Ranking Every Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winner of the 2010s

Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winners of the 2010s

While I like the Best Supporting Actress winners from the 2010s a lot better than the Best Supporting Actors, the category is still a bumpy road–especially considering that Best Actress is one of my favorite categories to follow year after year.

Once again, it behooves me to point out that although I will comment on who should have won in a given year, whether or not someone deserved their win cannot impact their position in the ranking. And I consider these lists to be fluid, which means I can go back and change them whenever I see fit.

Patricia Arquette Boyhood10. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood (2014)

Let’s get something out of the way immediately: I am not a fan of Boyhood. I thought it was wildly overpraised, and I thought Patricia Arquette was equally overpraised as a mother struggling to raise two kids and make ends meet. Critics gushed that her performance is emblematic of what it is to be a mother, but the role feels slight to me. We don’t actually know anything about this woman other than the fact that she has poor taste in men.  She has three or four crying scenes, but she’s mostly a cipher. When her son graduates from high school she expresses frustration that she had expected there to be more to life–but the moment would have a much larger impact if we had any idea what that ‘more’ would look like.

Should have won in 2014: Laura Dern’s part is a bit slight in Wild but she makes you feel her character’s impact so well that it deserved something.

Anne Hathaway-Les Miserables9. Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables (2012)

Like Melissa Leo, who we’ll get to in a minute, Hathaway got a lot of criticism for her Oscar campaign (women being far more prone to criticism than the men who do the same thing during their campaigns). Still, her turn as Fantine, a woman who is forced to sell her teeth, her hair, and finally her body in order to support her beloved daughter, could not be denied. It’s a role primed to catch attention, with one of the musical’s most iconic songs to boot. Hathaway clearly knew this was her shot at an Oscar, and she seized it. It’s a very small role, but to her credit, the movie does suffer some once Hathaway makes her exit, and she makes her performance ripple throughout the rest of the film.

Should have won in 2012: The Master is a weird movie, but Amy Adams should have gotten the win for it.

Melissa Leo The Fighter8. Melissa Leo, The Fighter (2010)

Leo is certainly wonderful as the cheap, chain-smoking, boozy mother in The Fighter, and better than her Oscar-winning costar Christian Bale if you ask me, even though her role adds less to the film in certain ways. She’s just cigarette-soaked and hard-edged, with no progression. She’s there, she smokes, she’s crass, she’s abusive to her sons, and that’s it. There’s no defining moment to add layers, which makes it difficult to put Leo anywhere but here. But you do have to give her credit for saying the F-word onstage after winning–in front of Kirk Douglas, no less. Then she stole his cane. It was train-wreck TV, capping off an Oscar campaign many deemed overly crass and grasping (none of which impacted her place in the standings here, of course).

Should have won in 2010: I may not like The Fighter at all, but respect to Melissa Leo. She deserved it.

Laura Dern Marriage Story7. Laura Dern, Marriage Story (2019)

Honestly, the only reason Laura Dern is scoring this high is that I honestly think she was the best part of Marriage Story and she’s already become a pop-cultural reference point for my husband and me. I mentioned that I thought Dern should have won this category in 2014 for making an impact with, honestly, not a lot of material and screentime. The good news is that this performance is more of the same: she’s elevating this movie with smart delivery and interpretation as a divorce lawyer who understands the ways women can be judged harshly in courtrooms. The bad news is that this time around, I’m not convinced it was enough.

Should have won in 2019: It will forever be a crime that Jennifer Lopez wasn’t nominated (and didn’t win) for Hustlers.

Octavia Spencer The Help6. Octavia Spencer, The Help (2011)

Spencer got some heat for playing a stereotypically sassy maid, essentially meaning she plays what is supposed to be an outdated bit of type-casting for black actresses, but that’s unfair. It’s not like her character had many other opportunities living in the south in the 1960s. It’s fair to say that Spencer fills the role of comic relief–but only to a point. Her Minny is also a mother, a fiercely loyal friend, and an abused wife. That Spencer manages to balance these attributes with such care is an enormous credit to her. Spencer uses these moments to give Minny depth and nuance. She also provides an essential counterpoint to Viola Davis’ sad, stoic Aibileen–making her the definition of a good supporting actress.

