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Can Amy Adams really pull off an upset at the Oscars?

February 10, 2009 |  3:02 pm

When Tariq Khan makes a bold Oscar prediction, take heed. He's one of the savviest Oscarologists I know and this year he's going where no other guru dares: out onto a thin, shaky limb for Amy Adams ("Doubt") for supporting actress. Interesting call! That category, after all, is where most Oscar upsets happen.

Tariq has one of the best Oscar prediction rates every year. Check out the forecasts he made last year for Fox News — he scored 100%. Earlier this derby season he was one of the first pundits warning us that Kate Winslet might be nommed for "The Reader" instead of "Revolutionary Road."

Below, Tariq makes his argument for Amy Adams, building his Oscar case carefully by citing past award trends and issues at play this year. I dare to disagree with him, though. I think the two points he's not giving enough due are the Babe Factor and the fact that, while, yes, Amy Adams has the most screen time, she doesn't have the big impact scene emotionally that, say, her costar Viola Davis has or even front-runner Penelope Cruz. The Babe Factor boosts Cruz hugely, I think, and it's a trump card that shouldn't be downplayed. Over the last two decades the largely male academy has turned the lead and supporting actress winners' circles into a beauty pageant.

But Tariq has proved me wrong often in the past. Just for Gold Derby readers, he's written out his case below.


I know that most pundits seem to think that Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is ahead in the supporting actress race. However, I am going to make a bold prediction: Penelope Cruz will lose to Amy Adams in "Doubt."

I'll admit that I'm not certain about this, the way I felt certain last year that Julie Christie in "Away From Her" would lose to Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose." Still, there are some key historical voting patterns that suggest an upset victory by Adams over Cruz may be likely. Allow me to explain.

An Oscars upset usually happens when two factors are in place: support for the presumed front-runner is softer than people realize and support for another nominee is stronger than people realize.

First, let's take a look at reasons why support for Cruz may be weaker than we think it is.

1.) She lost both the Golden Globe and SAG Awards. True, she lost to Kate Winslet in "The Reader," who isn't competing in this category at the Oscars. But how can one really be a front-runner without winning at least one of the two awards? In the previous 14 years (since the inception of the SAG awards), only nine out 56 nominees have won an acting Oscar without a Globe or SAG win. They are Kevin Spacey in "The Usual Suspects," Juliette Binoche in "The English Patient," James Coburn in "Affliction," Russell Crowe in "Gladiator," Marcia Gay Harden in "Pollock," Denzel Washington in "Training Day," Adrien Brody in "The Pianist," Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine" and Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton." That's a 16% Oscar success race for those with neither a Globe nor SAG victory. It's true that the other four supporting actress nominees this year face the same odds -– but they're the same odds faced by Cruz.

2.) Her film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," is up for no other awards. Remember the one-nomination wonder factor I used when dismissing the chances of Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" and Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" last year? Well, I'm using it again here. Over the past 15 years, only four actors have won Oscars for films not nominated for any other awards. They are Jessica Lange in "Blue Sky," Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted," Charlize Theron in "Monster," and Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland." That's four out of 60 nominees, just under 7%. And Jolie, Theron and Whitaker were all both Globe and SAG champs, while Globe winner Lange only lost the SAG race to Jodie Foster in "Nell" because no one had seen her long-shelved "Blue Sky." (The film played in just a handful of theaters for about a week.)

3.) She has limited screen time in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The past 15 years, 10 of the supporting actress victors won for roles that could be considered leading or semi-leading (they were part of the central action of their films, though not necessarily the focal points.) I'm talking about Anna Paquin in "The Piano," Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite," Juliette Binoche in "The English Patient," Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted," Marcia Gay Harden in "Pollock," Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind," Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Chicago," Renee Zellweger in "Cold Mountain," Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener," and Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls." The other five that won for true supporting performances were Dianne Wiest in "Bullets Over Broadway," Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential," Judi Dench in "Shakespeare in Love," Cate Blanchett in "The Aviator" and Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton. All but Wiest were in best-picture nominees (and at least her film was nominated for six other awards.) Based on this theory, an actress has just under a 7% chance of winning a supporting Oscar if she has a smaller-sized role in a non-best picture nominee. Cruz clearly falls into this category. (She doesn't even appear until halfway into the movie.)

