Supporting Actress category is strong at the top with Anne Hathaway
("Les Miserables") vying with Amy Adams ("The Master") and Sally Field
("Lincoln"). Then the category turns to quicksand, with a lot of
options, a few blue-ribbon British stalwarts, and some standout
performances in little-seen movies.
Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables"):
Hathaway can sing, and sing with her heart. Even though many people
have yet to see the movie, she owns the trailer with a song that I can't
wash out of my hair -- or my mind. Those brown teeth. The choppy hair.
The weight loss. If that weren't enough, add her tremendous Catwoman in
"The Dark Knight Rises" and her suffering through James Franco's tweets
live, on camera, as an Academy host. She's the front-runner.
The Weinstein Company
Amy Adams ("The Master"):
America's sweetheart is living a less "Enchanted" life as the wife of a
cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and rival of his alcoholic
disciple (Joaquin Phoenix). Adams does pregnant and steely and takes no
lip in a carefully calibrated performance.
Sally Field ("Lincoln"):
As Mrs. Lincoln, Field has a somewhat thankless role as the nagger in
chief, a savvy political operator who battles with the 13th Amendment
for her craggy husband's attention. This is a brassy, overwrought
performance in a hoop skirt the size of Rhode Island by a beloved
actress unafraid to reveal her wrinkles and cussedness.
Helen Hunt ("The Sessions"):
In a role that's closer to lead than supporting, Hunt plays the sexual
surrogate in "The Sessions," which was originally called "The
Surrogate." Her character bares all to show John Hawkes's severely
handicapped writer what it's like to lose one's virginity.
Twentieth Century Fox
Maggie Smith ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"):
The beloved battle ax Ms. Smith goes from cranky old prejudiced coot to
accomplished bookkeeper to an Indian charmer in this British comedy
jam-packed with English performers. Needless to say, Smith -- the dame
of "Downton Abbey" -- acts her way to the top of the movie's experienced
The Weinstein Company
Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings Playbook"): Weaver
is a grace note in an ensemble cast, working with Robert DeNiro, who
plays her husband to give a real sense of a long-term marriage that's
still filled with love tempered by acceptance. While it's a small role,
she's still riding the bump for her nomination as a hard-as-nails
matriarch in "Animal Kingdom."
United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures
Judi Dench ("Skyfall"): Here's
sacrilege for you. Why doesn't Dame Dench stay in the BBC ghetto and go
for lead with "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"? Because her M, den
mother of MI6 with a particularly naughty 007 (Daniel Craig) and rogue
agent (Javier Bardem), has a more intriguing story arc and a crucial
part in the only blockbuster with a chance to crack best picture. And,
c'mon, it's Dench -- of course her performance is unequaled.
Olivia Williams ("Hyde Park on Hudson"): As
Eleanor Roosevelt, the English beauty Williams gives the idolized yet
much-maligned first lady a good dose of flesh and blood and Yankee
spirit. She acts as part of the harem surrounding President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt, as well as the mother of his children, his conscience,
and the picture of restraint in coping with his serial dalliances both
close to home and under the aristocratic noses of the king and queen of
Frances McDormand ("Moonrise Kingdom"):
McDormand is off to her next project with no interest in the
dog-and-pony show of awards. Her performance is her gift, and in Wes
Anderson's best received live-action comedy, she plays the mother of the
missing girl who's having an affair with the law officer (Bruce Willis)
charged with finding her. The "Fargo" actress is terrific at creating
characters that are simultaneously eccentric and grounded -- and here's
another case in point.
The Weinstein Company
Kerry Washington ("Django Unchained"): Washington
is overdue for recognition. As virtually the only woman in the cast of
Quentin Tarantino's far-out Western, she stands a chance of coming along
with a sweep -- although our guess is that she's not the beneficiary of
Tarantino's rat-a-tat dialog.
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