Should have won in 2011: Spencer deserved it.

Alicia Vikander The Danish Girl5. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (2015)

Let’s be honest, Vikander has a leading role in The Danish Girl. She has more screen time than Eddie Redmayne, who was nominated for Best Actor. She campaigned in this category to increase her odds of winning, even though at the Golden Globes both Vikander and Mara competed in Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. Anyway, at the end of the day here she is. I complain that there are a lot of ‘sad supportive wife’ types in the Supporting Actress category and this role as Gerda Wegener, a woman whose husband becomes the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, definitely fits that bill. But thanks to Vikander, Gerda is a well of gorgeously portrayed emotion. That makes her among the best when it comes to this archetype.

Should have won in 2015: The sad thing is, moving Vikander and co-nominee Rooney Mara to Best Actress where they belong leaves a very weak field. I guess I’d go with Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs by default.

Viola Davis in Fences4. Viola Davis, Fences (2016)

Viola Davis’ role as Rose is Alicia Vikander 2.0 in some ways. First, because she plays a sad supportive wife–but if I said that Vikander is one of that archetype’s best, put Davis ahead of her. Davis inhabits every scene, every moment as Rose and makes her feel like a woman with a whole life of hopes and hurts. Fences would be good enough as a vehicle for Denzel Washington’s virtuoso performance, but Davis’ chemistry with him deepens the movie at every turn. She can be hard and soft in the same scene. It’s mesmerizing. But what really makes this Vikander 2.0 is the category fraud, although here it’s more debatable. When Fences first debuted on Broadway, the actress who played Rose won a Tony for Supporting Actress. But when Viola Davis revived the role in 2010 she jumped to Leading Actress. It was only when they decided to adapt the play for film that she decided to bump herself to the less competitive Supporting category.

Should have won in 2016: It’s shady, but given the role’s history as a supporting performance I’ll allow Davis to remain in this category, where she wins easily. Naomie Harris in Moonlight was her closest competition to me.

Regina King If Beale Street Could Talk3. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

I was originally a bit harsh on Regina King in this movie because her performance as the matriarch of a family in crisis felt slight to me. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I read the book by James Baldwin first and the movie cuts out some of my favorite details about the mother. The reality is that King does a great job filling in the blanks even without those scenes present. I think another reason I was so bummed out that those moments are missing is that King is so perfectly cast that I wanted them all the more. I’m glad I had some time to reflect and appreciate her work all the more over time.

Should have won in 2018: I absolutely love and respect the work of King’s co-nominee Rachel Weisz, who was absolutely delicious in The Favourite. As much as I love King’s performance, it would be tempting to opt for Weisz instead. Lucky for King, then, that the truth is that The Favourite is actually a movie with three female leads (Olivia Colman won for Best Actress while Weisz and Stone competed in Supporting). If we move Weisz and Stone to the category they belong in, King is clear to keep her Oscar.

Allison Janney I Tonya2. Allison Janney, I, Tonya (2017)

Janney has been putting in memorable performances for a long time, so it’s no surprise that she completely steals the show in I, Tonya as the caustic, abusive mother who pushed Tonya like a redneck pageant mom. What is surprising is the great care Janney takes in crafting her character. Her face is a mask never letting you know what she really feels or thinks, but somehow Janney manages to let you know that it’s all for show anyway. There’s a lot of deft work going on here that you almost don’t notice. Like Melissa Leo’s mother in The Fighter, there’s no real progression to the character, but the way Janney hints at deeper emotions (or even the reasons why her mother is so pushy and hurtful) is nothing short of spellbinding.

Should have won in 2017: Janney was equally as good as Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird, which makes this a tough year. While I love the precision of Janney’s over-the-top work, in the end I would go for Metcalf’s equally precise subtlety instead.

