Sunday, January 25, 2009


Up until a couple of weeks ago, it was widely thought that Penelope Cruz would take this prize for her feisty performance in Woody Allen’s VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Then Kate Winslet went and won the Golden Globe for her performance in THE READER and all bets were off. When the Oscars were announced though, that all changed again. The Winslet camp’s decision to push her role in THE READER as supporting failed and the Academy nominated her as a lead instead. This put Cruz back at the forefront and allowed for one other lady to get an invitation to the ball.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are …

Amy Adams in DOUBT
This is Adams’s second Oscar nomination in total and in this category. She was nominated a few years back for her boisterous performance as a pregnant girl from the sticks in JUNEBUG. She is now nominated for a polar opposite performance as a school teaching nun who has beliefs shaken in DOUBT.

Adams was the unexpected entry here. Nabbing the fifth slot does not bode well for her chances and she has not scored much recognition so far. Still, the entire cast of DOUBT scored nominations and the acting division clearly likes Adams and the film. The Academy did not throw a lot of love for DOUBT anywhere else though so I suspect this is not Adams’s year.

Cruz does not appear in Woody Allen’s latest into about half way through the film but when she does, the already enjoyable film becomes something inspired and exciting. As Maria Elena, Cruz is dramatic, smoldering and insightful. She wraps her beautiful lips around all of Allen’s incredible dialogue as though they were thoughts that burned in her soul.

Cruz is almost always more enjoyable when she is speaking her mother tongue. Her lead performance in this summer’s ELEGY was also very subtly nuanced despite it being in English though and the praise she won for that role will certainly help her chances here. This is Cruz’s second Oscar nomination after her leading role in Pedro Almodovar’s VOLVER and I think the Academy is ready to acknowledge that Cruz is not just a pretty face.

Viola Davis is DOUBT
Davis did not blow me away in DOUBT as she seems to have done to everyone else. As Mrs. Miller, she must rectify her son’s future being open with his potentially damaging present at the hands of a supposedly abusive priest. It is one of those dilemmas that is unfathomable but Davis makes it all make sense. She makes the most of her time on screen but it was not enough to leave an impression on me.

Davis’s performance in DOUBT is one of those controversial turns where one has to decide whether it is fair or not to reward someone who only has a dozen or so screen minutes. She won the Breakthrough Performance award at the National Board of Review but little else. Still, she remains a strong competitor in this category.

Henson first made me stand up and take note (well, maybe not literally) when she appeared in HUSTLE & FLOW with Terrence Howard. She is loud and dominant but she gets her point across and does so within minutes of appearing in David Fincher’s opus. As Benjamin Button’s adoptive mother, Henson shows what real mothers are made of and exudes love and protection.

This is Henson’s first Oscar nomination and the Academy will likely assume that more opportunities to reward her will come up later. That assumption might be premature. I read the other day that Henson says she has no offers on her table currently and that was after the nominations were announced. It sounds to me like she needs a new agent.

Marisa Tomei in THE WRESTLER

Tomei gives another signature bare performance in Darren Aronofky’s THE WRESTLER. This time though, she is bare in a whole other way as she plays an aging stripper. Yet still, even though she is standing there without clothes on for a good portion of her performance, she manages to shed even more layers to show us this character.

Tomei is already an Oscar winner in this category. She nabbed the prize for MY COUSIN VINNY way back in the 90’s. Many thought it was unwarranted but the Oscars don’t do do-overs. She has spent a lot of time proving herself since then and even earned another nod in this category in 2001 for IN THE BEDROOM. I would love to see her take this but THE WRESTLER is Mickey Rourke’s to win for.

It’s time to party like you’re on a beach in Spain. Black Sheep bets on Penelope Cruz.

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