Anne Hathaway is the favorite to win Best Supporting Actress as Fantine in Les Miserables, and that’s just wrong for three reasons. First, she gave a much richer performance as the sly Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises. Second, she’s not even the best supporting performance in Les Miz—that honor goes to Samantha Barks, who’s more nuanced as Éponine—but of course, Éponine always gets overlooked. I think Anne Hathaway is a great actress, but this is the worst performance in this category. It’s a sad puppy act pitched at shrieking full volume, while ripping off Sinead O’Connor and Falconetti’s Joan of Arc. This performance doesn’t just beg for an Oscar, it grovels for it.
Sally Field has won two Oscars, and she’s nominated again as Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln, playing an unstrung, emotional foil to the constantly composed president. Field brings an intelligence and dignity that gives an edge to her character’s moments of hysteria. She’s able to convey a mind that’s alert and articulate even when it spins in sadness.
Jackie Weaver is the surprise nominee for Silver Linings Playbook as a mother trying to deal with her son’s bipolar disorder. She has only a handful of lines, mostly appearing in cutaway reaction shots; it’s practically a silent movie-type performance, and not a bad one at that. Expressive even in her silence, she’s a graceful, accepting presence amidst a cast of crazies.
Amy Adams has roughly 20 minutes of screen time in The Master, and boy does she make the most of it. She gives a hand job, turns her eyes black and gives the stare of death while naked and pregnant. Her unnerving intensity casts a spectre over The Master—it’s a pity that she wasn’t utilized more. She practically deserves her own movie.
Another character who deserves her own movie is Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt in The Sessions. Hunt has nearly twice as much screen time as any of the other nominees, which may give her an unfair advantage. But this is the most full-bodied performance of the five. Not just because Hunt appears fully nude, but because she conveys a generosity that gives the film intimacy, as well as intrigue. Hunt’s character helps a disabled man experience the joy of sex. Her confident voice and reassuring gestures make a bizarre situation seem perfectly normal. And just like her character, Hunt manages to give so much of herself while not giving herself away. It’s a performance within a performance, one that explores the personal boundaries of a very unique profession, whether it be sex therapy or screen acting.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter @alsolikelife