Lupita Nyongo-12 Years a Slave1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Lupita Nyong’o was nothing short of a revelation in 12 Years a Slave. Previously unknown, she took to the spotlight as if she was born to be there, commanding attention on red carpets and providing sharply intelligent sound bites in both speeches and interviews. She’s the real deal. Even better: she’s a fantastic actress. Her performance as a field slave, Patsey, haunts a movie filled with violent, unspeakable imagery. Patsey herself is something of a ghost, empty after years of degrading life in the fields and capturing the unwanted attentions of the man who owns her–except that Nyong’o shows you the desperate longing inside of Patsey and the girlish side she might have let loose under very different circumstances.

Should have won in 2013: Lupita. Full stop.

For more, check out my Academy Awards page. Up next: Best Actress of the 10’s.

Now just for fun, let’s see what the top ten would look like if everyone who should have won had won:

10. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (2015)

9. Laura Dern, Wild (2014)

8. Melissa Leo, The Fighter (2010)

7. Octavia Spencer, The Help (2011)

6. Amy Adams, The Master (2012)

5. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers (2019)

4. Viola Davis, Fences (2016)

3. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

2. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird (2017)

1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (2013)


7 thoughts on “Ranking Every Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winner of the 2010s

  1. Everything about your ranking is just wrong. Lupita should have been the last on your list, not the first. Arquette was better than her, and it’s not even close. Lupita just cries and screams throughout the whole movie. Arquette does that too, and much more. There’s nothing defining about Lupita’s character in the movie. Arquette gives so much dimension to her character: she’s serious, she’s playful, she’s sweet, she’s smart, she can be a pain in the ass, she’s lovely, she’s caring, she’s a flawed human being. What can we say about Patsy? And Spencer ahead of Hathaway? Really?

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    1. The good thing about lists like this is that they are entirely based on opinion. Which means that in the end, we’re both right. Personally, I thought Lupita and Octavia brought subtle layers to their roles that really added depth and nuance. I hardly think you could say that all Lupita did is cry and scream. She brought a profoundly broken woman to life. Patsey asking Solomon Northup to kill her because she doesn’t have the courage to do it herself… it’s just haunting. Not just because of what’s happening, but because of the way Lupita delivers the lines. Octavia, meanwhile, took a role that was really just supposed to be comic relief and grounded her in real life. Her chemistry with Viola Davis gave their friendship life. The scenes with her children let you know that this wasn’t just a funny lady–she’s a fiercely protective mother trapped in an abusive marriage. I just didn’t see anything that nuanced in Arquette’s performance. Like the rest of Boyhood, it was all surface to me.

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  2. Fair enough, of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m sorry to hear that you found Boyhood to be rather shallow, for me it was one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. Maybe that’s why I love Arquette’s performance so much, I don’t know. But if you ever watch the movie again, I suggest you to take a closer look at what how much depth she gives to her character. Look at the scene where’s she’s telling Mason that she needs to sell the house. So natural, so soulful. I can’t see any other actress doing it so well. It seems like I was watching myeself talking to my mom. I never once doubted she was his mother and that’s saying something. And her last scene. The one moment when she’s say “Why,it’s the picture you’ve ever took” the way she suddenly goes from sweetness to anger and sorrow and realizes what really is about to happen is heartbreaking. She managed to make me cry without any emotional background music. I’m sorry if I seem so passionate about her performance xD And btw who do you suggest should have won? Of all the other nominated performances I’ve only seen Stone’s and really she has only one very good scene where she screams to Keaton and then suddenly regrets it. The rest is a typical Stone performance that Jennifer Lawrence could have done in her sleep (although I also find her slightly overrated). And I think you’re right Spencer was quite good now that I think of it (better than lupita IMO).

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    1. Hi Aryaman. I haven’t seen I, Tonya yet! I just got it from Netflix so as soon as I have watched it I’ll be ready to place Allison Janney in the rankings. It should be sometime this week. Thanks for asking!

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