Best Supporting Actress, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)


Nominee
Kathy Bates
About Schmidt


7:1
Pluses

Scored a couple of critics' prizes, like the National Board of Review award, and has been a near-constant entry on everyone's ballot since award season began. That nude scene in the bathtub is one of those scenes by which an actor is perennially remembered, and Bates—the original choice to play Queen Latifah's role in Chicago—could hardly be better-regarded by her peers.
Minuses

The Oscar momentum of About Schmidt has collapsed even more suddenly and spectacularly than did that of Far from Heaven: projected nominations for Picture and Screenplay didn't happen, and nobody involved has won anything for weeks, including Nicholson's and Bates' losses among the Screen Actors Guild. With one Oscar already to her name, in a field of exciting newcomers and living legends, Bates will sit this one out. (Girl, I'd get back in that hot tub and take it easy!)
Queen Latifah
Chicago


12:1
After a string of would-be breakthroughs that didn't perform (Sphere, Set It Off, Living Out Loud), the handsome commercial bow of Bringing Down the House confirms that the Queen is going places. For a role that, in Marshall's version, is essentially a grand entrance with nowhere to go, Latifah has retained a surprising amount of admiration and good will.
Given those qualifications, though, the nomination seems like more than enough reward, especially with Zeta-Jones' larger, more substantial turn in the same movie competing in the same race (and scoring this prize at SAG). Hoping for another African-American acting prize after last year's double payload is doubtless too much to hope for.
Julianne Moore
The Hours


4:1
Moore's performance in The Hours is no more a supporting performance than Kidman's or Streep's, but her placement in this derby is clearly tactical: admirers of her work in Far from Heaven, or of her entire body of work, can vote her an overdue Oscar here without getting in the way of Kidman or Zellweger up north in the Best Actress race. After four nominations and a universally admired gift for passing between the worlds of art and commerce, Moore deserves something.
The compensatory flavor of this nomination feels a little too obvious: few people seemed too wild about Moore's work in The Hours until its utility value as a means of indirect reward became obvious, well into awards season. I suspect that Moore's fans will go ahead and check her box in the Actress race anyway, especially since this field is no less crowded than the other with deserving competitors. Nor should we assume that 2002 is the last chance Moore will have to win an Oscar; voters may be happy to wait.
Meryl Streep
Adaptation


5:2
Meryl Streep is no dope. It can hardly be doubted she knew what she was doing when, after winning this year's Golden Globe, she jokingly reminded the audience of how long it's been since she won anything. Having earned a record-breaking 13th nomination for this performance, and narrowly missed a 14th as Moore's co-star in The Hours, it has suddenly become fashionable not to take this actress for granted. And her cheeky, spontaneous performance proves that we shouldn't.
Still, the woman has won twice, and Adaptation has not been as widely embraced as the films for which Zeta-Jones, Latifah, and Moore are competing here. Streep's is a weird performance of an even weirder part, which may unsettle the typically conservative voters a little too much—from Sophie Zawistowska to this in 20 years?
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Chicago


3:1
Recent wins at the BAFTAs and the SAG awards augur well for this performer, who showed new, impressive sides of a talent that was quickly getting lost under celebrity photo spreads and throwaway thrillers and comedies. Zeta-Jones is the consensus pick as Chicago's most gifted singer and dancer, and she has been publicly generous about the trimming-down of her part in the transfer to the screen. After denying her an expected nomination for Traffic in 2000, some voters may look fondly on her. Streep was not a competitor when Zeta-Jones won at SAG. But more than that, I just have a lingering feeling that lots of people do not look fondly on Catherine Zeta-Jones. Her reputation as a diva and a prima donna may just be a media concoction, but missing the Traffic nod and losing the Golden Globe to Zellweger both struck me as reactions to her icy, ambitious persona. Then again, Angelina Jolie won an Oscar recently, so Hollywood is clearly capable of honoring people whose private lives and personalities are, at least, divisive.

WHO WILL WIN: Meryl Streep, Adaptation
Loads of people will disagree with me on this one—Zeta-Jones is in the front-running film, in a showcase part, winning all kinds of prizes that double as prognostications. But, Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep, the woman whose unsurpassed reputation among her peers gets her nominated for things like Music of the Heart, and whose triumphant turn in a youth-skewing comedy like Adaptation is as revelatory as what Zeta-Jones does in Chicago. I'm going with Streep: Zeta-Jones has the buzz, but Streep has the Force.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Meryl Streep, Adaptation
Perhaps my admiration for the performance is a bias in making the prediction on its behalf. But Streep, dazzling comedienne that she is, is also the stillest thing in Adaptation; it is her poised sincerity as Susan Orlean wonders about the meaning of her life that does more than anything in Adaptation to make this egghead movie feel like a work from the heart. Moore's stillness is just as peculiar and hypnotic, but is not as perfectly showcased in The Hours as Streep's is here—nor is Moore challenged to take herself from introspection to psychedelica in a matter of seconds.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Over and over, I read that 2002 was a great year for supporting actresses. I'm not sure I ever understood what the fuss was all about. There was a lot of more than respectable work out there (Pfeiffer in White Oleander, Clarkson in Far from Heaven, Alison Garland and Ruth Sheen in All or Nothing), but precious few performances with which to fall in love. The ones that came closest were from unknown or underestimated quantities—Lili Kosashvili's quiet complexities in Late Marriage, Kim Staunton's righteous anger in Changing Lanes, Connie Ray's humble sensitivity in About Schmidt, and Christina Applegate's insouciant crudities in The Sweetest Thing. Do these feel like Oscar contenders? I wouldn't say no, but I would say not necessarily.



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