The Best Supporting Actress Oscar category is historically one of the trickier ones to call. For every seeming shoo-in like Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson or Cold Moutain's Renee Zellweger, there's a perceived upset like Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton or Juliette Binoche for The English Patient (Sorry, Lauren Bacall!). This year, however, things look pretty straightforward...
Those surprised by Mo’Nique’s searing performance as the hating (and self-hating) mother in Lee Daniels’ film obviously didn’t see her stalwart work in Shadowboxer (where she actually played a character named Precious) and Domino. Still known mostly for her past comedic roles on TV and movies like Beerfest, her star is very clearly on the rise.
PROS: A sure a thing as there is in this category, having already won nearly every award possible for the film. The only known former phone sex operator to flirt with Oscar gold, if one overlooks Judi Dench’s mysterious past.
CONS: Famously has refused to do much press in support of the film, which obviously hasn’t hurt her any. Bet the farm on this one.
ODDS OF WINNING: Even.
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
“At long last, George Clooney meets his match,” raved New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, and it’s true that few of Clooney’s onscreen mates have given as good as they’ve got. Tipped as someone to watch since The Departed, Farmiga’s survived a pair of interchangeable evil kid horror flicks (Orphan and Joshua) and such forgettable fare as Nothing But the Truth to retain that critical goodwill.
PROS: It looks like she’s finally on the A-list for the foreseeable future, with roles opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Keanu Reeves on the way; a win could nudge her into leading roles of her own.
CONS: Her Up in the Air character’s Big Reveal makes no logical sense in retrospect. That’s not Farmiga’s fault, but still…
ODDS: 25 to 1.
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
The real surprise of Up in the Air was how well Kendrick – previously best known as one of the Twilight bunch – held her own against the likes of Clooney and Farmiga. Some of her scenes were the stuff of broad cliché, but Kendrick simply knuckled down and made them work. A nicely rounded performance.
PROS: For all the scrutiny being given Rob Pattinson’s and Kristen Stewart’s acting abilities (or lack thereof), Kendrick has easily raced past them in terms of future potential. And this is a good category for young actresses to win, as Tatum O’Neal, Anna Paquin, and Marisa Tomei proved.
CONS: General apathy about the film will hurt her chances, as will the Twilight tag. There’s still plenty of time.
ODDS: 20 to 1.
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Those sexpot teaser posters for Nine featuring the scantily-clad siren certainly boded well, and she’s regarded by most as one of the disastrous film’s few bright spots. Nevertheless, the chances of Nine winning anything on March 7 are roughly the same as NBC giving Conan his job back.
PROS: A chance to see how well she wears whatever gown she chooses on the stage.
CONS: Already won in this category for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Oh, and everyone hates Nine.
ODDS: 500 to 1.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
The one surprising nomination in this category, the Academy decided to share (a little bit of) love for Crazy Heart, giving Jeff Bridges' most visible co-star a nod as well. The well-regarded actress' screen career has taken something of a dip lately (her throwaway part in The Dark Knight coming nowhere near the acclaim she received for Secretary and SherryBaby) in favor of theatrical roles, but this nomination should put her squarely back in Hollywood's consciousness.
PROS: Generally regarded as one of her generation's stronger talents, she made a sympathetic sounding board for Bridges' much talked-about, central performance.
CONS: As with Knight, this wasn't much of a stretch. At best this should be seen as encouragement to continue seeking out worthy roles.
ODDS: 50 to 1.