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For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses

For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses

During the past week there have definitely been a few developments or so in the awards race that are worthy of mention, from the debates surrounding “The Social Network”‘s front-runner status to suggestions that “Secretariat” might be “this year’s ‘Blind Side'” to The New York Timesquestionable suggestion that “Toy Story 3” might be the real film everyone should be looking out for. But these debates aren’t going anywhere, or if they are, it’s because they’re insignificant to begin with. So instead of dipping into the already repetitive waters of October Oscar talk, this column will take the next two weeks as an opportunity to discuss a few names that aren’t getting much talk ’round Oscar blog way (though here’s the weekly prediction chart to supplement that). Mainly because they aren’t likely to end up garnering nominations. But it’s certainly not impossible.

Seemingly every year, a few actors from small films manage to sneak into the Oscar race at the last minute. Recently there’s been the likes of Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger,” Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor,” Melissa Leo in “Frozen River,” Laura Linney in “The Savages,” and Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson,” just to name a few. So in keeping with indieWIRE‘s indie spirit, it seemed appropriate to make arguments for twenty performances that deserve to be the next Harrelson or Jenkins or Leo or Linney. The ladies come first this week, the gentleman next.

Commentators should keep in mind that the list purposely does not include work that is looking like a good bet for a nomination, even if it’s from an indie film (including Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” Leslie Manville in “Another Year,” Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine,” and the leads of “The Kids Are All Right”), and that it only includes films currently scheduled to be released during the 2010 eligibility period (thus excluding Juliette Binoche in “Certified Copy” or Williams again, this time for “Meek’s Cutoff”). Keeping that in mind, here are ten underdog actresses for your consideration:

Dale Dickey in “Winter’s Bone” (best supporting actress)
As noted, “Winter’s Bone” breakout lead Jennifer Lawrence seems like a reasonable bet in the lead actress category at this point. But Lawrence has a co-star that might need a bit of a boost. Dale Dickey has a name that’s unlikely to ring a bell but a face most are likely to recognize, from her character work in films like Sean Penn’s “The Pledge” to countless guest roles on TV shows ranging from “The X-Files” to “Gilmore Girls” to “Breaking Bad.” In this year’s little-indie-that-could, Sundance winner “Winter’s Bone,” she owns every second of screen time she has as Merab – the raw, somewhat frightening woman who continuously complicates Ree’s (Lawrence) quest to find her father. Dickey gives so many levels to what could have easily been a one-note character, and thus gives audiences even more to chew on in “Bone.”

Ann Guilbert in “Please Give” (best supporting actress)
There are many performances in Nicole Holofcener’s smart, affecting “Please Give” that deserve notices from Catherine Keener to Amanda Peet to Rebecca Hall. And as a whole, the cast should definitely be considering for the “ensemble” awards critics groups and SAG hand out. But the film’s heart belongs to 82-year old veteran actress Ann Morgan Guilbert, who steals every scene she’s in as the miserable, unintentionally hilarious grandmother of Peet and Hall’s characters. Guilbert’s career extends way back to the 1960s when she played Millie Helper on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but she’s yet to get an entry in the awards section of her iMDb page. Even if it’s not necessary Oscar (which is extremely unlikely at this point), it’d be nice for “Please” to give her one.

Katie Jarvis and Kierston Wareing in “Fish Tank” (best actress and best supporting actress)
Equally fantastic as a troubled teen and her boozy single mother in working class England, Jarvis (in her debut role) and Wareing (Ken Loach’s “It’s a Free World”) will surely and sadly go unnoticed come Oscar time for “Fish Tank,” which came out very early this year and already drew some awards buzz in its native UK last awards season (it was released earlier there). Director Andrea Arnold managed to get remarkably naturalistic performances out of both actresses (perhaps in part due to her unique and dedicated approach to filmmaking), and even if that doesn’t result in golden notices, it should definitely be required home viewing for anyone that hasn’t seen it (the film is out on DVD now).

