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The Top 25 Best Supporting Actress Winners To Date

To continue on with a very fun weekly series I’m doing…we’re in the midst of talking the top 25 Oscar winners in just about every single one of the Academy Award categories. Aside from the shorts and something a bit harder to rank like Best Sound Mixing as I mentioned previously, I’ll be hitting them all over the coming weeks and months, including of course the big eight categories.

Today I’ll be knocking off another of those big ones, the ever compelling and debatable Best Supporting Actress category. As always, depending on the category in question, I may wind up discussing the individual winners I’m citing specifically or just give more of a broad overview of the winners, but I’m keeping it simple early on for now. Like I’ve said each week though, in all honesty, you all mostly just want to see the list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that particular regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next couple of paragraphs…

Best Supporting Actress is an incredibly interesting Oscar category without question, due in part to some of the more interesting names that you can see sometimes pop up as winners. I’ll be honest and let you all know that I personally find this to be the weakest of the acting categories, but there are some outstanding winners to be found here, no doubt about that. I know my number one choice isn’t necessarily going to be a popular one, but I stand by it, as you’ll see below!

This week, for this particular acting category, what I’m going to do is give you the list right now, along with a few words about each of the top 25 victors that I’ve chosen. The big eight categories cater to this style nicely, so that’s likely how it’ll go for all of those. Here we go now:

25. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) – The supporting female performances in Woody Allen films are going to be popping up a lot here, and this most recent winner for one of his movies is a great one. Cruz is fiery and on top of her game in this one. It’s one of Allen’s sexiest films, with one of the sexiest performances ever to win this Oscar.

24. Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) – I think that Dukakis is very much the stealth MVP of this lovely romantic comedy. As much as Cher steals the show, Dukakis is just as good in my eyes. I’m not sure how many of you have given this one a fair chance, so take a look if you haven’t. It’s a real entertaining flick with a great supporting performance at its core.

23. Josephine Hull (Harvey) – I’m not sure many even realize that Hull won the Oscar for this performance, so engrained in everyone’s mind is Jimmy Stewart’s turn in the film. In fact, Stewart lost in his category while Hull won, so that should tell you a little about how much voters liked her here. I’m with them too, though Stewart is beyond reproach as well.

22. Viola Davis (Fences) – A long overdue win for Davis came with this near Lead performance. She was an absolute powerhouse, that’s for sure. One can argue that this should have been in Best Actress, not Best Supporting Actress, but that takes nothing away from the acting on display. Her turn in the film adaptation of the classic play was a perfect platform to score Davis the Supporting Actress win.

21. Dianne Wiest (Bullets over Broadway) – Another Allen lady here. We’ll be seeing Wiest again (and for another of Woody’s movies too) later on in this article, but this is one of the better comedic performances to win an Academy Award. It’s a wonderful ensemble, but she’s certainly the standout in this romp, bar none.

20. Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind) – An historic Oscar win for sure, McDaniel’s victory is certainly deserving, though to some degree she’ll always be talked about for the history as opposed to the performance. I recommend revisiting this flick one day soon, if only to appreciate her work on its own merits.

19. Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker) – An incredibly baity performance, Duke is certainly memorable here. It’s another film that to some degree has an iffy reputation due to being popular in certain school systems, but that’s not Duke’s fault. Another look at this movie and I’m sure you’ll agree about her work.

18. Beatrice Straight (Network) – There’s no shortage of terrific performances in this Oscar juggernaut, and while Straight isn’t necessarily the name you first associate with the movie, she’s tremendous here. Network is fairly beloved, so she’s hardly unknown, but she’s not quite as appreciated as she should be.

17. Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer) – A dirty secret of mine is that I don’t think Streep always gives an Oscar worthy performance, but this is definitely one of her best here. It’s a powerhouse bit of acting and among her finest hours in my eyes. This is the type of Streep role I much prefer, as opposed to some of her more overtly Oscar bait choices of late. Still, when she’s on, there are few better than her.

16. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) – The reputation of this movie has suffered somewhat in the past decade or so, but Zeta-Jones remains unscathed in my eyes. She sings, she dances, she charms, and voters certainly fell under her spell. I don’t blame them either, as she’s excellent and well deserving of the Academy Award that she took home.

15. Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby) – Another role that I don’t think everyone realizes is an Oscar winning one, Gordon is one of the big reasons why this disturbing movie succeeds in the way that it does. Go pop it in again…I have a feeling that you’ll agree with me on this one.

14. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) – As much as I didn’t care for the flick itself, Hathaway’s brief yet memorable turn is undoubtedly its highlight. She was mostly rewarded for her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”, but it’s an amazing scene, regardless of the quality of the movie around it. She deserved this one.

13. Cate Blanchett (The Aviator) – The best performance in a film chock full of them, Blanchett captivates as Katharine Hepburn. Not everyone could have pulled this part off, but man did she ever. Blanchett is always amazing, but this is a special performance from her. Martin Scorsese’s movie does a lot right, but casting her was one of his very best decisions.

12. Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted) – There was a time when Jolie wasn’t the universally admired figure that she is today. That all started to change with this performance though, and the rest has more or less been history. She might be headed to more Oscar glory this year with her sophomore directorial outing Unbroken, but for now, go back and watch this role again. She’s terrific.

11. Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon) – I feel like this performance is way too under seen. O’Neal struggled a bit with her career after this win, but boy did she deserve this Oscar. I’d highly recommend revisiting this movie, if only to see why I’d put her in the top ten. I think a viewing of it would have you agreeing with me.

10. Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show) – My personal favorite performance of Leachman’s is in Young Frankenstein, but this is close behind. A brilliantly melancholy movie, she’s luminous and criminally underrated here, even with the Oscar on her mantle. Go watch this one again, you’ll undoubtedly see what I mean.

9. Allison Janney (I, Tonya) – An absolute riot of a turn, Janney is the very definition of a Supporting Actress here. As such, winning Best Supporting Actress made perfect sense. As soon as her character comments in the movie that her character arc is being ignored, she locked in her victory. It’s clearly a big favorite of mine overall, as well.

8. Mo’Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) – Another film I’m not too keen on, there’s still no denying that this is one of the best performances ever to win this category. You rarely can win an Oscar without campaigning unless you’ve got the goods, and Mo’Nique sure did here. She hasn’t looked to replicate this performance since, but she doesn’t have to with this electrifying turn.

7. Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) – She may not have had the best post win career ever, but I’m nuts for Sorvino’s turn here in yet another Oscar winning Allen flick. Perhaps my favorite “hooker with a heart of gold” performance, Sorvino plays off Allen (who shares most of her scenes with her on screen) superbly. I adore this turn.

6. Rita Moreno (West Side Story) – Recently honored by the Kennedy Center, Moreno shines in this musical. Steven Spielberg will have a tall order to surpass her work here if he goes forward with a remake of this movie. She’s pretty much iconic at this point.

5. Anna Paquin (The Piano) – Perhaps the best performance by a young actress ever, Paquin is superb here. She’s gone on to show her chops in many other roles since (notably in Margaret), but Paquin acts circles around the adults in this one, and they’re all great too, so that really says something about the work.

4. Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) – Marlon Brando owns this movie, but Saint isn’t far behind. She’s magnetic, just like everyone else in this cast. They all do magnificent work (Brando especially), but there’s something special about Saint’s performance here in this one.

3. Dianne Wiest (Hannah and her Sisters) – One more Allen winner for the road, and another citation for Wiest to boot. One of the most complex roles that Allen ever wrote (and that’s saying something), Wiest is absolutely brilliant. I briefly considered ranking her number one here, that’s how highly I think of the performance.

2. Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Named Desire) – An embarrassment of acting riches in this flick, Hunter manages to not fall into the shadow of the aforementioned Brando or Vivian Leigh, which is no short order. Hunter has a tricky role too, so the fact that she nailed it is a real credit to her talents.

1. Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) – I know, this probably wouldn’t even make some of your top 25’s, but it’s my list and this performance is golden in my eyes. The most quotable Supporting Actress turn of all time to me, Tomei is a revelation. I can watch this movie again and again, do in no small part to her scene stealing work. It’s the best ever for this category to me, and I’ll stand by that claim.

Honorable Mention: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), and Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank)

Next week, or potentially even later on this week, I’ll turn my attention to another category, potentially a musical one, so stay tuned!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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