4.) It's a contemporary comedy. It's not impossible to win for a funny performance, but it's harder –- especially in a contemporary comedy. The ones which have done the trick in recent years (Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine," Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in "As Good As It Gets") have benefited tremendously by being featured in best picture nominees. Never mind the fact that Cruz's one-note performance may strike many as less than Oscar-worthy, regardless of how memorable it is.

5.) Voters may not want to give Harvey Weinstein the satisfaction of two acting wins. With a Kate Winslet win for the Weinstein Company's "The Reader" looking more and more likely, will voters want to give a second acting award to the same studio? Especially if the man behind that studio is Harvey Weinstein?

Now, let's look at reasons why support for another nominee may be stronger than we think it is. When Academy members are considering the five names in the supporting actress category, there's good reason to believe that they may be drawn to Amy Adams.

1.) She has the largest role in this category. As I explained above, size does matter. Adams is the only one in this category with a semi-leading role. She has plenty of dialogue and good dramatic scene work, managing to more than hold her own while acting opposite Meryl Streep for much of the film. Don't think that voters won't take that into account. And while the much talked about brief performance by Viola Davis might have a greater impact, many will feel that it's just too brief to deserve an Oscar. Even veteran Ruby Dee lost for her small role in "American Gangster" last year, despite winning the SAG award just a few weeks earlier. If Dee couldn't win, there's probably no way that Davis can.

2.) "Doubt" is nominated for four acting Oscars. Over the past 15 years, 16 films have earned three or more acting nominations: "Michael Clayton," "Brokeback Mountain," "Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator," "Mystic River," "Chicago," "The Hours," Adaptation," "In the Bedroom," "Iris," "Shakespeare in Love," "As Good As It Gets," "The English Patient," "Pulp Fiction," "Bullets Over Broadway" and "In the Name of the Father." All but four of them  ("Brokeback Mountain," In the Bedroom," "Pulp Fiction" and "In the Name of the Father") won at least one acting Oscar. That breaks down to 75% of films with three three or more acting nominations winning at least one of them. Of those same 16 films, the only one to scored four acting nods was 2002's "Chicago," in exactly the same categories as "Doubt" — best actress, supporting actor and two for supporting actress (which produced a win for Catherine Zeta-Jones). In fact, over the past 40 years, only 11 films have received four or more acting nominations ("Chicago," "Terms of Endearment," "Reds," "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Coming Home," "Julia," "The Turning Point," "Network," "The Godfather Part II," "The Godfather" and "The Last Picture Show"). Except for "The Turning Point," they all won at least one acting trophy. That breaks down to an astonishing 91% of all films with four or more acting nods winning at least one of them. That bodes extremely well for "Doubt." With Meryl Streep expected to lose to Kate Winslet and Philip Seymour Hoffman getting clobbered by Heath Ledger, the supporting actress race is all that's left. Adams has far more screen time (not to mention name recognition) than her co-star Viola Davis. A win by Adams over Davis would be similar to the win by Catherine Zeta-Jones over Queen Latifah for "Chicago."

3.) She's the rare actress who can do art house and pack the house. She was a virtual unknown when nominated in this category for 2005's "Junebug." She then proved her box office draw with the 2007 smash "Enchanted." This summer's "Night at the Museum" sequel, in which she plays Amelia Earhart, has the smell of another blockbuster. She'll then appear opposite Meryl Streep again in "Julie and Julia." Talent, beauty and box office –- how can Oscar voters not find themselves tempted?

4.) She de-glams for the role. True, it's not as dramatic as Charlize Theron in "Monster" or Nicole Kidman in "The Hours." But going from Princess Giselle to Sister James follows the example of many a beautiful actress who hid her looks for a juicy role, and later earned awards recognition.

5.) She's the girl next door. Tom O'Neil has often talked about the Oscar "huggability" factor –- how Academy members vote for the person they most want to hug. How could that not be in Adams in this category? She's incredibly likable, attractive to men without being threatening to women.

Again, I don't think that Adams is a slam dunk by any means. Cruz could still prevail, as could Viola Davis or Marisa Tomei. But if Adams does become the latest in a long-history of supporting actress surprises this month, you won't have to ask why.

Photo: Miramax


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The comments to this entry are closed.


There is always an upset and this one has the makings of it. I guess we'll find out.

she reminds me of a young version of Nichole Kitman

Too bad it went to Penelope Cruz. I enjoy Amy's movies much more than Penelope's. Oh yeah...we're on a first name basis :)

I cannot believe Kate Winslet in The Reader got any attention whatsoever. That was a horrible movie.

