There has been an unusual amount of focus on the actress categories in the Oscar race this year, because for once there is an overabundance of worthy performances by actresses. Usually, these categories lock up pretty early with a clear frontrunner and the obvious runners-up, and it feels like we kind of scrape around the barrel looking for one or two people to round out the list of top ten female performances in a year. But not this year. This year we have an actual race in BOTH actress categories, especially if the Academy allows the blatant category fraud of letting Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander—both clearly leading actresses in Carol and The Danish Girl, respectively—compete as supporting actresses.
But one name we haven’t really mentioned is Jennifer Jason Leigh, the central woman in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight ensemble. Well the movie premiered last night in Los Angeles, and though my review is embargoed for a couple more weeks, I can say that JJL is a LEGIT contender for Best Supporting Actress. (For the record, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am dead serious—Channing Tatum ought to be in the supporting actor conversation, too.) In fact, I think she’s the one to beat. This is a true supporting role, so no category fraud detected, and JJL’s character, Daisy Domergue, is electric, because you don’t know what Domergue will do next—she’s a complete wildcard. And JJL attacks the role with glee, reveling in the literal grit Tarantino covers her with.
JJL has always felt underserved by Hollywood, with roles that really suit her way too few and far between—please see Georgia—but this year she has two. Besides The Hateful Eight, she also voices Lisa in Charlie Kaufman’s astounding Anomalisa, and while the Academy doesn’t reward vocal performance, JJL’s work in that movie ought to be the subtext of her Oscar run for Hateful Eight. Here she is in live action, so raw and cruel and grimy and loving it, and there she is, with just her voice, utterly emotionally naked. It’s an incredible one-two punch.
But the assumption by the awards punditry is that the Academy is going to roll with the category fraud and Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander will be competing as supporting actresses. That’s going to gum up the works of the campaigns of actual supporting actresses, like JJL, Jane Fonda (Youth), and Rachel McAdams (Spotlight). But for JJL, who works steadily yet feels like she’s been missing from Hollywood for a while, the attention a nomination will bring could kickstart a second act, not unlike how Tarantino totally transformed Christoph Waltz’s career with Inglorious Basterds. I just want JJL to get more meaningful work, because 2015 is a reminder that she’s one of the best and most awfully underserved actresses working.