The Supporting categories are always the most competitive given that anyone can be campaigned for support, whether onscreen the whole film or just 8 minutes (Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love). The Academy, however, is wise to category fraud: while Kate Winslet racked up wins last year as Supporting Actress for The Reader, Academy voters saw, rightly, to nominate her in Lead (*seen)
PENELOPE CRUZ – NINE*
Early word on Rob Marshall's musical suggests Cotillard and Cruz get the best of it, and Cotillard's going Lead. Winning last year, however, may put Cruz at a disadvantage.
VERA FARMIGA – UP IN THE AIR*
Farmiga glows opposite Clooney and holds her own. I'd compare hers to Virginia Madsen's performance in Sideways, only with less heft to it. But if the film racks up nominations as expected, Farmiga could enjoy the spoils.
MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL – CRAZY HEART
Apart from being Jake's sister, Maggie is a fine actress better known for her roles in smaller films, with the occasional foray into blockbusters like The Dark Knight. Here she plays a journalist who invites her subject (Jeff Bridges' country singer) to live with her and her young son.
ANNA KENDRICK – UP IN THE AIR*
It's not uncommon for two actors from the one film to be nominated in the same category (Amy Adams and Viola Davis for Doubt most recently) but there is a chance it can split their vote. Kendrick has the advantage of having the better written role and has won the first two critics' awards (NBR and Washington) of the season.
MELANIE LAURENT – INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS*
As the sole survivor of a massacred family who swears revenge on the Nazis responsible, Laurent's performance is impressive - steely determination and vulnerability combined - and no less so for being mostly in French.
MO'NIQUE – PRECIOUS*
Most pundits have Mo'Nique as the odds-on favourite in this category. The actress better known as a comedian certainly goes all out to transform herself into an abusive mother but her refusal to do publicity for the film won't help her cause.
JULIANNE MOORE – A SINGLE MAN*
One of those actors who really should have an Oscar by now, Moore is 0-4 in nominations, two of those coming in 2002 (Far From Heaven and The Hours). This is a showy performance with about only 20 minutes screen time but Oscars have been won with less.
SAMANTHA MORTON – THE MESSENGER
A two-time nominee, Morton is a fearless actress. Here she plays an Iraq war widow who develops a relationship with the soldiers who deliver the terrible news.