Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter (WINNER)
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
The Best Supporting Actress statuette was Leo's to lose she'd taken the majority of critics' awards for her role as the spitfire mom of two boxers in The Fighter and some onlookers say she did just that. Leo stoked a stir by paying for trade-paper ads of herself, one in a low-cut black dress, the other in a floor-length fur. The implied message: I don't have to be typecast as aging hags; I can play swank dolls too. The ads seemed to be a rebuke to the campaign that Paramount had already mounted for her, as well as leaving unanswered the question, How many glamour roles does Hollywood create for actresses over 50 (that it doesn't give to Tilda Swinton or Helen Mirren)?
We'll see if Leo suffers from this odd, poorly timed stunt. But she's also up against her colleague Adams, who plays Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend in The Fighter and displays a similar comic ferocity. That may draw votes away from Leo. Six times in the past decade, the Academy nominated two actresses from the same film Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand in Almost Famous (2001), Mirren and Maggie Smith in Gosford Park (2002), Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah in Chicago (2003), Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi in Babel (2007), Adams and Viola Davis in Doubt (2009) and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (2010) and five times, both performers went home empty-handed. (Zeta-Jones was the only one to win.) Can Leo buck those 5-to-1 odds?
Finally, this is the year's strongest acting category by far. Bonham Carter, who plays the stammering King's stalwart wife, last week won the BAFTA award, the British equivalent of an Oscar. (Then again, for the Brits, bestowing a slew of prizes on their homegrown hit was a sacred duty for Queen and country.) In the Australian Animal Kingdom, Weaver is a toxic tornado of a crime-family matriarch one of those dominant, out-of-nowhere turns the Academy loves. And Steinfeld, just 13 when she starred as True Grit's straight-shootin', ornate-talkin' Mattie Ross, was the most impressive and endearing presence in the biggest hit among the films that snagged acting nominations. If Leo doesn't win, Steinfeld could.
Those are all the arguments against the front runner. But Leo is impressive and crazily entertaining in the movie, for which she won the Screen Actors Guild award. To her peers, she is an example of talent and tenacity: plugging away artfully at her craft for more than a quarter-century, deserving of any awards that come her way. So I'm sticking with her.