Sunday, December 21, 2008

The State of the Race -- Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress is Shaping up to be a very interesting race indeed. Many people are predicting that Penelope Cruz is going to sweep this category, but I'm not so sure. The Globes, the BFCAs and the SAGs could all go her way, which would obviously dip this category slightly in her favor. But remember last year, before the Globes, when it seemed that Amy Ryan was going to sweep? She won the National Board of Review, the BFCA and a slew of critics awards. Then Globes gave supporting to Cate Blanchett, SAG gave it to Ruby Dee and BAFTA gave it to Tilda Swinton, causing all hell to break loose. There was no frontrunner going in and Swinton (who gave the best performance) ultimately walked away with the statue. We could very well have a situation like that happen again. It's anyone's game here, in a category that only has two real locks: Penelope Cruz and Viola Davis.

What of the remaining three spots? Well, I know I predicted that Kate Winslet would be the eventual SAG winner for The Reader, but I may have to rescind that. I don't know WHAT I was thinking. I think the SAG will go to either Cruz (the default frontrunner) or David (the critical underdog). After Cruz and Davis, we pretty much have five actresses duking it out for three spots. They are:

Amy Adams in Doubt

Why she might get in:
It's a logical choice. She's a previous nominee in this category, and was probably closer than people think last year for her role in Enchanted. The performance is serviceable, even if it falls short of greatness or even memorability. In other words, tailor made for this category.

Why she may be left out:
Having finally seen Doubt (I will post a review later), I must say that this role feels like much of the same for Adams. Innocence, naivete. Stretch, girl! We all know you can! Sure, she has a Globe and a SAG nod, but the Globes were always going to nominate her (Hello. Starpower). And the SAGs had an unusual bout of bad taste this year (Hello. Dev Patel). I've said it before and I'll say it again. No film has gotten four acting nominations since Chicago. Not a shocking statistic, I know. But that was six years ago and the Academy likes to spread the wealth more these days. And besides, no film has EVER gotten four acting nominations without an accompanying best picture nod. Period. The end. I'm certainly not the first person to bring up this point, but it bears repeating: The Oscar ballot is a preferential voting system. Who's placing Amy Adams as #1 on this ballot? Someone who loves Doubt? Maybe. But I don't see anyone who loves this film preferring Amy Adams over Viola Davis. Consider Babel, which got a double nod in this category two years ago. I thought that Adriana Barraza was far and away better than Rinko Kikuchi, but both performances had their respective camps. Even Terms of Endearment. I will forever be on Debra Winger's side, even though Maclaine walked away with the trophy. There wasn't a general consensus, like there is about Davis clearly having a better performance than Amy Adams.

Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married

Why she might get in:
She's garnered a fair number of critics' prizes (DC and Utah) which does mean something (especially in DC, which went ultra-safe with their prizes this year, with the exception of DeWitt). She has a Gotham Independent Film Award, a Satellite Nomination and an Indie Spirit nod. It's a fine performance and the fact that her co-star Anne Hathaway is locked for a best actress nod may keep the film and her name on the lips. She may not be pulling a WHOLE lot of votes, but those who vote for her will likely put her at number one on their ballots, which means she could surprise.

Why she may be left out:
Other than Anne Hathaway, there is a serious lack of precursor support for this film and DeWitt's performance. She missed each of the big three (BFCA, Golden Globe and SAG), which is not good. The lack of an ensemble nomination for Rachel Getting Married at the SAGs indicates a lack of support for the film among the actors' branch (the largest part of the voting body in the AMPAS). Will the AMPAS bite?

Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Why she might get in:
She's been giving fine supporting performances in Hollywood for years. She was a big part of the emotional impact of Hustle and Flow, an atypical Oscar entry that AMPAS went for in a big way. She's supposedly just darling in the film. She has a SAG nod, a BFCA nod and even a win from the Austin Film Critics Association. Plus, since Berry and Washington won in 2001, there hasn't been a year where at least one black performer wasn't nominated. But...

Why she may be left out:
Viola Davis is pretty much a lock for a nomination at this point, so the Academy has filled their quota of colored actors deemed fit for the big show. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is very effects-heavy, and not necessarily a showcase for its actors. Might she be overlooked?

Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

Why she might get in:
She's a previous winner and has been nominated once more since then in this very category. She's a very reliable actress who consistently turns out quality supporting roles in films like Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and In the Bedroom. Plus, she's a fox and they need attractive people on the red carpet. She's got a plumb role in what (according to is now officially the best reviewed film of the year.''

Why she may be left out:
No SAG nod? That's the only reason I can think of. Believe it or not, she feels the safest to me outside of the two true "locks." But I think that The Wrestler could have done itself a great service by being released earlier this year. Maybe late summer, or even October. A little film like this needs more time. Maybe it would have been in Slumdog Millionaire's place if that had happened.

Kate Winslet in The Reader

Why she might get in:
She's a five-time previous nominee, riding the momentum of two lauded performances in this and in Revolutionary Road. The role is bait-tastic (accent, aging makeup, tears, Holocaust film). She has the necessary precursors (Golden Globe, SAG, BFCA) and a few critics prizes. But...

Why she may be left out:
A lot of her critics prizes were tied in with Revolutionary Road. A lot of people are starting to cry category fraud. A supporting performance? Give me a break. Last time she made a bid for a double-nomination, the AMPAS didn't bite. Is it necessary to honor her here when she's likely to get a nomination for Revolutionary Road?

I think the lineup will ultimately be...

Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis -Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Bold to leave Amy Adams off, considering how well she's doing. And even bolder/crazier to leave off Winslet. But here's my reasoning: Amy Adams missed the Broadcast Film Critics Association nomination and they nominated six women (including Vera Farmiga for Nothing But the Truth, who is not a threat since her name has popped up NOWHERE else). DeWitt has a few critical precursors and a nomination in her case wouldn't be unprecedented. Marcia Gay Harden got in for both her nominations with very little precursor love. SAG must have been on cough medication or something. That's the only explanation I have for the Rachel Getting Married shutout. But those who like her, really really like her. So, I am going out on a limb and saying she makes it just under the wire. Plus, sometimes AMPAS just has good taste. Remember Laura Linney's nod for The Savages last year (the best female performance of the year)? Henson is a good bet too. Talented, beautiful and ultra-charismatic. They like inviting new faces to the party, especially in this category. Tomei is in for all the aforementioned reasons (bonafide supporting actress, reliable work, film that people love). What about Winslet? Well, SAG is bound to nominate actors in the categories they campaign in. So that explains her nod there. I think/hope that the AMPAS are more discerning. That they will take a step back and say "Is this a supporting turn? Do we really need to honor her here when we can very easily honor her in leading actress?" If enough voters really question the category fraud, it will confuse things enough that she'll probably just miss here. That's what I think will happen.

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