Oscar Breakdown: Best Supporting Actress

By  · Published on February 23rd, 2011

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

Unlike last year, the field is wide open for which fantastic performance will earn the naked golden statue of power for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Some fans are sad not to see Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Miranda Richardson among the ranks here, but that shows just how strong these performances were.

In no particular order, there’s a bartender with a boxer to build up, a mother with a boxer to build up, a Queen with a King to build up, a young girl with revenge on her mind, and a woman who would probably rip your face off and then talk about how great you are to it.

With my winner prediction in red, here are the nominees:

Amy Adams, The Fighter

Why She Was Nominated: Playing the only force for good in a movie about messed up minds, Amy Adams took a dangerous role and gave it some fire. She may be the only nominee in history to be honored because of a fight with half a dozen women on a porch.

Jokes aside, her portrayal of Charlene Fleming was powerful and life-saving. Charlene becomes a rock that looks out of her window everyday at failed dreams and somehow responds to them differently than the small community around her. Adams gives everything she’s got to deliver some stirring, complex moments and some truly poetic curse words.

Why She Might Win: This is the third shot at the prize for Adams, and that can mean a lot. Not only has she never won, but she’s also been fresh in the Academy’s mind since 2005’s Junebug. Her talent here is dynamic, and she’s yet again proven why casting her is always a good decision.

Why She Might Not Win: Two years ago, she was up for the award for her performance in Doubt. Viola Davis was also up for the same movie in the same category. This historically has never gone well for either nominee. Whenever two actors are up for the same award from the same movie, one has reached for gold only 30% of the time. Once again, Amy Adams is up against her co-star (this time it’s Melissa Leo), and although it doesn’t mean she won’t win, it doesn’t bode well.

Previous Nominations: 2

Previous Wins: 0

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Why She Was Nominated: Unlike the other nominees here, Bonham Carter didn’t exactly chew scenery in her role as Queen Elizabeth. It was a more nuanced role. One of grace and civility that also delivered some solid comedy. Plus, it’s doubtful that Colin Firth could have been nearly as good without her, and that speaks to her supporting nature here. If the other nominees are sprinters, she’s a long-distance runner quietly passing up rabbits with tenacity.

Why She Might Win: The King’s Speech is set to win a ton of awards, and she might just get swept up in it. That’s not to say her performance doesn’t deserve the attention – it absolutely does – but the overall popularity of the film might do more to cement the win.

Why She Might Not Win: The exact counter argument. Remember, none of this is science. It’s all conjecture until the envelope is open, but voters may also want to recognize another performance since The King’s Speech may be sweeping up everything else. Plus, since her performance is subtle, the more vicious among the group might win out simply for being more bombastic.

Previous Nominations: 1 (Best Lead Actress)

Previous Wins: 0

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Why She Was Nominated: Her performance was visceral and vile. As the mother and lead enabler of a drugged out walking mid-life crisis, she managed to occupy an emotional space that was simultaneously fragile and fierce. She threatened to suffocate her family by squeezing too tight. In the hands of a lesser actress, the role would have been soap opera fodder, but Melissa Leo handled it masterfully.

Why She Might Win: The sheer measure of her performance. Like Mo’Nique last year, Leo plays a struggling mother who wants to do right in her heart but causes destruction instead. It’s a powerful role and a performance to match. It’s the reason why she’ll take home the award Sunday night.

Why She Might Not Win: The aforementioned vote-splitting peril that Amy Adams finds herself in. However, Leo has an edge here because her performance stood out a bit more. Adams may have been the anchor of calm sanity, but Leo was the wind that threatened to knock the sails down. If she doesn’t win, vote-splitting will most likely be to blame.

Previous Nominations: 1 (Best Lead Actress)

Previous Wins: 0

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Why She Was Nominated: She was the main (you might even say leading) figure in True Grit, and her performance was a thing of succinct, snarky beauty. She carried the film (which you have to pretend is Rooster Cogburn’s story in order to buy her appearance in this category), and…well. The truth? The truth is that she has a better chance of winning in this category than as a Lead Actress, which is what she was. Her being nominated here strains the imagination of what defines a Supporting Role past its breaking point. Her performance was on-point, but she doesn’t belong in this category.

Why She Might Win: She’s an anomaly here both because of her age and because of how much screen time she got. Of course, people had no choice but to walk away from True Grit with her in mind because she owned the movie. Plus, the Academy doesn’t shy away from handing out awards to first-time, young nominees. Just ask Tatum O’Neal. If you can find her. Steinfeld is also a rising star, and if the Academy can support her and claim responsibility for her continued success, it’s a win for her (and the Academy).

Why She Might Not Win: A few reasons. One, voters might look down at her name in this category and scoff. Maybe they want to recognize her, but she’s a bit misplaced here, and that can count against her. She also has a quieter role (if you can believe that) than several other nominees. There’s also the argument about youth being skipped over with the promise of future awards – however, there are no legacy nominees here. It’s not like they are missing a last chance to vote for Gloria Stuart if they choose Steinfeld.

Previous Nominations: 0

Previous Wins: 0

Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Why She Was Nominated: I am afraid of Jacki Weaver. You should be too if you’ve seen Animal Kingdom. She has a No More Wire Hangers by way of Faye Dunaway in Network thing going on. She’s a schemer among schemers, and she plays the wilting mother just as well as the bared teeth monster. Who thought they’d live to fear someone named Smurf in 2010?

Why She Might Win: Holy hell, her performance is incredible. She and Melissa Leo have similar roles, deliver equal (yet not at all the same) performances, and melt the screen right off the wall.

Why She Might Not Win: Animal Kingdom just isn’t well known enough. Sad to say, but Leo is playing a similar role in a much more publicized flick. If Weaver wins, it’ll be a huge upset (and it’ll be pure confirmation of her artistic impact). This is also trivial, but Cate Blanchett is the only Australian actress to win for Best Supporting, so the theoretical odds are Americanly against her.

Previous Nominations: 0

Previous Wins: 0

Who do you want to win?

Check out our predictions for:

Best Supporting Actor

Best Original Score

Best Animated Feature

Best Lead Actor

Best Lead Actress

Related Topics:

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