awards just four days before Oscar voting opened was perhaps even more valuable to her campaign than the win itself. At the top of the show, her “I am an actor” bit received such uproarious applause, we may as well have handed her the Actor at that very moment. That is precisely the power Curtis holds over the rest of the nominees—she is a name-brand legacy of Hollywood who has never been recognized by the Academy over her multi-decade career. This entire season Jamie Lee Curtis has been the foremost cheerleader for Everything Everywhere All at Once, the Best Picture frontrunner no less, and combined with the strength of the film and the connection of her campaign to the beloved Michelle Yeoh, Curtis’s chance at the Oscar seems entirely believable. Is her performance the strongest of these five? I don’t think a single person would say yes to that question. Does that matter to the Academy in the face of a potential career win? We have evidence to prove it does not. If you stick to stats, you will not be predicting Jamie Lee Curtis to win Best Supporting Actress. But if you listen again to her speech at SAG and the applause she received, you will be hard-pressed to find comfort in statistics when making your final ballot.
1. Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin)
The fact that the above variables still leave Jamie Lee Curtis at number two is a testament to the controlled chaos that is Best Supporting Actress in 2023. That is because number one, and statistically the most likely by all degrees of precedent and precursor analysis is Kerry Condon as the beloved Siobhán Súilleabháin in Martin McDonagh’s Irish fable, The Banshees of Inisherin. With a BAFTA win in her pocket, Condon also leads the field in overall precursor wins when you include regional critics groups. Condon’s strongest prediction appeal, however, stems from even deeper stat research. The last time Critic’s Choice, SAG, Golden Globe, and BAFTA were divided between at least three nominees was in 2007. That year, the BAFTA winner Tilda Swinton took home the gold pointing toward a potential correlation with BAFTA, the body with the largest Academy overlap, when the field is split. Furthermore, Swinton’s win was the only win for a film with multiple nominations (Michael Clayton). This comes in a long recent line of wins where every Oscar winner in this category since 2015 has been the only representative winner for the film as a whole. Given the BAFTA stat and the fact that The Banshees of Inisherin is likely resting its laurels on Condon to prevent it from going home empty-handed, Condon begins to feel like a relatively safe statistical bet. As we have established, however, nothing has been safe in this category since September. What Condon lacks is much of what Curtis owns. Condon is not a familiar name with the Academy, nor does she come from a legacy of Hollywood brands. In addition, The Banshees of Inisherin is facing a downward trajectory in overall awards momentum falling behind in the Picture, Original Screenplay, and Actor races where it once had a hand on the frontrunner status. The last piece of the puzzle that could potentially swing the pendulum Condon’s way is the manner of her performance and the sensibility of her character relative to Jamie Lee Curtis as Deirdre. Everything Everywhere All at Once is going to have its haters, and they are not going to appeal to Curtis’s characters. However, the kind and beloved nature of Siobhán is something that even people who detest The Banshees of Inisherin can appreciate. It then becomes a struggle between holding on to the presumed ‘weakest’ performance of the ‘strongest’ film to a narrative-based win in a potential sweep against uplifting the most ‘endearing’ performance of the ‘faltering’ film to be the sole representative win.
Your ultimate prediction between Condon and Curtis acts as a Rorschach test. Are you a follower of precedent and statistics? Or do you go with your gut based on the intangibles of legacy and momentum? It is one of the most challenging decisions to make leading into the 95th Academy Awards, and one that will likely shift precedent again and inform future years to come. Everything Everywhere All at Once has defied odds all season long, and a Curtis win could set it on a potential path to winning the most above-the-line categories (6) of all time adding to the laundry (and taxes) list of records broken by the little A24 film that could if Michelle Yeoh follows suit. Part of your decision process must be to make a value assessment of whether the EEAAO strength is overwhelming enough to force other well-received films such as The Banshees of Inisherin to be completely shut out. If EEAAO is truly primed to sweep this weekend, Supporting Actress will be a key threshold for it to cross. Similarly, if Condon misses out, look for the Banshees to be sent packing with no golden statues in tow. If Bassett, Hsu, or Chau take home the gold, well, I tip my hat and say it would only cap off the chaos of the most unpredictable category of the year.