OSCAR GUIDE: Best Supporting Actress

Posted by · 2:03 pm · February 3rd, 2010

Penelope Cruz in NineThis year’s Best Supporting Actress race made for, in many ways, one of the most wide open categories of the major nominees. While three of the contenders seemed fairly locked in place, the other two slots appeared up for grabs, and there was no shortage of deserving contenders waiting to fill out the field.

Contenders such as Samantha Morton and Julianne Moore ultimately missed despite precursor attention, paving the way for last year’s winner in the category (a SAG nominee in a film that found itself floundering by year’s end) and a young actress who found herself opposite the year’s likely lead actor Oscar winner (and landing her first Oscar nomination in the process).

The nominees are:

Penélope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique, “Precious”

It has become rather obvious throughout the season that the writing has been on the wall in this category. But while this might be one of the least interesting races from a competition standpoint, it is nevertheless worth pointing out that there is some fine work here.

Penélope Cruz, however, doesn’t necessarily reflect that, in my opinion. Last season she was a dominating force on the circuit for her sparkplug performance in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” but in Rob Marshall’s critically dismissed musical “Nine,” she lacked the virtuosity she displayed a year ago. While her character has plenty of humorous moments to chew on and, indeed, exudes a sexiness that can be difficult for the male-dominated Academy to resist in this category, the actress nevertheless feels like filler this year. She got in over a couple of more deserving co-stars, one with a misguided campaign, the other a seasoned vet who never made much of a mark on the season, but I think it’s safe to say Cruz won’t be getting out of her seat on Oscar night.

Managing two acting nominations in the same category for a film like “Up in the Air” is, in my opinion, quite the accomplishment. It isn’t unheard of for that to happen in this field, of course, but generally it seems much more comedic fare tends to yield that result. Nevertheless, Vera Farmiga deserves the accolades she received this year for her work in Jason Reitman’s film. Embodying one of two intriguing paths the film’s main character is faced with on his journey of maturity, Farmiga reminded us that she has more in one package than most American actresses working today. She hints at deep waters and complex emotions throughout that live in her subtle expressions and steady gaze. This is her first trip to the dance, and some might say it’s a bit overdue despite her relatively short career in features.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the nominations announcement (for some, anyway — ha) was Maggie Gyllenhaal sliding into the running with nary a precursor mention in sight. Fox Searchlight wisely shifted her campaign from lead to supporting back in December and it payed off, as the “Crazy Heart” star now finds herself nominated for the first time opposite the year’s likely Best Actor winner, Jeff Bridges (which can’t hurt). Dare I say that if anyone poses a threat to this category’s dominant frontrunner, it might be Gyllenhaal, who fully fleshed out what could easily have been a less complex role. She brought a certain Southern authenticity to the part and went toe-to-toe with Bridges as a single mother falling for the wrong kind of man, carefully balancing love with responsibility.

While the precursor circuit was largely manhandled by the last contender on our list, it was Anna Kendrick and her work in “Up in the Air” that seemed to be right there every step of the way. As a naive firecracker vulnerable to the typical stings of youth — love lost, ambitious dreams, professional inexperience — Kendrick made for equal parts comic relief and forced introspection for the film’s main character. The only thing that makes me hesitate in calling her an outside threat to win the Oscar, however, is the in-film competition she faces with co-star and co-nominee Vera Farmiga. Both have managed to find a place for themselves throughout the season, and yes, Kendrick proved to be the most lauded throughout, but one can never underestimate potential vote-splitting.

Rounding out the category is the contender largely perceived as the odds-on favorite to win: Mo’Nique in Lee Daniels’s artfully rendered “Precious.” The actress’s work in the film is instantly iconic and, without a doubt, one of the most amazing performances of this or any year. She has steamrolled the competition from the starting gun and has shown no signs of slowing down, despite the efforts of miffed journalists and opportunistic competitors who have attempted to seize on her non-campaign campaign as a downfall. At the end of the day, that Mo’Nique was able to get to this point without an overabundance of exposure and self-promotion is a testament to the fact that, if you really and truly have the goods, the work ought to speak for itself. And so it has, all season long.

Will win: Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Could win: Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
Should win: Mo’Nique, “Precious”

Should have been here: Marion Cotillard, “Public Enemies”

Mo'Nique in Precious

Who do you think deserves to win the award for Best Supporting Actress? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

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60 responses so far

  • 1 2-03-2010 at 9:52 pm

    Andy said...

    Cotillard was snubbed majorly. The nominees would’ve looked better if it was…

    Cotillard: Nine
    Farmiga: Up in the Air
    Gyllenhaal: Crazy Heart
    Kendrick: Up in the Air
    Mo’Nique: Precious

    though in order of chance, I would say…


  • 2 2-03-2010 at 9:56 pm

    Leone said...

