Oscars 2006: Best Supporting Actress
5. Jennifer Hudson as 'Effie White', Dreamgirls
I was thoroughly surprised, and, well, appauled, when I finally witnessed Jennifer Hudson's widely praised work in Dreamgirls, because I was struck by just how empty it is. Yes, Hudson may have a hell of a voice, and yet, even behind her singing I saw nothing: no emotion, no soul, no character. The character of Effie White is really the most easily humanized of the movie, given how sympathetic the script and, indeed, most of the other characters are towards her, even when her diva issues get her thrown out of the Dreams. But Hudson proves distressingly inept, concentrating everything on making her voice as loud as it can get and leaving her heart to beat elsewhere. Besides Helen Mirren, Hudson seems the person most assured of an Oscar, and personally, that's extremely depressing.
Likelihood of win: 80%
4. Cate Blanchett as 'Sheba Hart', Notes on a Scandal
I love Cate Blanchett. I have no qualms in saying so, and even her recent overexposure hasn't dampened this love. Her work in Notes on a Scandal is by no means awful- it's not even her worst of the year, thanks to the horrendous Little Fish- and yet there's something distinctly off about it. Blanchett seems to take the obvious choices all the time in the role of Sheba Hart, playing up her character's bohemian oddities and wispy affectations while still unfortunately retaining the strength of character that Blanchett has always made a defining trait. While the film sees Sheba through the eyes of Judi Dench's Barbara, the highlighting of the bohemian side of Sheba seems justified, but when Notes turns a corner and shares the narrative between the pair, you would expect Sheba's characteristics to become softened, yet Blanchett sticks to her guns. I do think that the quality of performance is somewhat undermined by Blanchett's mis-casting, but she didn't have to take the role.
Likelihood of win: 3% (given her win two years ago)
3. Abigail Breslin as 'Olive Hoover', Little Miss Sunshine
While the placement of both Hudson and Blanchett was easy (ie. at the bottom), I've become increasingly distressed over the exact ordering of the top three in this category, because I'm a big admirer of each and didn't really know which deserved to go where. So, really, take the ordering of these three with a pinch of salt: I love all three. Abigail Breslin is the precocious centre of Little Miss Sunshine, the charming little girl who wishes she was the titular character, but isn't. I think the nomination of child performers is difficult, because there's always those who moan about it, who either say that she was just playing herself, or, in the increasingly derided case of Dakota Fanning, she IS acting, but that means she's not playing a child any more. I think, to be honest, that, surrounded by experienced elders and demanding crew, that actually playing natural is rather difficult for a child, and yet Breslin remains utterly beguiling, never approaching the Fanning-arena of nobility, but remaining an innocent, devoted and charming little girl. Maybe it's not a magnificent performance- there are better ones in the movie itself- but it's entirely watchable, unreproachable and satisfying work.
Likelihood of win: 8%
2. Rinko Kikuchi as 'Chieko', Babel
There's the hook of playing a deaf-mute, I suppose, but to her enormous credit Kikuchi never lets this become her character's defining trait, instead pouring herself into the character's disaffected, lonely interior, her deafness an unfortunate barrier to what she longs for. The Japanese thread of Babel's four-pronged attack has been repeatedly called the most successful of them, perhaps because of the fact that it's so separate from the others- the ultimate connection seems entirely irrelevant by the time we are hooked into the story of Kikuchi, Innaritu's various tricks and techniques superbly engrossing the audience into her isolated world. Kikuchi never lets go of the fact that her character is a teenager, and one whose single goal seems to be sex- not connection, she has that with her deaf friends- and Kikuchi is totally aware of her character's rather desparately full frontal approach, keeping the disaffected reserve even in the scenes with her friends- Chieko is never totally comfortable, has never truly aligned herself with the world around her, which is so unwelcoming of her. Ultimately, Kikuchi's desperation is both unnerving and moving- in a lesser actress' hands, we wouldn't understand why Chieko is so driven to what she does, but Kikuchi makes every moment of Chieko's life a sympathetic and saddening experience.
Likelihood of win: 4%
1. Adriana Barraza as 'Amelia', Babel
For a long while into the Mexican strand of Babel, I was perplexed as to why, exactly, Innaritu was so focused on showing us this wedding, and why, exactly, Adriana Barraza's work was so admired, because she didn't seem to be doing anything. Babel is long, sure, but I think that the early, apparently irrelevant sequences of the film are ultimately purposeful for the state they lull you into- and when the rug is slowly, painfully pulled from under your feet, the experience is that much more devastating. Amelia's struggles in the film's second half are deeply upsetting, all the more for the way Barraza plays them- Amelia is not a woman in control, a woman who can properly comfort the children she is caring for, but a woman totally lost and confused, a woman devastated, a woman in fear. Her major abhorrent decision does not make us angry with Amelia, but even more empathic- she is totally defeated. And it is Barraza's devoted work that makes that feeling all the more upsetting.
Likelihood of win: 5%
Coming next: Best Supporting Actor