By EW Staff
Updated January 05, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain
Credit: Renee Zellweger: Phil Bray
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Who’s up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar

In an unusual twist, this year’s crop of supporting actresses will be competing for four nominations, not five. That’s because one name is already as close to a lock as you can get without being preprinted on the Academy ballot. ”Cold Mountain”’s has the following going for her: (a) a scene-stealing role in a Best Picture contender; (b) a track record that includes two nominations in the last two years; (c) immense sympathy for having to play the dumpy chick next to the woman who beat her for Best Actress last year, Nicole Kidman. And she’s good, too! In other words, she’s in. As for who’ll join her on the ballot, we expect the list will include Marcia Gay Harden, whose wrenching work as a terrified wife in ”Mystic River” is the stuff of which nominations are made. (Ignore the fact that the endearingly loopy Golden Globe voters left Harden out; they did the same thing to her for ”Pollock,” and she went on to win the Academy Award.) Oscar veteran Holly Hunter did powerhouse work as a mother losing control of her daughter in ”Thirteen”; we hope Fox Searchlight is getting those screeners in the mail, since it’d be a shame if her Oscar-level effort were overlooked.

The Best Supporting Actress category has often been a welcoming home to ingenues. We’d call Scarlett Johansson a lock for ”Lost in Translation,” but there’s one problem: It’s a leading role. Focus Features will have to campaign aggressively to convince voters she belongs in this spot — if she can avoid splitting her own vote, she’s in.

So who’s the fifth? The New York Critics Circle honored . Shohreh Aghdashwho? Well, she’s the Iranian actress who’s knocking reviewers dead with her touching, dignified work as Ben Kingsley’s wife in ”” — but she’s an unknown in a muted role, and thus a tough Oscar bet. Voters love gold-hearted hookers, so Maria Bello’s rentable cocktail waitress is certainly a contender for ”The Cooler.” Geraldine McEwan, magnificent as the nun who terrorizes ”The Magdalene Sisters,” would probably be more of a possibility if her movie had opened last month instead of last summer.

Laura Linney and Jessica Lange have both been in favor with Oscar voters in the past (Linney was nominated for ”You Can Count on Me,” and Lange has six nominations and two wins to her credit), but Lange’s role in ”Big Fish” lacks the one big scene that’s usually key to getting a nomination, and Linney’s ”” role essentially is one big scene — full of impact, but very brief. Hope Davis was hilarious as the Olive Oyl of ”American Splendor,” and we’d love to see Ellen DeGeneres get props for her heard-but-not-seen role in ”Finding Nemo.” But our pick for the fifth slot is Patricia Clarkson, an actress who should be looking at her third or fourth nomination by now, but has been inexplicably overlooked come Oscar time. The astringent, funny, unsentimental work she does as a mom dying of cancer in ”Pieces of April” should rectify that injustice.

American Splendor

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  • R
  • 101 minutes
  • Shari Springer Berman
  • Robert Pulcini