With Kate Winslet safely tucked away in the Lead category as she should be, the five Supporting Actress nominees this year truly are the supporting players of their respective films - and 4 out of 5 of them can be described as "wife/girlfriend" or "mother," for those keeping track. The nominees:
Amy Adams, Doubt
The sole nominee whose role can't be described in such simple terms, Adams plays the innocent caught in the struggle between "good" and "evil" (which side is which depends on your reading of the film). I have to be honest, I don't really think this was a deserved nomination and I would have preferred to see the spot go to Rosemarie DeWitt for her stellar work in Rachel Getting Married or to the criminally overlooked Emma Thompson in Brideshead Revisited. Adams was nominated once before for Junebug and while I think she's a capable actress, I think it's time for her to move away from the doe-eyed babe in the woods roles.
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Amongst the nominees, she's my choice for this year's best as force of nature Maria Elena in Woody Allen's latest. Oscar has been kind to women in Woody Allen films, particularly those nominated as Supporting Actress (particularly those named Dianne Weist). Cruz has been nominated once before for her wonderful performance in Volver (if you haven't seen it yet, get thee to a video store). She was the early favorite in terms of critics awards, collecting the National Board of Review, LA Film Critics and New York Film Critics circle awards amongst several others, but Marissa Tomei and Viola Davis quickly caught up, with each taking a number of awards themselves.
Viola Davis, Doubt
Davis' role in Doubt is small, consisting of just one long screen, but it's powerful and really steals the show. Oscar has awarded brief but memorable performances before (Beatrice Straight in Network, Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love) so the length of her screen time shouldn't be an issue. She's been rewarded by a number of critics associations and nominated for all the major awards, save the BAFTA.
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is another performance that I don't think was necessarily strong enough to warrant a nomination. Henson is fine in Button but there's nothing about her performance that really stands out for me. That being said, it wouldn't surprise me if she were to win, if only because with 13 nominations, I assume that Button has to walk away with something and, given that it's up against Slumdog (which is shaping up to be an awards juggernaught) in many categories, the wide-open Supporting Actress race is probably the most likely place where the Academy will choose to reward it.
Marissa Tomei, The Wrestler
Tomei won in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny and has been haunted ever since by the "mistakenly given the Oscar" urban legand. It's unfair because Tomei has shown herself to be a consistently wonderful actress and has turned in a number of memorable and well-rounded performances since her win. I haven't had a chance to see The Wrestler yet, but nothing that I've read about it suggests to me that she's anything less than great. I would predict her for the win were it not for the lack of a SAG nomination, which suggests a considerable lack of support for her from her fellow actors within the Academy.