Of all the acting categories, the Best Supporting Actress one has always been the most receptive to surprise winners. The Academy is more generous in conferring nominations to newcomers, very young or very old actors and atypical performances in the supporting categories, especially among the female players, and consequently the likelihood of an upset is bigger here than in any other accolade.
The biggest surprises in the acting awards in the last decades have always occurred among the supporting female thesps: Marcia Gay Harden over Kate Hudson in 2000, Anna Paquin over Winona Ryder in 1993, Juliette Binoche over Lauren Bacall in 1996 and, most notably, Marisa Tomei over everybody else in 1992, in which arguably is the biggest upset in any acting category in Oscar history.
There will be no surprise this year, though. Mo’Nique has won virtually every pre-Oscar trophy so far, and deservedly so. Her performance started to generate Oscar buzz since the film was presented back in January 2009 at Sundance, where she received a Special Jury Award for acting, and it hasn’t lost any steam in the meantime.
Precious is an uneven film, unworthy of the general praise it has gathered from public and mainstream critic alike, but it features a flawless cast of players that deliver top performances in each and every role.
Newcomer Gabby Sibide is restricted in her portrayal of Precious by a kind of facial rigidity dictated by her physical uniqueness that she overcomes thanks to a wonderfully restrained performance modulated exclusively by her look. By doing so she manages to strike that difficult balance with almost the same graciousness with which she encounters her usually famished fellow actresses in every red carpet she steps on.
Sibide is surrounded by a perfect-pitch group of supporting players, including Maria Carey in a genuinely sincere performance and a bunch of young actors that, as Precious’ classmates in the alternative school, give impressive naturalistic performances, with Xosha Roquemore a delight to watch as the talkative Jo Ann.
This is, however, Mo’Nique’s film, and she steals not only every scene she’s in, but all the rest as well. As Precious’ evil mother, she takes a cartoon-like character and turns it into a flesh and blood monstrosity. She is at her most impressive at the scene where the social worker visits their home and she holds her daughter’s child, who has Down’s syndrome, and she pretends to be a selfless, self-sacrificing grandmother. She talks and acts as if she were so, but you can discern the monster behind the mask with a horrifying clarity. For someone who comes into Oscar territory from stand-up comedy (i.e. nowhere), this is a truly revelatory performance that can on its own raise the profile of a tiny film up to stratospheric heights, an indelible turn that will remain edged in the memory of anyone watching the picture.
Her victory on Sunday is a lock none of the other actresses can challenge. The girls from Up in the Air, perfectly fine in their roles, have the handicap of the double nomination from the same movie, Penelope Cruz has received her nod as a confirmation of her Hollywood star status, and will undoubtedly bring out her glamour to the red carpet, while Maggie Gyllenhaal can be happy to have grabbed a nomination she probably didn’t expect.
WILL WIN: Mo’nique
SHOULD WIN: Mo’nique
POSSIBLE UPSET: Anna Kendrick, but a very long shot (and I prefer Farmiga)