Oscar Week: Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress tends to be one of the less predictable awards given out during the long Oscar ceremony. This year there is an interesting range of performances and the race may be wide open, though there are some standouts that have a good chance of seizing the prize. The field is this year is made up of five actresses who range from a teenage newcomer to actresses in the prime of their careers to a seasoned veteran who Oscar has long overlooked. All of the performances are for dramatic roles. No comic turns are up for this year’s award. Here’s a look at the five actresses nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone

Amy Ryan has strong credentials having earned two Tony nominations and Outer Critics Circle awards for her work on the New York stage. She’s also spent years doing role on television. Ryan is relatively new to film but with her role in Gone Baby Gone she’s on her way to establishing herself as a fine film actress. Up until now she hasn’t had a big role, though she gave a memorable turn in Capote as a small town star struck housewife. Ryan plays Helene McCready, the drug addicted mother of a missing four year old girl in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone. Ryan shows us one woman in front of the television cameras when Helene plays the role of grieving mother and quite another when those cameras are turned off. This is a remarkably layered performance. Ryan slowly lets us see the complexity of who Helene really is and she does it so artfully that we never see the wheels turning or the actor’s art at work.

Why is Ryan nominated? Simple. Ryan keeps us interested in Helene who is impossible to like, but fascinating to watch. It’s a great performance.

Why might Ryan win? It’s impossible to imagine the film without her powerful performance.

Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

Blanchett goes into the Oscar ceremonies nominated for two Oscars. Best Actress for her reprisal of her role as Elizabeth I and Best Supporting Actress for playing Bob Dylan, the iconic singer songwriter.

The second is a better piece of work than the first and the nomination that was truly deserved. In Todd Haynes I’m Not There Blanchett takes on the role of the young Bob Dylan and it’s interesting to watch her work the role. She never tries to become Dylan, that’s never really the point of the film. It’s not about impersonations or “becoming” Dylan as much as showing another facet of the legendary singer/songwriter’s life in an unconventional way.

Why is Blanchett nominated? She’s fascinating to watch in scenes where Dylan converses with Alan Ginsberg, makes a move on a socialite and tries to escape an intrusive journalist.

Why might she win? The performance is risky and the actress walks a tightrope without a net.

Ruby Dee, American Gangster

A long distinguished career behind her, the actress provided some strong emotional moments in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Portraying Mama Lucas, the stalwart and steady mother of Frank Lucas, Dee nails the character and is memorable even though her screen time is fairly limited. Ruby Dee is a classic, a heavyweight who has had one of those careers that while not flashy has always been grounded in her formidable presence and talent. She’s the kind of actress that can make five minutes on film memorable.

Why is Dee nominated? She has great moments that stay with you. One when her son has bought her the house that represents the American Dream and the other when that same Dream purchased with misbegotten gains is ready to fall down around her as the law catches up with her son.

Why might Dee win? Dee has already won the SAG award for the role and it remains to be seen is she will be given an Oscar, perhaps not just for this film but as a nod to her entire career.

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Tilda Swinton is one of the great unknown actresses working in film. Its unlikely most film goers know who she is. Much of her work has been in independent films, though she is probably most recognized for her role as the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia. In Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton Swinton takes on the role of villain and goes after it without flinching. She plays Karen Crowder. She keeps her face blank, impassive, but we can see the inner workings of a corporate counsel whose only loyalty is to her bosses, no matter what evil they might perpetrate, no matter what damage they inflict on the innocent. It is as usual, an adept performance, the kind Swinton has always given during her twenty plus years as a film actress.

Why was Swinton nominated? This is a tough character to play, one with no redeeming qualities. She has to make us want to watch her even as much as we hate her Karen Crowder.

Why might Swinton win? Swinton never steps back or tries to distance herself. She successfully brings this frightening vision of a woman wearing blinders to everything but the job to chilly life.

Saoirse Ronan, Atonement

The youngest nominee of the group, Ronan takes on the difficult role of Briony Tallis in director Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement. Ronan not only holds her own but surpasses the work of some of her more experienced elders in her role as the catalyst to romantic disaster and heartbreak. Briony sets the events in motion that cause the destruction that she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone for.

Why was Ronan nominated? Ronan has to carry the first crucial part of the film and the young actress creates the role with confidence and conviction. Her Briony is an intelligent young girl, a budding writer who we think is old beyond her years. But her sheltered life mixed with her imagination produces the lie that sends the lives of those around her into a tailspin.

Why might Ronan win? Her performance is the performance of a seasoned actor, not a child. This isn’t a child being natural and cute, but a talented professional giving a mature performance that enhances the film. She makes Briony complex both hateful and sympathetic at the same time.

Now to the really big question that’s eating away at everyone who watches the Oscars. Who will win? Who should win? Any one of these actresses is deserving of being handed the gold statuette and it’s hard to predict their choice. I think its wide open, but for the sake of making a prediction here go.

Who will win?

Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

Who should win?

Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone

Who was overlooked?

Emmanuelle Seigner, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

As Céline Desmoulins, the loyal ex-girlfriend, the mother of Jean-Dominque Bauby’s children she brought to life a woman who stands by the man who left her. It’s a beautiful realization of a woman who overcomes her anger with grace. But she’s not a cardboard cutout of loyalty. Her scene sitting at Bauby’s bedside when the woman he left her for calls him to explain her absence is powerful.

Robin Ruinsky has been a writer since penning her autobiography in fourth grade. Along the way she's studied theater at Syracuse University, worked with Woody Allen starring most of the time on the cutting room floor. A segue into the punk rock scene followed but writing was always the main focus. She writes for various crafty, artsy magazines about people who make craftsy, artsy collectible things. But her first love is writing fiction and film criticism which some people think are the same thing.

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