In November, it seemed a dead certainty that Cate Blanchett’s interpretation of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s insufferably academic I’m Not There would be the sort of stunt that the critics’ awards wouldn’t be able to ignore. (The stunt being not so much that she was a woman playing a man, but rather that she played said man more femininely than she did Katherine Hepburn.) By the end of December, Amy Ryan’s performance as an unapologetically dumpy, arrogantly stupid but still aggrieved mother in Gone Baby Gone had made a near clean sweep. A few of the late-season awards finally broke Blanchett’s way (as happened with the National Society of Film Critics), but the damage was done and Ryan is clearly the one to beat. It certainly helps that she’s competing against a lot of other nasty girls. (Ruby Dee may be the only one that generates honest goodwill with a titanic slap worthy of the category’s “season vet” slot.) But Tilda Swinton’s pallid, clammy executive in over her head is more than matched by Saoirse Ronan, who (spoiler alert!) is the category’s most hateable character in a walk for being the author of Atonement itself (and even the film’s fans would have to admit that it’s Vanessa Redgrave, playing the older version of Ronan, who nets all the sympathy points). If anyone’s capable of crashing this line-up, it’s probably Catherine Keener in Into the Wild, slightly more animated than she was in Capote, but just as blandly good-hearted. It’s either her or King of Kong’s long-locked Billy Mitchell, if some voters mistake his supreme bitchery for him having an actual vagina.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.