Oscars Preview: Best Supporting Actress

We take a look at Anna Kendrick, Mo'Nique, Maggie Gyllenhaal and other nominees before Sunday's show.

Your grandparents used to be fond of saying that behind every great man stands a great woman. Such a phrase might seem sexist these days, but when it comes to one pivotal Academy Awards category, something still holds true: Behind some of the greatest performances of the year stands an accomplished woman.

It’s doubtful that Jeff Bridges would be racking up all those awards-season trophies if his “Crazy Heart” performance hadn’t been paired with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s tender, heartbreaking work. George Clooney would have been nothing but eye candy if the pivotal supporting roles in “Up in the Air” had been given to less talented actresses than Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. With this in mind — and the big ceremony on Sunday — here’s our breakdown of the Best Supporting Actress category, and which one of these ladies is likely to go home in possession of a new, great man.

Penélope Cruz, “Nine”
When you’re hot, you’re hot — and in the eyes of movie fans these days, Penélope Cruz is hot in every conceivable way. Now, she’s following up last year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar (for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) with another nomination. Can she repeat? Working against her is the fact that voters will think she already had her moment at the podium, and “Nine” was one of the most notable disappointments of late 2009. Working in her favor, however, is the fact that she’s Penélope Cruz.

Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Jason Reitman’s dramedy about corporate downsizing is the type of film you walk out of wanting to give awards to everyone involved. Unfortunately, Academy voters will need to choose in this category, as veteran actress Farmiga squares off against her co-star Anna Kendrick. Both have great, showy roles in one of the year’s best films. But will they cancel each other out? That remains to be seen, but this much is obvious: It ain’t gonna help.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
There’s something kind of icky about watching younger-looking-than-her-32-years Maggie Gyllenhaal share love scenes with 60-year-old Jeff Bridges. But there’s something quite exhilarating about every other aspect of her “Crazy Heart” performance. Just when you think she’s a sad, single mother, she proves herself quite independent. When you think Bridges’ Bad Blake might be taking advantage of her, it turns out she’s the one steering their relationship. Gyellenhaal’s young reporter is flawed, honest — and a good woman deep in her bones. Her decision at the end of the film is a heartbreaker, as is that of any Academy voter who might think to mark someone else’s name.

Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Until recently, she was just another young actress in Hollywood with a short résumé, a head shot and a dream. Now, Anna Kendrick has delivered the double shot of back-to-back “Twilight” films and a showcase role in “Air” alongside George Clooney. Director Jason Reitman gave Kendrick the role because he saw a talent in her. Watch the film, and we dare you to not leave the theater similarly awestruck. If Anna does win, that noise you hear will be millions of Twilighters rejoicing . Even if she doesn’t, at age 24, Anna has a very bright future ahead of her.

Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Even a deep-water diver would have a hard time reciting all the awful movies Mo’Nique has made in a single breath: “Two Can Play That Game,” “Half Past Dead,” “Soul Plane,” “Hair Show,” “Domino,” “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins” and, of course, “Phat Girlz” (don’t forget that Z!). Now, in the most unlikely of Oscar Cinderella stories, the veteran comedian has not only given a good performance, she’s given a jaw-droppingly amazing, transformative one, rocketing her to the top of surefire Oscar-winner lists. If you’re smart, you’ll put a check next to Mo’Nique’s name on your office-pool ballot.

The 2010 Academy Awards are almost here, and MTV News has it covered every which way — with photos, interviews, live blogs and more. Be sure to visit MTV.com on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET for our live Oscars red-carpet show, where we’ll be talking to everyone from Clooney and Bullock to Kristen and Taylor.

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