Best Supporting Actress, 2003
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Shohreh Aghdashloo
House of Sand and Fog


Even though Aghdashloo wasn't even invited to the Globes or to SAG, Oscar voters sometimes need a little time to find their way to a quietly great performance. Juliette Binoche connected with voters in '96 when all eyes had been on Lauren Bacall's drag act. Marcia Gay Harden scored one for serious acting in '00, when all the predictions favored silly Kate Hudson. Aghdashloo is elegant, quiet, and impeccably sad, and like Harden, she has the New York Film Critics on her side.

Then again, sometimes Oscar sinks his teeth into the same hambone that other voting bodies have been unnutritiously gnawing for months. Joan Allen was a fascinating, quivering, disappointed wife in '95, but Mira Sorvino still won for some vivid Betty Booping. Angelina Jolie's dilated pupils and fright wig somehow convinced AMPAS she was a better actress than Collette, Keener, Morton, and Sevigny. Guess there's no accounting for taste.
Patricia Clarkson
Pieces of April

A sterling character actress who's getting cast right and left these days, as well she might, since she significantly elevates every project she works on, even the ones that were already sailing straight before she got on board.
Capable as she might be, Clarkson can't change the fact that Pieces of April is a tiny little flick on ugly digital video and that it's frankly, well, awful. Clarkson's too brainy to be an ingenue and too well-known to be a shocker: the only types of winners this category tends to produce.
Marcia Gay Harden
Mystic River

With six nominations, all of them in tippy-top categories, Mystic River is clearly the best-liked of the five films in contention here, and Harden's scenes are certainly memorable (particularly that climax at the parade).
Harden already won in 2000, through the same combo that might favor Aghdashloo this year. But she isn't enough of a Name to win twice, especially in short succession and with no precursor support.
Holly Hunter

Oscar's a sucker for season pros and old favorites, and though Hunter isn't "old" - if anything, she seems preternaturally young in Thirteen - she's got quite a pedigree. And voters are quite impressed when an actor lends a producing hand to a project she cares about.
Hunter's been buzzed about through much of the awards season, but she hasn't won a thing, and Thirteen doesn't have enough friends. She's the longest shot in a race that only really has two viable winners.
Renée Zellweger
Cold Mountain

She's universally heralded as the front-runner. After a surprise nod for Bridget Jones's Diary in '01, and a near-win last year for Chicago, it's clear that voters like Renée, and they may well feel like gifting her something at long last - something to go with the third Golden Globe she just took home for this performance. Voters who think Holly Hunter is yesterday's news and who haven't heard of anyone else know exactly who Zellweger is, and most of them like her. She's universally heralded as the front-runner. Supporting Actress has a longer history of upsets than any of the other acting races: Hudson, Bacall, Ryder, Davis, Roberts, and Weaver all showed up with speeches, and Harden, Binoche, Paquin, Tomei, Fricker, and Davis all left with statuettes. Doesn't the time seem ripe for another coup? And - not to let personal bias get in the way - isn't Zellweger's crude, showy, totally unsupportive performance exactly the kind of frontrunner that deserves toppling?

WHO WILL WIN: Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog
I am the only person saying this. I doubt I'm even right, and I'm sure that my personal resistance to the idea of a Zellweger win is playing a large role here. But Aghdashloo also has the makings of an Oscar success story, and since all kinds of expatriate unknowns have been embraced here (Katina Paxinou, Miyoshi Umeki, Lila Kedrova), it sure wouldn't be the first time.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Holly Hunter, Thirteen
I've been one of this actress' biggest fans forever, but I still expected to like-not-love her work in Thirteen. But once again, she's a force unto herself, pulling off the most miraculous achievement a supporting actor can attempt: saving the entire movie and never once looking like she's doing it. Plenty of scenes seem to work just fine on their own merits, as do the fiery performances of Hunter's young costars. It may only be later, after the lights are up or the tape is rewinding, that Hunter's fierce control and well-managed generosity lent Thirteen the semblance of depth and restraint it badly needed.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: I wonder if anyone in Hollywood saw The Magdalene Sisters. Peter Mullan's wrenching drama made some waves this summer when it bowed, but there was nary a whisper about it during any of the critics' voting sessions. If the film had been released later, I suspect that Geraldine McEwan's arch villainess or Eileen Walsh's cracked martyr might have made some waves here. By contrast, Girl with a Pearl Earring was groomed and released perfectly for Oscar consideration, but Essie Davis, inimitable and unforgettable as Vermeer's jealous, mewling wife, was never the studio's trumpeted cause. She certainly deserved to be.

Home 2003 the Oscars E-Mail