Brigit Minichmayr in “Everyone Else” (best actress)
Perhaps the very least likely of all of these actresses to gain much awards traction, Germany’s Brigit Minichmayr still gives one of the year’s finest performances in Maren Ade’s “Everyone Else,” which had a tiny release this past Spring. The film centers around Gitti (Minichmayer) and Chris (Lars Eidinger), a seemingly happy couple whose relationship begins to implode while on a Mediterranean vacation. After small roles in high-profile films like Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” “Everyone Else” gives Minichmayer a chance to show she’s a force to be reckoned with on the international film scene, pouring herself into Gitti’s Mediterranean meltdown. Check out this profile on the actress from earlier this year to learn more.

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Tilda Swinton in a scene from Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love.” Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Chloe Moretz in “Let Me In” (best actress)
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises on the fall festival circuit has been Matt Reeves’ remake to Swedish vampire film “Let The Right One In.” It’s a rarity that an Americanized version of a well-received foreign film goes over this well, and it’s in large part due to soulful, haunting work by Chloe Moretz (also great in “Kick Ass” earlier this year), as Abby, a 12-year old vampire who refuses to pass on the curse to her new friend Owen (an equally affecting Kodi Smit-McPhee). Had “Let Me In” turned into a financial success story (it unfortunately tanked when it opened last weekend), Moretz might have had something of a shot, though even that’s very unlikely considering how stacked the best actress category is. One hope are the “breakthrough performance” awards the critics hand out, as long as Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t dominate every single one.

Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love” (best actress)
A fixture on last year’s version of this list for her fantastic work in Erick Zonca’s “Julia,” the incomparable Ms. Swinton continued to prove she can do pretty much anything in Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love.” A surprise summer box office success story (at least by foreign film terms), Swinton learned how to speak Italian (in a Russian accent, no less) for her role as a Russian émigré who married into wealthy Milanese family and feels repression in her post-empty nest existence. Her work is pitch-perfect and carries a film that in itself deserves serious recognition, though was regrettably overlooked as Italy’s foreign film submission last week. Here’s to a nod for Swinton to make up for it.

Mia Wasikowska in “The Kids Are All Right” (best supporting actress)
Her more established co-stars might be getting significant Oscar buzz, but Mia Wasikowska deserves some of her own for her work in summer hit “The Kids Are All Right.” Clearly holding her own alongside said co-stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, Wasikowska arguably provides “Kids” with its emotional center in a quiet, moving performance as the college-bound daughter forging a relationship her biological father. Oscar will likely have multiple opportunities in the future to honor the 21-year old actresses work, including her 2011 roles as a terminally ill teenage girl Gus Van Sant’s “Restless,” and as Jane Eyre in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic – but she deserves notice here first.

Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom” (best supporting actress)
Sony Pictures Classics has already started a unique campaign for veteran Australian actress Jacki Weaver’s work in David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom,” which terrified Sundance audiences earlier this year and then did the same when “Kingdom” came to America in August. Playing the matriarch of a crumbling Melbourne crime family, Weaver’s Janine “Smurf” Cody is definitely one of the year’s most memorable villains. And with a fairly weak supporting actress category this year, perhaps she’s also the best bet of these ten actresses to make Oscar’s final cut. If not, the sweeties in the Academy will have indeed done some bad things.

Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer (best supporting actress)
In a role originally intended for the aforementioned Tilda Swinton, Olivia Williams does some of the best work of her often overlooked career in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” (itself a worthy underdog in this year’s awards season). Playing Ruth, the wife of a former British Prime Minister in the midst of considerable scandal, Williams gives us a character as complex and challenging as “Writer”‘s twisty script or its masterful direction. Hopefully Academy voters can think back to February (when “Writer” was released to warm reviews and very respectable box office) and honor it.

For Your Consideration is a weekly column by indieWIRE’s Associate Editor and awards guru, Peter Knegt. Follow him on Twitter and check out his weekly Oscar prediction chart

Previous editions of this column:
For Your Consideration: Save For “Love” Snub, Foreign Language Submissions Uncontroversial
For Your Consideration: Post-Toronto Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Should Say About Awards Season
For Your Consideration: Assessing Oscar In The Calm Before The Storm

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