Best Supporting Actress the Oscar Category to Watch

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Melissa McCarthy in Universal Pictures' Bridesmaids - 2011
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Melissa McCarthy in Universal Pictures' Bridesmaids - 2011

The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress is one of the most reliable of the major categories on Oscar night. In most years it is easy to pick the frontrunner, but the 2012 nominations have turned that particular category into a real horse race. On Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated two of 2011's strongest supporting performances and a third with enough buzz surrounding it that it could defy the odds.

Janet McTeer Goes Head-to-Head With Octavia Spencer

In "Albert Nobbs," actress Janet McTeer steals the movie away from star Glenn Close, turning in a performance that is both subtle and captivating. McTeer plays an unlikely ally to Close's character, a woman living and working as a man in 19th century Ireland. The film has been Close's pet project for years, but McTeer's performance is so good that she overshadows the title character at times.

McTeer recently lost the Golden Globe to Octavia Spencer, the actress whose character helped set the tone for "The Help." Spencer's Minny Jackson personifies the civil rights inequity of the early 1960s. As a maid, Minny must heed the demands of her employers and also deal with an abusive husband at home. As Minny watches her teenage daughter head off for her first day as a maid in one scene, you can almost hear her heart breaking.

In terms of quality, McTeer and Spencer are neck and neck in the Oscar race. "Albert Nobbs" is heading into wider release this weekend, though, and audience buzz may give McTeer a slight edge with Academy voters.

The Marisa/Melissa factor

Marisa Tomei's unexpected Oscar win for 1992's "My Cousin Vinny" came to mind after Melissa McCarthy's name joined the list of Best Supporting Actress nominees. As Snopes.com pointed out, Tomei's win became the subject of controversy, especially since she starred in a light comedy and was competing against Vanessa Redgrave that year.

The website points out, however, that if Tomei's win was not legitimate, the representatives from Price Waterhouse, the accounting firm that counts the ballots, would have intervened immediately. Rumors still circulate, though, that presenter Jack Palance was drunk and read Tomei's name because it was the last one listed on his teleprompter.

McCarthy, a recent Emmy winner for her role on "Mike & Molly," was over-the-top hilarious in the critically acclaimed "Bridesmaids." As Megan, McCarthy pulled out all stops, especially when trying to get an air marshal to break cover during a flight. The actress' performance is the one that stays with the viewer long after the credits roll.

McCarthy is likable, talented, and funny, and her presence among the nominees throws the Best Supporting Actress category up for grabs. McTeer and Spencer easily have the top two supporting performances of the year, but McCarthy could "pull a Tomei" and surprise Oscar watchers in February.

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