The Academy has always had a soft spot for women characters who have serious issues to deal with. The more deglamourised they play them, the more seriously they are taken. Maybe that explains why all the three women in Doubt have got nominations.
First, a quick look at the actresses in fray for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Amy Adams (Doubt):
Plays the inexperienced young nun, Sister James who reports the priest’s suspicious, inappropriate behaviour to the Principal. Adams stands her own against veterans Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman who play the Principal and the Priest respectively in this dialogue-intensive drama. But is her innocence alone enough to win her the award? We doubt.
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona):
Smoking hot, Cruz plays an intense, obsessive, suicidal ex-lover who has a love/hate relationship with an artist in this Woody Allen film that has two gorgeous women (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall) playing the titular roles. But Cruz steals the film away from them, despite making an appearance quite late into it. Yes, she has that famous lesbian scene with Scarlett but just watch her painting the canvas and you know you want a few of those wild strokes too. Beautiful. The Academy is likely to be seduced too.
Viola Davis (Doubt):
This comes as a surprise especially since the other three actors in significant roles in this film have got nominations and Davis has the least important role among the four, playing the mother of the probable victim of harassment. She’s quite solid and looks every bit the vulnerable pillar of strength but the role itself maybe a little too short to win her the prize.
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button):
Absolutely fantastic playing foster mother who brings up the abandoned baby Button (an infant that looks frighteningly old), Taraji P. Henson is a well-deserved nominee in this category. But then, the epitome of motherhood has tough competition this year with Cruz and Tomei in the race.
Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)
Playing a good-hearted aging stripper, Tomei is the girl the wrestler loves. Caught between her fading career and her attraction to a customer, she plays a woman confused and that’s dynamite material for heavy-duty drama. From the pole dancing, nude scenes to the emotionally exhausting break-down scenes, Tomei bares her heart to us and if it’s not Cruz, it’s got to be Tomei walking up that stage.
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Now, here’s my take on the nominees for the Best Actress in a Leading role.
Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married):
Hathaway is so getting this award (Update: She didn’t!). Very rarely does an actress get to play such a complex role and Anne Hathaway is first-rate playing an addict out of rehab, nine months clean and visiting her family for her sister’s wedding. The role requires tremendous strength and is emotionally draining even for those of us watching it. Hathaway has to constantly shift gears all through the film – she has to be vulnerable, guilty, insecure, strong, caring, angry, calm, remorseful, violent, lost and completely messed up. She lives this role of a lifetime and makes you want to give her a long big hug at the end of it all.
Angelina Jolie (Changeling):
Honestly, she was much effective playing a similar role in last year’s A Mighty Heart. She waited for her missing husband to return last year and this year, she puts her resolve to test waiting for her missing son and takes on a corrupt system. Jolie also strips down for a torture shower scene and the effort here seems so overtly dramatic compared to the subtle classy portrayal last year. The only reason she even has a slight chance of creating an upset is because she was overlooked the last time around.
Melissa Leo (Frozen River):
Plays a strong mother trying to make ends meet after her husband leaves the family. She comes across a way to make quick money by smuggling people across the border, driving over the frozen river and forging an unlikely friendship with another young mother of a one-year old. This naturalistic tense thriller is as real as it gets in a film and Melissa is brilliant when the duo drives back in the dead of the night in search of the baby in a duffel-bag she unwittingly threw out of the car mistaking the contents to be explosives. Too bad she’s nominated along with Hathaway and that is a tough act to beat.
Meryl Streep (Doubt):
There is no doubt that Meryl Streep can make even the most mediocre roles come alive and this one’s a meaty dialogue-based confrontation film, tailor-made for an Oscar. Streep plays the Principal who has to confront the priest for his inappropriate behaviour towards a student and prove his guilt. Though it is a flawless performance, it would be really sad if she picks up an award because this year, Anne deserves it more.
Kate Winslet (Reader):
If Best Actress were an award given to the actress for the amount of good work put in during the year, Kate Winslet would get it for her performances in Reader and Revolutionary Road. But we are not sure if the Academy looks at it that way. (Update: Yes, they do!) Kate Winslet plays the older woman who has an affair with a boy half her age and she has a secret. The role demands her to bare her body and soul and Kate does it with conviction in this deglamourised role. Thanks to her twin performances this year, Kate sure looks like the one capable of robbing Anne of her Oscar this year. (Update: Yes, she did!)