Number one is stupid. Did he forget that all those women lost to Kate Winslet, and Amy Adams wasn't even nominated.

Anyone but The Reader. I did not think it was that great of a movie.

There are a billion reasons for and against every nominee. Tariq forgets that Penelope Cruz is a former Lead Actress nominee, something none of her peers (even returning Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams) can attest to. When it comes to name recognition and being a veteran who has paid her dues and is overdue, no one else can touch Cruz. They'll think Adams can win another year for a meatier role.

Adams was great, better than Davis imo. But just the fact that you'll have a bunch of people voting for Cruz and then a bunch of Doubt fans goes to show the Doubt actresses will probably cancel each other out - the one who is more commercial, a previous nominee, and in the film longer up against the one who is simply more compelling and has been more widely recognized this season.

Then you have Tomei and Henson. I don't think voters loved The Wrestler that much. Rourke will be very lucky if he pulls off a win in the lead category, even though he totally deserves it, more than Penn. Rourke and Tomei aren't both going to win (shades of Dreamgirls - they didn't both win when the film wasn't Best Pic-nominated). And Tomei isn't going to win without the powerhouse Rourke winning. She wasn't even nominated by SAG (important!) and has already won once for a slight performance.

Henson could be a true upset, in that, like Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton last year, she is in a popular Best Picture nominee without so many opportunities for wins, ironic considering its 13 nominations.

Henson is less a veteran than Swinton, though, and more a breakthrough. It's totally possible, but given the simplicity of the performance and her newcomer, 'lucky to be nominated status,' even Adams should have a better shot than her.

Cruz wins even though Woody wasn't nominated. Why? The Original Screenplay category is very weird this year - only 1 WGA nominee made it to the Oscars. The writers vote on the nominees, but everyone in the Academy has seen her movie and remembered her well.

And not winning either a GG or SAG - it's completely bogus when you factor the Kate Winslet category fraud into the equation. None of Cruz's rivals have won either of those awards either!

can't the Academy for the first time hand out awards to REAL acting and not just media hypes? Meryl Streep is a great actress of our generation and she should be given an OScar and not just mere nominations. It's really neglecting the real actors.

I think that taraji p henson will win, she represents the most nominated film and gives the best performance.... Tomei already has her Oscar, it's like they gave her a Pre Oscar instead of a Make Up Oscar. If Cruz does win, it will be her Make Up Oscar.

I have seen all of the performances in the Best Supporting Actress category and I would have to say that Amy Adams pulled off a very difficult role with such aplomb that it is very possible she could win the Oscar. Funny how so many people speak about Ms. Davis and how she was mesmerizing and transfixing and memorable. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Davis but Amy Adams lingered more in my head long after the film's final frame. She totally burned a scene in my memory, something that really resounded so powerfully that it is impossible to shake: The way she had to swallow back the discarded piece of dinner after being tossed a disapproving look by Streep's character. This was the scene that clenched it for her. Forget Davis's walk with Streep.

hey, jack stark. peace bro. i just corrected taraji's surname spelling. its henson not hensen.

I think Tariq has made many good points and I even doubt whether cruz will really win or not. However, I am still going ot pick her becuase she did get the majority of critics rewards and she has not won an oscar yet.

PENELOPE CRUZ DOESN'T DESERVE TO WIN AN OSCAR! Viola, Amy, Taraji and Marisa deserve it more. I hope she doesn't win. Please, academy voters, DON'T VOTE FOR HER. I'm Spanish and I don't want her to win because she didn't do an Oscar-worthy performance. She just shouts in the movie but oh! oscar voters like crazy women. No way I don't want to see Cruz winning.

I love how all these seasoned bloggers display their ineptitude by doubting Amy Adams so much. All season long, we've doubted her abilities in this race, and at each ceremony's nomination morning, her name was called out. Curious, isn't it, that Adams appeared when Tomei didn't at SAG? Or that Adams was named at the Globes, yet Henson was not. OR, most importantly, that BAFTA threw a nod out for Adams and NOT for Davis? Doesn't that sorta signify that Davis is likely *not* going to win? There probably was an instance at some point, but I can't remember a time where BAFTA didn't nominate the eventual Oscar winner. I would say Adams is actually second in this race and Davis is third. There's clearly more support for her than many realize and she's very underestimated. I was initially thinking Davis could be Doubt's sole win and the surprise winner, but now....

