Why Jennifer Lawrence won’t win the Oscar, and that’s OK

Lupita Nyong'o poses with the award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role for â??12 Years a Slaveâ? in the press room at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Lupita Nyong’o poses with the award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role for ’12 Years a Slave’ at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 18, 2014. She will likely win the Oscar in the same category March 2. Invision/AP photo by Matt Sayles.

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There have been times that the Academy Award for best supporting actress seemed to favor ingenues. Juliette Binoche’s 1996 win for The English Patient over heavy favorite Lauren Bacall for The Mirror Has Two Faces leaps to mind.

It’s the category that also made Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, 1992), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, 1995), Angelina Jolie (Girl Interrupted, 1999), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, 2001), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls, 2006), and Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, 2012) Academy Award-winning actresses.

And this year, it seems the competition is between two hot young starlets, Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave

Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Los Angeles. She lost the award for best supporting actress to Lupita Nyong'o. Invision/AP photo by Jordan Strauss.

Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. She lost the award for best supporting actress to Lupita Nyong’o. Invision/AP photo by Jordan Strauss.

For our homestate star, Lawrence, this could be a historic win, since she won the Oscar for best actress for Silver Linings Playbook last year. Only five other actors have won back-to-back Oscars, a group including Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and most recently Tom Hanks. That’s some pretty good company.

But don’t count on it.

While Lawrence was the early favorite for best supporting actress, Nyong’o seems to have pulled ahead. After Lawrence won the Golden Globe in the same category, Nyong’o turned around and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actress. There are a lot more SAG members in the Academy than members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who present the Globes.

Now the SAG honors and Oscars don’t line up quite as well as you would think, because there are others voting at the Oscars. Since the SAG awards began in 1994, the Guild and Academy have differed seven times on supporting actress, most recently in 2008 when Oscar liked Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and SAG went for Kate Winslet in The Reader, a role for which she won best actress in a leading role at the Oscars.

That’s good news for JLaw.

Bad news is in elusive things like momentum and perception. Most experts are calling the race for Nyong’o. Reasoning includes things like:

  • Oscar doesn’t just give out historic things like back-to-back wins. It needs something special, and as great as Lawrence’s performance as tough, sassy housewife Rosalyn Rosenfeld was, it doesn’t rate that kind of distinction, when there’s another worthy contender.
  • Oscar likes drama and history. 12 Years a Slave is widely viewed as an important film, probably the most uncompromising look at American slavery committed to film. And Nyong’o’s Patsey is at the receiving end of a lot of that lack of compromise. Her strength through numerous horrors and a quiet plea for death are revered as some of film’s most riveting moments in 2014. It’s the sort of performance Oscar loves.
  • If the overall awards move away from Slave, maybe toward Gravity or American Hustle, awarding Nyong’o might be seen as a default honor for the film. Now, ideas like this always presume some real group think from voters, and if you read things like Entertainment Weekly’s anonymous interviews with voters, you see that might not exist as much as we think. But still, sorta makes sense.
  • Nyong’o is a great story. Slave was her first movie, a role she scored before graduating from Yale, making her performance all the more impressive.

Of course, Lawrence could win, or there could be a spoiler. Door C prognosticators like Sally Hawkins for her Stella-esque role in Blue Jasmine. Her co-star, Cate Blanchett is seen as a lock for best actress, so those who admire that movie and Hawkins and her largely overlooked career might check her box. It’s also a Woody Allen film, and Allen has directed four women to best supporting actress Oscars. But there is no momentum behind that theory, so a victory by her or anyone aside from Lawrence or Nyong’o would be a total surprise.

My bet is Nyong’o, and if that turns out to be the case, don’t feel too bad for our Jennifer.

At 23, she has three Oscar nominations, the other being for best actress in Winter’s Bone (2010). That already gives her the record for youngest three-time nominee ever, and if she does win, she will be the youngest two-time Oscar winner and youngest back-to-back winner. Stick that in your record book.

She is the hottest actress in Hollywood, part of two blockbuster franchises — Hunger Games and X-Men – and likely seeing every script even remotely appropriate for her; some say she wasn’t really right for Rosalyn. So she will continue to perform in Oscar-worthy material. She’s already becoming as perennial as Meryl Streep in nominations. Thing is, if she won again quickly, Lawrence might have to be like Meryl and wait almost three decades for another Oscar.

Bottom line: If JLaw goes home empty handed, she’ll be fine. And she won’t have to figure out where to put that Oscar.

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