Your Guide to the Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

Why should you care about the Academy Awards? In a sense, the Oscars are just as contrived as any other of the dozen awards handed out in the preceding months. However, somewhere amongst the glitz, glamour and incest the show has created, the awards have grown into something more. Win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and forever your DVD is plastered with a “BEST PICTURE” slogan. Win an Academy Award, and your movie (or your role) becomes canonized. So, simply, you should care about the Academy Awards because who wins will, inevitably, dictate the movies that are remembered from this, our, generation.

Intuitively, it would seem Best Supporting Actress is, of the six awards I plan to handicap int he six days, the least important. But look at the actresses that have won it since 1997:

Kim Basinger, Judi Dench, Angelina Jolie, Marcia Gay Harden, Jennifer Connelly, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Cate Blanchett, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Hudson.

With the exception of Gay Harden and Hudson, all the other ten actresses went on to become leading ladies in films. Jolie is the biggest actress in Hollywood, and Blanchett and Connelly are superstars. Merryl Streep won an Oscar in this award, although by the opposite token, you could tell me Whoopi Goldberg did, too.

In Oscar season, there are two questions to be asked: who is going to be nominated? Who is going to win? Usually there is a just a couple performances that have a chance at winning, and many that could be nominated.

In the Best Supporting Actress award at the 2008 Oscars, one of two actresses is going to win: Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) or Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not There”). The two have split basically every Oscar precursor, with Blanchett taking the Golden Globe. Ryan dominated the City Critics Association awards, winning in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Francisco, Phoenix and Boston. She also won the National Board of Review’s award. Ryan is a theatre actress, nominated for Best Actress twice at the Tony Awards, most recently for her revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Blanchett has been down the Oscar road before, winning for her role in “The Aviator” and then losing out after a nomination for “Notes on a Scandal.” The Australian actress won the Golden Globe this year for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” She is also a Best Actress contender this year, looking to be nominated a second time for the award as she continued the Queen Elizabeth role that led to her first Academy nomination. Different people have different opinions on how playing a man will help Blanchett on Oscar night, but surely the physicality of the role can’t hurt.

From there, there are two other names that appear to be in: Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton” and 13-year-old Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement.” Swington played a company executive doing what she could to keep a lawsuit out of the news, while Ronan’s character played in the catalyst in James McAvoy and Keira Knightley’s forbidden romance. We can only root for Ronan, who appears to be as sweet, intelligent a child actress as we’ve seen since Anna Paquin memorably won in the early 90s.

The fifth spot, if I may, have about four names vying for a spot:

— My choice for the award — though I haven’t seen “Gone Baby Gone” yet — is Catherine Keener of “Into the Wild”. She did a fantastic job playing an affected hippie, a woman torn away from motherhood who looks to take Emile Hirsch’s Chris McCandless under her wing. It’s a fantastic performance, and deserving of a nomination.

Ruby Dee has been on a hot streak of late for her role as Frank Lucas’ mother in “American Gangster.” At 83, Dee has never had an Oscar nomination, fueling rumors she may land one this year. She was certainly deserving as far back as 1961, for her role as a supporting actress in “A Raisin in the Sun.”

— “Juno” has risen up so many charts for how well it has done at the Box Office, as the Academy rightly should award good movies that have done well with nominations. While Diablo Cody and Ellen Page are locks, and a Best Picture nomination likely, Jennifer Garner has gained some late support for an actress nomination. It seems a longshot at this point, but Keener and Garner may open the door for Dee, splitting the “emotional kind-of mothers” votes down the middle.

— However, it could be that Dee splits the “let’s give it to an old woman” vote with Vanessa Redgrave of “Atonement”, giving the nomination to Keener or Garner. Redgrave has been nominated for six Oscars, winning in 1978 for a supporting role in Julia. While her role in “Atonement” is small, it comes near the end, which is the absolute height of the movie’s story. She is fantastic in the role, but some have called it too small, and Ronan’s likely nomination makes this a longshot.

Handicapping the Race

Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (2:3)
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There (1:1)
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement (10:1)
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (15:1)
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild (25:1)
Ruby Dee, American Gangster (30:1)
Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement (40:1)
Jennifer Garner, Juno (75:1)
Marisa Tomei, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (100:1)
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson’s War (250:1)

The WHAP Award Goes To: Catherine Keener, Into the Wild.

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