Ruby Dee's performance in American Gangster should not have even been nominated -- she was what all but 5 minutes total of screen time -- and to compare that to Viola Davis is beyond insulting. If the actors loved doubt as much as they do, I don't see how they can ignore Viola Davis.

I love amy adams to death and would love her to get an Oscar . Cruz is great too -- but in Volver, not for this -- this would be like giving Renee Zellwegger the oscar for cold mountain when she deserved it for Chicago-- Adams deserved a nod for Enchanted last year, but THE performance in Doubt is Viola Davis-- she goes through so many emotions and is so powerful in that single scene than many actors nominated in all the categories. She would also I'm sure give the most emotionally charged speech of the night.

The only reason Adams was nominated was because Winslet got nominated for lead in The Reader. She will not win.

I agree with the above poster that the ones to upset Cruz are Tomei and Davis. Either would be a welcome winner, as would Cruz of course.

Josel Garlitos,

I made no personal comments about "Doubt" or any of the performances. So I don't get why you're barking at me.

I am just pointing out some stats.

Its just so funny how you comfortably say /write that Meryl Streep will definitely lose to Kate Winslet when Meryl has the biggest chance of getting the OSCARS.

I really don't care whether Viola or Amy wins, as long as they are winning with Meryl who gave an exceptional lead performance in Doubt. Kate should have been nominated for best supp. actress for The Reader but that the mighty Harvey got into her way, so she will lose the Oscars.

Not winning a single award this year (about 32) and easily go and get the Oscar... don´t think so

Will Marissa join the multiple Oscar winners' club?... don´t think so

I think he has a point. Kate Winslet's "Reader" performance threw a wrench into trying to predict this category. She won the Globe and SAG, and then was promoted to lead by Oscar voters, leaving a vacuum in supporting actress where we don't know who the heck is out front. Anyone could win. The only woman without much of a chance is Taraji P. Henson. Tariq Khan makes good points, especially when he mentions "Enchanted." Cruz has babe factor, but so does Adams, and Adams proved in "Enchanted" to be a Hollywood queen in the making -- she even performed in last year's telecast! Oscar might want to give her an official coronation.

Right now I'm still predicting Cruz, but it's a tight race between her, Davis, and Adams.

Amy Adams has NO chance. Honestly. With almost all top six categories pretty much locked this article can also be filed on under Oscar filler.

This ain't gonna happen.

Once again, I find it surprising that the discussion ENTIRELY revolves around extraneous factors, and nowhere is the quality of the performance discussed. I have a very healthy doese of cynicism about the Oscars too, but I still do think that quality of performance is an important factor that most voters consider.

Amy Adams gives the least compelling performance of the four leads in Doubt, and the least compelling performance of the five Supporting Actress nominees.

Viola Davis burns a hole in the screen in her brief scene in the movie. No one remembers Amy Adams in the same way. Penelope Cruz is also the fiery heart of Woody Allen's film.

Leaving aside performance quality, people who want to honour Doubt are going to vote for Streep or Davis. It is not as if voting for Amy Adams is the ONLY way they can honour that movie.

Adams is American, and attractive, but Davis is American too, and very striking, and Cruz is of course a stunner. Davis also has the advantage of being black in a year that the Academy may want to honour a person of colour.

Adams may have the largest role, but Davis utterly dominates in her short scene, and Cruz's character is central to her movie and she has a signficant role. Neither Cruz nor Davis is comparable to, say, Ruby Dee's limited role in American Gangster.

People will also vote for Cruz as a spillover from Volver. No one is going to vote for Adams because they thought she deserved an Oscar for Enchanted!

I think Amy Adams is terrific, and would be thrilled if this happens. But I agree with the previous poster that Streep probably has a better shot at upsetting Winslet than Adams does at upsetting Cruz. As for Tomei ... I don't think the Academy is prepared to live in a world where Marisa Tomei has two Oscars and Peter O'Toole is still waiting.

But this is the Supporting Actress category, where anything (even Tilda Swinton coming from the back of the pack) is possible. Should be a interesting moment, especially since the presenter will be last year's supporting actor -- and Cruz's boyfriend -- Javier Bardem. Could be very ... textured.




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