Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oscars 2010: Best Supporting Actress

Can you believe that the Oscars are only 10 days away? I'm excited, even if a lot of categories at least seem to have been locked up since mid-January. But with the ceremony looming, its time to take a look at the various categories and cast my personal ballots (which have absolutely no impact on the actual Oscars, but whatever). I've almost seen all of the acting nominees - I have a date with Javier Bardem tomorrow night (well, not really; I'm just going to see Biutiful, and if you've seen Vicky Christina Barcelona, you know why I would hate to piss Penelope Cruz off) - so I'll be starting this year's dissection with Best Supporting Actress, a category that is as filled with talent as it is volatile. Seriously, any one of these ladies could find their way to the stage at the Kodak come Oscar night.

 Amy Adams, The Fighter

Let it be known that Adams has three Oscar nominations in the last six years, a terrific streak for one of Hollywood's most talented (and underused) actresses. Her first two nominations (for 2005's Junebug and 2008's Doubt) saw her continuing to be cast as the doe-eyed innocent, a role that she has been very good in but has been cast in in practically every film she's done. The Fighter, though, gives her a chance to show her range, as she plays hard-as-nails bartender Charlene, the girlfriend of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who finds herself in a power struggle with his mother and gaggle of big-haired sisters. Adams owns the role, delivering a role that's not quite as showy as Melissa Leo's matriarch, but certainly one that captures the attention and proves that there's a whole lot more to Adams than we originally knew. And with a Janis Joplin biopic on the way, it looks like we'll be discovering even more. Unfortunately, she doesn't stand out enough to be considered a frontrunner, and among the Fighter women, Leo's been hogging the spotlight. I doubt she'll get her first Oscar this year, but its only a matter of time.

 Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech

Honestly, we could say she deserved this nomination just for taking a break from her husband Tim Burton's oeuvre, which, though I hate to say something about someone's marriage, has been really suffocating her talent lately. But Carter really is a marvel in The King's Speech, the only nominee here who is in a truly supporting role as Queen Elizabeth, loving and devoted wife to the stammering King George VI (Colin Firth). She's sublimely low-key here, with no big scenes of histrionics that the Oscars practically demand of actresses. Instead, she gets wonderfully quiet moments that show how supportive of her husband she is. The unfortunate thing is that, in regards to her performance, she's not actually required to do much else, which means that unless her film goes for a sweep (a somewhat-likely scenario), I highly doubt she'll win. But she earned this nomination, and made the role of "loving wife" look like something enjoyable.

 Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Two years ago, Leo was considered a surprise nominee in Best Actress, beating out Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) with her quietly surprising performance in Frozen River, and proving that, when given the choice between happy women and suffering women, Oscar will always choose the latter. But the character actress roared back into the ceremony this year with her tour-de-force performance as Alice Ward, mother of Mickey Ward and Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale). She endlessly dotes on Dickie, refusing to believe that her son - who famously knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard (or did he just trip?) - has fallen into crack addiction, and acts as manager for Mickey, a poisonous relationship that has her seemingly trying to control every aspect of his life, perhaps hoping to craft another Dickie. Leo plays Alice with gusto, providing nuance, humor ("She's an MTV girl?"), and, most importantly, a unique brand of maternal love that makes her impossible to take your eyes off of. Leo's cleaned up at the precursors, and she seems likely on her way to her first Oscar win this year. She's the one to beat.

 Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Let's start with the good, yes? Steinfeld was the breakout of True Grit, dominating the movie with a performance that showed a maturity well beyond her 14 years of age. Her Mattie Ross was everything that the character should have been: decidedly self-assure, capable of taking care of herself despite her young age and a deep-rooted conviction in the notion of justice, with a unbelievably detailed knowledge of the law to boot. She, not Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) or La Bouf (Matt Damon), is that old Western trope of the idealization of the American West, the Will Kane of Yell County, Arkansas. And, on top of all of this, this is her first feature film and her first major role, making her performance even more astonishing. Steinfeld is a legitimate talent, and I genuinely hope that her career will be a long and prosperous one. However, I have to penalize her in a major way, and its not her fault at all: she's not a supporting actress, she is a lead actress. Now I know I'm far from the only one who's harped on this, but she's in almost every scene of the movie, and  her Mattie Ross drives the narrative of the story; ergo, she is the lead, not Jeff Bridges. That, in the end, is probably going to hurt her chances at winning, unless the voters really, really like True Grit. Its also why, despite the fact that I actually like her performance more than a few of her fellow nominees, she's ranked so low on my ballot: I just don't feel right throwing an obviously lead performance so high in a supporting category (I say obviously lead because in a lot of movies its debatable, such as whether The Fighter's Christian Bale is a supporting actor or a co-lead, with really good arguments supporting both sides; that's just not the case with True Grit, where by every measure of the role Steinfeld is undeniably the lead).

 Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

In a year that saw plenty of monster mothers (see: Barbara Hershey, Black Swan; Melissa Leo, The Fighter), Weaver's crime matriarch Janine "Smurf" Cody stands out as particularly fierce. From the way she kisses her sons on the lips to her impenetrable smile, there's always something disturbingly off about her. Weaver gives a phenomenal, name-making performance in this role, nailing all of the sinister undertones of the character: just watch the now-infamous "You've done a lot of bad things, sweetie" scene for proof. But you never lose the sense that she's bloodthirsty or even capable of violence, and Weaver expertly utilizes that fact to make Smurf even more threatening. She loves all of her sons, and is willing to do anything to protect them in their criminal ways, and there's nothing scarier than a mother who will stop at nothing for her children.

My ballot for this year's Best Supporting Actress crop (one of the strongest in years) is as follows:

1. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
2. Melissa Leo, The Fighter
3. Amy Adams, The Fighter
4. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
5. Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech

What about your's? Who do you think should win this year?

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