Feinberg: Why I'm Rescinding My Best Supporting Actress Oscar Prediction

THR's awards analyst explains why he is switching his pick from Jennifer Lawrence for "American Hustle" to Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave."
Associated Press
Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle"; Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave"

There are many wonderful things about writing for an outlet that has both a print edition and a website, as I do. One of them is not, however, having to lock in one's Oscar predictions before voting is even over in order to make the deadline for the print edition, as I have to do each year, since voter preferences -- and/or my read of them -- can change during the period between my deadline and theirs. (I know that writers at other outlets who hold the same position that I hold at THR feel the same way.)

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This has never really caused a problem for me in the past because I always felt confident enough in my print edition picks to stand by them all the way to the big night. This year, though, that is not the case, at least as pertains to one category. So, in a year in which the Academy rescinded an Oscar nomination, I am going to rescind an Oscar projection, with apologies to anyone who may have already plagiarized my picks for their own Oscar pool entry. (Sorry to go all Election 2000 on you, guys.)

In short: I am withdrawing my best supporting actress print edition projection of American Hustle's Jennifer Lawrence and replacing her in my final predictions with 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o.

Here's why:

➻ Everyone Loves Lupita

While it is dangerous to base a projection on conversations with Oscar voters, since there are 6,028 and one would probably have to speak with 600 in order to really have a scientifically-significant sense of where things are going, I have been very struck by how voters have spoken about Nyong'o when I've asked them about her. (I've shared a few examples of these conversations on the blog, but there have been many others that were not for publication.) Even voters who can't pronounce Nyong'o's name, and/or couldn't finish her film and/or don't particularly like 12 Years a Slave are voting for her -- and not just because of her remarkable performance, but also because of the classy way in which she has conducted herself throughout her first spin through the otherworldly experience that is the awards season.

➻ Lawrence Hasn't Been Around

Everyone loves Lawrence, too -- but she won just last year (the Academy has given back-to-back acting Oscars to only five people -- Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Jason Robards, Katharine Hepburn and Tom Hanks -- none of whom were as young as J-Law when they won their second), and she has simply been M.I.A. this awards season (save for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards ceremonies and a handful of Q&As). Of course, she has an excused absence: she has been shooting the latest installment of the blockbuster franchise that has made her the world's biggest movie star, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, on the other side of the country. But that doesn't negate the fact that she has not been around -- whereas Nyong'o has been omnipresent, showing up to the opening of envelopes -- and being out of sight often means being out of mind.

➻ The Globe-BAFTA Justification Isn't Rock-Solid

It is true that Lawrence won the Globe and BAFTA awards, and that no other actress or supporting actress who won both in the 21st century -- or, since the BAFTAs returned to taking place before the Oscars -- has ever not gone on to win the Oscar. But that's only 13 years of data and, quite frankly, shouldn't mean very much.

The Globes reflect the taste of only 90 or so foreign journalists, only one of whom is also a member of the Academy. And only 250 or so of BAFTA's voters are also in the Academy, and they had an extra reason to vote for Lawrence this year that the Academy does not: last year, BAFTA did not honor Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (giving their best actress prize to Amour's Emmanuelle Riva), whereas the Academy did.

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Moreover, Globe plus BAFTA does not always precede an Oscar win. While it did for the likes of The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep over The Help's Viola Davis (Streep was overdue anyway, which Lawrence is not) and La Vie En Rose's Marion Cotillard over Away From Her's Julie Christie (Christie already had an Oscar, which Nyong'o does not) -- two recent outcomes that surprised a lot of people -- it did not for The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke, who still lost to Milk's Sean Penn, Closer's Clive Owen, who still lost to Million Dollar Baby's Morgan Freeman or Lost in Translation's Bill Murray, who still lost to Mystic River's Penn.

➻ SAG Matters, Too

The best predictor of the acting Oscars is the SAG Award, which Nyong'o won. Some people who won only the SAG Award and no other major prize en route to the Oscars have still bagged the Oscar -- see Monster's Ball's Halle Berry and Million Dollar Baby's Freeman. And the category in which the SAG Awards have the best track record, at the moment, is -- you guessed it -- best supporting actress. Indeed, 10 of the last 11 best supporting actress SAG Award winners went on to win the corresponding Oscar. (Only American Gangster's Ruby Dee did not; she was bounced at the final event by Michael Clayton's Tilda Swinton.)

➻ You Rarely Win Best Picture with Just One Other

If you believe, as I do, that 12 Years a Slave will eke out a best picture victory over Gravity, then it is questionable -- as many commented after I published my print edition predictions -- to predict that it will win only one other Oscar, as I had done at the time. (I listed John Ridley for best adapted screenplay and remain pretty confident in his chances of holding off Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena.) This is because very few films have won the best picture Oscar without taking at least two other categories with it. Of course, there are exceptions: The Broadway Melody (1928/1929), Grand Hotel (1931/1932) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) won with no other awards, while Wings (1927/1928), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), Rebecca (1940) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) won with just one other. Still, I'm reluctant to bet against 61 years of history, which is why I think 12 Years will pick up wins in at least three total categories -- and that best supporting actress will be among them.

Now, after all of this agonizing, watch the Oscar go to Lawrence after all... or June Squibb!

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg