As usual, this category will feature a mix of breakout performers and established stars, though it’ll be heavier on the newbies. For starters, we’ll hear ”American Idol finalist” and ”Academy Award nominee” in the same sentence for the first time when Dreamgirls powerhouse Jennifer Hudson is recognized for her brassy, vulnerable, playful, and just plain divalicious performance as shoved-aside singer Effie White. Meanwhile, two Babel costars have (like Hudson) picked up nominations from the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and Broadcast Critics: Adriana Barraza, so moving as Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s careless nanny, and Rinko Kikuchi, fierce and devastating as a troubled deaf Tokyo teenager. The only other actress to be singled out by all three major pre-Oscar groups: Cate Blanchett, who already won this race for The Aviator two years ago. Her turn as Notes on a Scandal‘s morally challenged teacher, played with equal parts desperation and force, will provide Hudson with some serious competition.
As for the final slot? The Globes recognized The Devil Wears Prada‘s scene-stealing minion Emily Blunt, but her droll comedy might prove a bit too subtle. The Broadcast Critics, meanwhile, named Stranger Than Fiction‘s Emma Thompson, who was terrific in a film that’s stalled since its release. They also went for a sixth nominee: Catherine O’Hara (clearly the most fun and ironic choice) for her manic yet perfectly calibrated performance as For Your Consideration‘s Oscar-obsessed — and aptly named — Marilyn Hack. Little Miss Sunshine‘s harried mom, Toni Collette, scored a Globe nod for Best Actress despite being listed on the Academy screener box as supporting; she’ll likely get caught between the two categories, a fate that may also kill the chances of Half Nelson‘s curious eighth-grader Shareeka Epps, who exuded quiet confidence in her feature debut. And Anika Noni Rose, as lovestruck Lorrell in Dreamgirls, provides such refreshing comic relief that an overall sweep could carry her into the top five. But given the Academy’s penchant for precocious youngsters, Sunshine‘s impossibly adorable beauty-pageant wannabe Abigail Breslin may have the best shot. As past SAG nominee but Oscar also-ran Dakota Fanning knows, it doesn’t always pan out, but we’re thinking Olive Hoover will win this time.
For Your Consideration
As Jane, a successful but dissatisfied clothing designer in Friends With Money, the only thing Frances McDormand doesn’t fuss over is her unwashed bird’s nest of hair. Criticizing baby names, picking fights in Old Navy, and rejecting her husband’s attempts at comfort, she’s the epitome of world-weary. Thanks to McDormand, though, Jane never comes off as blunted — just amusingly blunt.