Nominees: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Meryl Streep, Doubt; Kate Winslet, The Reader
Prediction: Kate Winslet, The Reader
The smart money had Winslet getting an Actress nomination for Revolutionary Road and Supporting Actress for The Reader, then winning both. That won't happen. The voters promoted Winslet's moody ex-Nazi to Actress and omitted her role as Leonardo DiCaprio's suburban dream-nightmare wife. They made the right choice: her character in The Reader is a leading role, and it's a superior performance. Toward the end of the movie a stately Jewess shows up to shame the hero (Ralph Fiennes) and, implicitly, the audience for giving its heart to Hanna, the Nazi exterminator played by Winslet. But it's too late, since the character and actress earned our fascination from the outset. Hanna is bitter, magnetic and cursed with an acute moral ignorance. Winslet's bold, pristine performance is arguably the year's finest in a leading or supporting role, by an actor or actress.
Preference: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
A who's-she in a what's-that-movie, Leo, 48, has been bouncing around for decades, giving good performances noticed by nobody except smart casting directors. She took full advantage of a rare lead in first-time writer-director Courtney Smith's quietly devastating drama of a single mom who gets drawn into a scheme smuggling illegal workers from New York into Canada. Punishingly anti-glamorous, the role is an attention getter for an actress who's always deserved more. Not that Leo was "better" than Winslet even to say that word is to underline the silliness in setting up a competition among actors but it would be thrilling for Leo to rise, within a year, from anonimity to Oscar winner.
Robbed: Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
Considering the shrillness of some of the nominees' work in this category, it's a pity that Marinca was ignored. There's steel and subtlety in her performance as a college student taking her roommate to the abortion from hell in this Romanian prize winner (Palme d'Or at Cannes, Best Foreign Film from the New York and L.A. critics' groups). Alas, in a company town like Hollywood, foreign-language actors and technicians have no constituency. To get the locals' attention, Marinca will have to come to the States. You know, she would have been perfect as Ana, the prospective fourth wife, on HBO's Big Love.