Oscars: Is 'Snowpiercer' Actress Tilda Swinton Being Underestimated?

The holiday season is always a bit hectic, so it is understandable if you, like me until recently, failed to notice something that's actually been brewing under the surface of the awards discussion for some time: namely, the grassroots support behind the best supporting actress Oscar candidacy of Tilda Swinton for her work in Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer.

On Monday, the 54-year-old's performance as a gender-neutral politician in the dystopian RADiUS-TWC drama — which comes on top of other chameleonic work this year in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (a best ensemble SAG nominee) and Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alivewas nominated for the best supporting actress Critics' Choice Award, a major profile boost.

Read more Snowpiercer: Film Review

It didn't come out of nowhere, either. Critics have been vocally championing the film and Swinton's work in it ever since their turbulent unveiling. (Bong and Harvey Weinstein disagreed about an acceptable theatrical runtime so it was pretty much released straight-to-VOD, where it became a surprise hit.) The film has landed spots on the year-end top 10 lists of critics from The New York Times (A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis), TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Esquire and Time Out New York, among others. And Swinton's performance received noms from the Detroit, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. critics groups, as well as Satellite Awards voters, and won with the Boston online film critics.

The independent community has also thrust its weight behind Swinton, who has been a fixture on its scene since her early collaborations with Derek Jarman nearly 30 years ago. The IFP bestowed upon her a special tribute at the Gotham Awards (she received the only standing ovation of the night), and she also snagged one of the eight spots on — and stole the show at — the AFI Fest's Indie Contenders Roundtable, which I had the pleasure of moderating. As both of those appearances — and an exchange with her fellow actors on the Los Angeles Times/EPIX's recent "Hollywood Sessions" special — made abundantly clear, she is revered by her peers for just the sort of fearless work that she does in Snowpiercer.

Does any of this mean that the actors branch of the Academy, which determines the acting Oscar nominees, will also get behind her for her work in a rather un-Academy-like sort of role? Of course not. But all of the aforementioned buzz — and the fact that Snowpiercer was the first screener to reach Oscar voters, before the deluge of higher-profile titles — means that she'll probably get a fair hearing from them. And the last time that happened, seven years ago with Michael Clayton (2007), she was not only nominated by them, but took home the gold.

In the interim, I encourage you to listen to Swinton talk about the challenges and rewards of the role — and also to watch the featurette at the top of this post, which comes exclusively from RADiUS and shows the physical transformation that the actress went through every day during the making of Snowpiercer. (The featurette will appear in the film's bonus features section on iTunes.)

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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