What if there were 10 nominees for Best Supporting Actress this year, as is the case for Best Film of the Year this year, rather than just five? Who would those 10 nominees be?
First, let’s consider the 5 that Academy members have already nominated:
1) Anna Kendrick for “Up in the Air.”
2) Vera Farmiga for “Up in the Air.”
3) Maggie Gyllenhaal for “Crazy Heart”
4) Mo’Nique for “Precious”
5) Penelope Cruz for “Nine”
Let’s consider, for a moment, the current official nominees and their chances. I have not seen Penelope Cruz in “Nine,” but I watched a Charlie Rose roundtable discussion of the film in which critics from both coasts described the movie as a mess. It seems obvious that the two fine actresses nominated for “Up in the Air” are likely to cancel each other out. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s movie, “Crazy Heart” has not been distributed nationwide until recently, so few have seen it. It is also not that “showy” a role, nor is she onscreen that long. Mo’Nique, who has Oprah pulling for her, is a virtual lock on this award, from the performances I’ve seen (4 out of 5). In a moment I’ll return to the actual nominees and tell you why I feel they are as deserving as the additional five I’ve been asked to pick.
The others that I would recommend to the Academy as good or better than the current crop of nominees would include these fine actresses, and my reasons for recommending their performances this year:
6) Samantha Morton in “The Messenger”- Samantha Morton (5/13/77) has been nominated for two Oscars previously, once for “In America” in 2002 for her role as Sarah, who has lost a child, and again for “Minority Report” with her role as Agatha, one of the future-telling floating mystics in the pool whom Tom Cruise consults. She has also had roles as Hazel in 2008’s “Synecdoche, New York,” a puzzling film by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. In “The Messenger” Samantha plays Olivia Pitterson, the wife of a soldier killed in Iraq. Her co-star in the film, Ben Foster (as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery) talked about how excited he was to be starring opposite an actress of Samantha Morton’s caliber when he appeared with the film at the Chicago Film Festival. At the time, said Foster, Morton had just given birth and was often busy nursing her newborn child when not onscreen. Samantha Morton is a serious, fearless actress who has earned an Oscar nomination, more than nominees #1 and #2, above.
7) Sigourney Weaver in “Avatar” – Weaver (8/8/49) has been nominated for 3 Oscars during a long career. (She turned 60 in August). In 1987 she came to fame as Ripley in “Aliens,” for which she was nominated as Best Actress. In 1999, she was nominated for her part in the film “Working Girl.” In 1989, her last nomination, she was nominated for playing Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist.” Weaver has also earned plaudits, including Saturn and BAFTA awards for her roles in “Alien Resurrection” in 1997, “The Ice Storm,” and “Galaxy Quest,” a 2000 spoof of her “Alien” roles that won her a Saturn award. Surely an actress who has been doing good work this long deserves a nomination more than an actress whose only previous leading roles were in the teen vampire movies “New Moon” and “Twilight”? This year’s role of Dr. Augustine in “Avatar,” the best-selling movie ever, would seem to be as worthy as Anna Kendrick’s or Vera Farmiga’s, and she has paid her dues much more than either of those decades-younger actresses.
8) Amy Adams in “Julie and Julia,” opposite Meryl Streep, was criticized in the role, for reasons that seemed bogus, to me. As Julie Powell, the young girl who decides to make every single recipe in the Julie Child cookbook, she did a good job…at least as good as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s role in “Crazy Heart.” In addition, Adams has been on a hot streak. She co-starred (again, with Streep) in “Doubt” as Sister James in 2008 and had a role in 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War” as Bonnie Bach. She also appeared as Giselle in 2007’s “Enchanted” and as Brenda Strong in 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can” with Leonardo DeCaprio.
9) Natalie Portman (6/9/81) played Grace Cahill in this year’s “Brothers.” She was the stay-at-home wife of 2 small daughters, left behind on the home front as her husband, Toby Maguire went to war. Jake Gyllenhaal plays toby’s brother in the film. For reasons that can be attributed to post traumatic stress disorder, Toby’s character becomes convinced that his brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) has had a relationship with his wife (Natalie Portman) while he was off fighting in the war. Ultimately, Toby has a classic Oscar-worthy meltdown. Natalie, who has previously played roles as varied as the lead in “V for Vendetta” (2005) and in 2 “Star Wars” episodes, must project strength for her children’s sake and the stand-by-your-man attitude of a good woman who truly loves her troubled husband. Natalie did a great job, and her previous role as Alice in “Closer”, Sam in “Garden State,” Sara in “Cold Mountain” and in the film “Anywhere But Here” are just a few of the wonderful performances she has provided audiences with, prior to this year’s overlooked film, “Brothers.”
10) The 10th spot as a nominee for “Best Supporting Actress” should go to one of two female supporting performances from the film “Precious.” The unknown actress Paula Patton, portraying Ms. Rain, the teacher who helps Precious discover her potential, is one possibility, but far more intriguing would be Mariah Carey, who eschewed all make-up and fancy wardrobe for her role as the social worker, Mrs. Weiss. At first, watching the film, you can hardly believe this is the same Mariah Carey whose plunging cleavage recently graced the Golden Globes. Carey’s debut film, “Glitter,” was an unmitigated disaster. Director Lee Daniels made sure that Mariah (and, for that matter, rocker Lenny Kravitz in a small role as a male nurse) really inhabited roles that are the antithesis of their normal rock star images. Carey was recognized for the good job she did as the disgusted social worker who can hardly believe the self-serving, narcissistic rantings of Mo’Nique as Precious’ mother. Not only did Carey win a Palm Springs Award for Breakthrough Performance Award for her part, but she also won a Capri (Hollywood) role for Best Supporting Actress. In addition, she was nominated (as part of the ensemble) for awards by the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association, the Screen Actors’ Guild (cast nomination), the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association Best Acting Ensemble award, the Boston Society for Best Ensemble Award and was nominate for a Black Reel award.
If I ruled the Oscars and there were 10 nominees in the Best Supporting Actress category (rather than simply 5), these would have been my nominees. (And, no, I haven’t totally forgotten about Betty White’s turn as Ryan Reynolds’ grandmother in “The Proposal.”)