The Lock: Mo'Nique (pictured, above right) is the one sure thing in this category; the comedian's surprisingly powerful and terrifying performance as an abusive mom in 'Precious' has had a nomination sewn up since the movie premiered at Sundance last winter ... If you want to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year, it helps to be in one of three movies: 'Precious,' 'Up in the Air' and 'Nine.' This is one of 2009's most competitive races, and multiple actresses from each of these movies will be fighting their costars as well as actresses from other films to win one of the five coveted slots at the Golden Globes or the Oscars.
The Lock: Mo'Nique (pictured, above right) is the one sure thing in this category; the comedian's surprisingly powerful and terrifying performance as an abusive mom in 'Precious' has had a nomination sewn up since the movie premiered at Sundance last winter, just as her costar Gabourey Sidibe has had a lock on a Best Actress nod as the troubled teen of the title.
The Hopefuls: Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick both give such strong performances in 'Up in the Air,' as the two women in frequent-flyer George Clooney's life, that not even distributor Paramount could choose between them; it's giving them both a prominent push in the Best Supporting Actress campaign. (As a respected veteran actress, 'The Departed''s Farmiga may have a slight edge with Globes and Oscar voters over relative newbie Kendrick, though Kendrick's victory in the National Board of Review slate makes them about even.)
Then there's 'Nine,' featuring a bevy of former Oscar winners and nominees in supporting roles as the women who surround movie director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis). The ones who have the best shot at a Supporting Actress prize are Penélope Cruz (as his flamboyant mistress) and Judi Dench (as his wise costume designer). Dench may have an edge, since voters may prefer to honor Cruz for her leading role in 'Broken Embraces.'
Finally, there's longtime Oscar bridesmaid Julianne Moore (pictured, left), as the confidant of bereaved Colin Firth in 'A Single Man.' She was thought to be a shoo-in, but her failure to be nominated for a Spirit Award this week dims her chances a bit.
Long Shots: Believe it or not, we may someday soon be saying the phrase "Oscar-winning actress Mariah Carey." Her de-glammed turn as a social worker in 'Precious (pictured, below right) is not only making viewers forget 'Glitter,' it's also making awards voters take notice. If there's still room for a 'Precious' performance alongside Mo'Nique's slot, Carey is likely to get it. (And if voters are truly paying close attention to 'Precious' -- and they are --- they may even find room to honor Paula Patton's subtle work as a caring teacher.)
Others who have made enough of an impact to have at least a slim chance at a nomination: Mélanie Laurent, as 'Inglourious Basterds'' vengeful theater owner; previous nominee Samantha Morton as a war widow in 'The Messenger'; Rosamund Pike, as the sophisticate who makes over the teenage heroine in 'An Education,' and gun moll Marion Cotillard in 'Public Enemies' (though the recent Oscar winner has a much better shot at a Best Actress nod for playing Guido's wife in 'Nine').
Too Soon to Tell: Kate Hudson (pictured, below left) hasn't been an Oscar prospect for a decade, since 'Almost Famous,' but even she has a shot at glory as a young journalist in 'Nine.' She hasn't received the buzz of her costars, and while she displayed previously unseen singing and dancing talents in the trailer the Weinstein Company built around her performance, it's not clear yet whether that performance will live up to the preview.
Similarly, all the buzz around late entry 'Crazy Heart' has focused on leading man Jeff Bridges; none so far on costar Maggie Gyllenhaal, but her pedigree alone means she merits consideration. Same with some other actresses, all previous nominees or winners, whose performances almost no one has seen yet, namely, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon in 'The Lovely Bones' and Sigourney Weaver in 'Avatar.'
Don't Forget: Here are some worthy but little-seen performances that awards voters should take care not to miss: Dina Korzun, as a sexy black marketeer in 'Cold Souls'; Natalie Press, as a spy's unwitting girlfriend in 'Fifty Dead Men Walking'; Mia Wasikowska, as a rural Southern teen in 'That Evening Sun'; Emily Blunt, as a crime-scene janitor in 'Sunshine Cleaning'; and Mozhan Marnò, as the doomed title character in 'The Stoning of Soraya M.' The first three are all Spirit nominees, so maybe Globes and Oscar voters will take notice.