If someone told me to fill out an Oscar ballot today for only the films that have opened through August, the only category that wouldn't be sickeningly anemic would be Best Supporting Actress. That one is pretty well stacked. Check it:
Worthy But Would Make My Top 5: All due apologies to Lily Tomlin (A Prairie Home Companion), Catherine Keener (Friends With Money), and Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine and The Night Listener). All wonderful performances that contributed greatly to their films' successes. All actresses who would be a beneficial addition to any cast. I'm feeling especially apologetic towards Tomlin, since I've said since I saw that movie that she and a certain female castmate we'll get to in a second ought to share their hypothetical Oscar nod. Sorry, Lily! I still think you're awesome!
The Top Five
#5: Edie Falco - Freedomland
The quintessential good performance in a bad movie. Except this is a great performance. And Edie only really gets one scene to prove it, but prove it she does. All the gravity that was flailed-at (and failed at, by and large) by Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson was present in every compact second of Falco's performance. Edie hasn't yet been given the space on the big screen to bring the same brilliance she shows on The Sopranos, but here she proves she doesn't need much space. Give her an inch, she'll steal a film.
#4: Frances McDormand - Friends with Money
Speaking of gravity, Frances McDormand could bring gravity to game of Whack-a-Mole. But always -- always -- on the underside of that gravity is a manic silliness threatening to break out. It's that manic side that takes over in Nicole Holofcener's film, and we all benefit. She just looks like she's having a lot of fun, and it's a welcome contrast to Jennifer Aniston's all-dour-all-the-time characterization.
#3: Meryl Streep - A Prairie Home Companion
She's going to be getting a whole lot of attention for her other 2006 offering, but Streep continues her ridiculously impressive hot streak -- is it even a "hot streak" when the bottom line is that she's always good, all the time? -- by stealing the spotlight in a Robert Altman ensemble. Not a bad way to spend the summer.
#2: Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine
This kid, I swear to God. Maybe the best compliment I can pay her performance is that I'd consider it Oscar-worthy even if it had been given by an adult. There are scenes in this movie -- crucial scenes; scenes that, if done poorly, the movie wouldn't have worked -- where Breslin does emotional work that I believe few adult actresses could have pulled off. But she's still playing a kid. That's the best part. This isn't Dakota Fanning being all creepy-mature. This is a kid playing a kid, but doing so in a way that does all the emotional work she needs to do and then some. She is the lynchpin of this movie and that it succeeds wildly is due in so small part to the fact that she's remarkably good. She's cute, not cutesy. Sweet, not saccharine. Funny, not jokey. I love her to death, she's so good.
#1: Emily Blunt - The Devil Wears Prada
Call me crazy, but I think Meryl Streep's sure-thing Oscar nomination for this film is going to come with some coattails, and one of her co-stars will get nominated with her. It's between Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci, and right now I'm giving Blunt the edge. She'll richly deserve it, for managing to steal scenes away from Streep, if for nothing else. She takes a very stock character and gives her more depth and spark than the film's lead, and she pulls almost all the film's biggest laughs. It's the performance that sticks with you when you're raving about the film to your friends. And it's vaulted her into the big time, that's for sure.