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Best Actress Open Slot: Lesley Manville?

Another Year
Focus Features
Lesley Manville in "Another Year"

For best actress, "[Annette] BeningNatalie Portman and Nicole Kidman are locks," says Newsweek film critic Caryn James. Though Jeff Wells' outside-the-pundit-bubble informants say Bening's pic is "slowly slipping down the slope." "Jennifer Lawrence [is] pretty close," says James. "That leaves just one open slot, which I'm guessing would go to one of these: Lesley ManvilleSally Hawkins, possibly Michelle Williams, with Anne Hathaway a more distant possibility."

Yet Rope of Silicon floated the meme that Manville belongs as a slam-dunk winner in the best supporting category since she's not in Mike Leigh's Another Year as much as your typical lead. "That would only confuse the situation and kill her chances," snaps Pete Hammond in his juicy tout sheet. He kinda likes her longish odds, but her loss at Cannes makes him cover the bet.

Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker explains they're sticking to their guns and gunning for best actress. She may not be in every scene, defenders say, but her tremulous motormouth tippler is the dramatic spine without which the picture might collapse in exoskeletal exhaustion. Besides, compressed performances can gain power: until 30 Rock, was Alec Baldwin ever better than in Glengarry Glen RossQuentin Tarantino told me Robert De Niro knew the secret to greatness in Brazil: "Get in, kick ass, get out." I'm told Anthony Hopkins' 16-minute Hannibal Lecter was the world's shortest Oscar performance, and one's Oscar odds in The Hours increased with decreased minutes onscreen: best actress winner Nicole Kidman (28), losing supporting nominee Julianne Moore (33), unnominated serial winner Meryl Streep (42). (All minute counts are internet consensus estimates.)  

"I don't think the problem for Manville will be amount of screen time so much as competing with better-known actresses," says James. "If a Manville campaign gets enough people to see the film -- big if, it's a Mike Leigh film and not cheerful -- I think she has a chance at a nomination." On the other hand, ultracheery Happy-Go-Lucky did bugger-all for Sally Hawkins, while cheer-free Vera Drake nabbed a nom for Imelda Staunton (who's even glummer in Another Year). Manville's character splits the difference: she's happy-go-lucky on the hellmouth.

My take: she can't win, she might just barely get nominated, and she can't lose. Who else can age ten years in a tenth of a second? Beat that, Benjamin Button! She packs more emotional notes in a minute onscreen than most actors manage in ten -- arpeggios of expression, in face and nimble body, each a hemidemisemiquaver right on key. Her prize: now people will know who she is and what she can do.