With the notable exception of Cate Blanchett, the Best Supporting Actress race this year consists of a whole bunch of deserving names you’ve never heard of, including a record three minorities and – just for spice – a minor.

Drew Philp

The category’s criteria, however, is just as inconsistent. Blanchett gives a spirited but wholly unremarkable performance as a pedophile art teacher in “Notes on a Scandal,” and her nomination for that film can only be a surrogate for her briefer – but better – performance in “Babel.” At least there’s some dramatic heft to that role. Abigail Breslin, the geeky 10-year-old pipsqueak from “Little Miss Sunshine,” wormed her way into a nomination on giggles alone. Yes, she’s adorable, and one of the sleeper comedy’s biggest crowd-pleasers, but if being cute was award-worthy the Olsen twins would be drowning in old Emmys.

The Academy has also turned this category into an opportunity to confuse acting with singing (an effort which is somewhat understandable, considering that someone has to make up for the Grammy’s embarrassing incompetence). “Dreamgirls'” Jennifer Hudson could belt in a bell jar and still break the glass, but that’s no reason to award a performance which adds up to a whole lot of one-dimensional pouting. Hudson should have been hitting some emotional notes as well.

That leaves the two most interesting performances in “Babel” to provide the remaining nominees and, though neither actress will walk away with it, they’ve earned their recognition. Adriana Barraza’s frenzied Mexican housekeeper is truly the sympathetic soul of the movie, hard as it is to watch director Inarritu emotionally run her down, and Rinko Kikuchi injects her depressed deaf-mute teenager with that most rare of Hollywood commodities – believable angst. Those who dismiss Kikuchi’s storyline as unconvincing or even maudlin aren’t doing justice to the actress stuck with it, and Kikuchi’s depiction of incommunicable frustration will only equal mine when Hudson takes home Oscar instead.

VERDICT

NOMINEES
Adriana Barraza, “Babel”
Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal”
Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine” Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”
Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”

Will win: Jennifer Hudson
Should win: Rinko Kikuchi

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