Before we get to the Great Big Three-Way (not like that) that is the Best Picture race, let's look at a few contests that look more or less decided.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Adriana Barraza – Babel
- Cate Blanchett – Notes on a Scandal
- Abigail Breslin – Little Miss Sunshine
- Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls
- Rinko Kikuchi – Babel
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson
Should Win: Adriana Barraza
And I am telling you that Hudson has 12 circle wins including the Golden Globes, BFCA and BAFTA. Oh, and SAG, too. What's Cate Blanchett got? Seven circle wins. And she's already won an Oscar. Abigail Breslin? 3/2 odds, so maybe she's a spoiler. Hudson's tracking 1/8. The only downside for Hudson is she doesn't get to sing her showstopping number. Unless she refuses to leave when the show ends.
I loved Hudson's performance in Dreamgirls. Of course I got weepy during "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." But you know what? Barraza packed more punch. That punch developed over a longer period of time, and maybe that's the difference between a sprinter and a marathoner, but Barraza got it done.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Alan Arkin – Little Miss Sunshine
- Jackie Earle Haley – Little Children
- Djimon Hounsou – Blood Diamond
- Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls
- Mark Wahlberg – The Departed
Will Win: Alan Arkin
Should Win: Jackie Earle Haley
Here is where I go against the conventional wisdom. Sort of. I usually do it once every year, and I usually get burned as a result. Still, I have to think that in spite of Eddie Murphy's SAG, BFCA, and Golden Globe wins against Arkin's measly BAFTA, that the late reward rule of the Academy will kick in in this case. I keep thinking of James Coburn's surprise win for Affliction. And this isn't because of Norbit. The Academy likes it when people make money. That's part of the reason Scorsese's gone so long without a statue. But the actors, who make up the majority, like a legend even more. As it turns out, Arkin's got 1/1 odds here against 2/3 for Murphy, but I think that's crap. The smart money is still on Murphy.
If I had my druthers, Steve Carell would be up for this instead of Arkin, and Noah Emmerich would be up instead of Haley, but then my decision would be really hard. As it is, I think Haley stands out. Wahlberg has a more traditional supporting role (and steals every scene) while Murphy develops his fullest character by far, but the heaviest lifting comes from Haley, who takes an already unsympathetic role and carries it through the second most interesting character arc in a film full of interesting character arcs. (The most interesting arc in the film belongs to Emmerich, and he nails it.)
- Penélope Cruz – Volver
- Judi Dench – Notes on a Scandal
- Helen Mirren – The Queen
- Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada
- Kate Winslet – Little Children
Will Win: Helen Mirren
Should Win: Helen Mirren
As Jamie Foxx and Philip Seymour Hoffman were to Best Actor, so is Helen Mirren to Best Actress. 31 circle wins, including BAFTA, BFCA, and the Globes with a SAG cherry on top. 1/25 odds.
And she deserves it. This is the most complete, engaging, yet understated performance on this list. Like Foxx and Hoffman, she creates a fully realized persona based on an actual person. Does the fact that it's based on an actual person make it any easier? I don't know. I think of Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos or Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena. Maybe that type of performance simply lends itself more readily to a complete portrayal. Regardless, it's the most convincing of the lot (with the caveat that I haven't seen Dame Dench yet).
- Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood Diamond
- Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
- Peter O'Toole – Venus
- Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness
- Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
Will Win: Forest Whitaker
Should Win: Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker is almost as much of a lock as Dame Mirren. He's got the BAFTA, BFCA, Golden Globe, and SAG quadfecta, plus another 20 circle wins to spare. It's also the third in an increasingly long line of biographical favorites after Ray and Capote. The only thing missing is to call his film Amin. Will Smith is playing a true life character, too, but you've never heard of… um… that guy he plays.
Leo does a great job in Blood Diamond. His Scene of Menace with Djimon Hounsou is a showstopper. But there's only so much else going on. Gosling is fantastic in Half Nelson, but he gets overshadowed by a 15-year-old and besides, he should have won this for The Believer. I haven't actually seen O'Toole or Smith's performances, but they'd have to be damn good to top Whitaker's all-encompassing turn as Amin. Pulling off charismatic, intimidating, psychotic, and vulnerable all at once is probably worth the statue.