    Julianne Moore absolutely should have been nominated for A SINGLE MAN. She was robbed. With the line up we have, I think they’re all fine performances by talented actresses. My least favorite is MoNique but she’s winning so whatever. If I had a vote, it would go to Vera Farmiga.

  • 3 2-03-2010 at 10:16 pm

    Joey said...

    Leone I would agree with you that Moore should have been nominated for her great work in A Single Man. I want her to win an Oscar so bad, but I’d rather see her not get nominated than see her lose yet again.

  • 4 2-04-2010 at 12:11 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’ll be attending SXSW and can chime in with reports, but I’ll be seeing films that may never see theatrical releases and skipping stuff like MacGruber and Kick-Ass that people might want to hear about.

  • 5 2-04-2010 at 12:38 am

    jackal said...

    Cruz was fantastic in Nine. Marion was flat but correct.

  • 6 2-04-2010 at 1:05 am

    Theoriginal.andrew said...

    I agree about Cruz; Cotillard should have been nominated for either Nine or Public Enemies. I would love to see Maggie Gyllenhaal pulling an upset and taking Best Supporting Actress. She has been snubbed quite a few other times -SherryBaby, Secretary- and I think she would be more “suitable” for the award than Mo’Nique.

    Some people might disagree, but I don’t think Mo’Nique brought anything new to the utterly clichéd role of the abusive black mother. Yes, her performance was harrowing and powerful, but really, I don’t think that should be enough.

    The Up in the Air girls didn’t get my vote so I am sure their nomination is the result of a well-managed campaign than anything else. If I would have to nominate one of them, Farmiga gets in. At least she made her character likeable, despite her dark side.

    My predictions:

    Will win: Mo’Nique
    Should and could win: Gyllenhaal

  • 7 2-04-2010 at 5:20 am

    Henry said...

    Let me offer insight into the way someone else might think. Anna Kendrick gave my favorite performance of the year. Not necessarily the best, but my favorite. Make no mistake: The ‘best’ performance is a problematic term and individual members of The Academy vote for the roles that win them over.

    About a year ago I moved into a new stage of my life. As a 20-something marketing associate at a nice company downtown, I was impossibly determined, masochistically hard working, and had to stifle the urge to tell my boss how to run the company. With career in place, I was going to meet the love of my life tomorrow and we were going to get very happily married on Tuesday.

    Then I got laid off along with half of the family I’d formed at work. It’s been a very lean six months. I am, at once, Natalie, aspiring to be Roger, and the currently the people they’re laying off. When Anna Kendrick speaks, my voice comes out. She has conversations I’ve had, makes mistakes I’ve made, and expresses emotions I felt.

    Does that make her a great actress? Absolutely! She captures something perfectly, and if that mere accomplishment makes Mo’Nique great, it does for Kendrick too.

    Anna Kendrick gives a brave performance because she doesn’t try to look good. The character of Natalie is proud, condescending, ultimately clueless, and very fragile. Kendrick owns that and wears it without makeup or flattering lighting.

    Even though it’s a comedy, I cried all the way through Up in the Air because Kendrick (along with Clooney, Farmiga, J.K. Simmons and so many others) seemed to perform just for me. And that’s the bizarre fortune cookie property of movies: Because thousands of people probably thought the movie was made just for them too.

    Mo’Nique deserves to win for this reason. People who aren’t Natalie don’t necessarily get Kendrick. In fact, she annoys them and drives them away. Maybe it’s because their life is far removed, or maybe because it triggers something powerful that makes them just as mad as it makes me introspective (the intrusion of technology, over commercialization, young people with power over older people at work, etc.)

    If only because her life is so removed from the experiences of most people who see small movies, Mo’Nique is exotic, a revelation, and unthreateningly awesome. She’s also less subtle so people ‘see’ her acting. She is great. But she deserves it if for no other reason than because more people loved her performance. That’s how votes work.

  • 8 2-04-2010 at 5:52 am

    Evan said...

    The more I think about it, the more Melanie Laurent’s performance grows on me. She took Tarantino’s stock kickass heroine tropes and put a period, European spin on them. Plus, she was the best scene partner for Christoph Waltz in the whole thing. She’s the big snub for me here.

    Saw The Messenger last night and while Samantha Morton strikes some nice chords of authenticity, her performance suffers from an unfit within the movie – her storyline is just not all that compelling, and it actually doesn’t work very well within the larger picture.

    Re: Maggie. She put meat on that character’s bones where there was little meat. (Ditto her husband in An Education). Never seen anyone onscreen wear turquoise jewelry so unselfconsciously

  • 9 2-08-2010 at 11:45 am

    Pat said...

    It’s a crime not to nominate MELANIE LAURENT.

    Or Kruger.

  • 10 2-17-2010 at 2:15 pm

    movieman said...

    Will win: Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
    Could win: Anna Kendrick or Vera Farmiga, both in “Up in the Air”
    Should win: Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
    Should have been here: none

    Note: I have not seen Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart,” so I can neither comment nor replace.