Supporting actors hope for dream night at Oscars

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If all goes well for movie musical “Dreamgirls,” Oscar night will be a dream come true for supporting actors Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, but if history is any indicator and things go bad, it could end up a nightmare.

Actress Jennifer Hudson attends the 79th annual Academy Awards nominees luncheon in Beverly Hills California in this February 5, 2007 file photo. If all goes well for movie musical "Dreamgirls," Oscar night will be a dream come true for supporting actors Hudson and Eddie Murphy. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Hudson, playing spurned singer Effie White in the movie musical about three singers who rocket from rags to riches, is the odds-on favorite to win the best supporting actress award.

Murphy, portraying soul singer James “Thunder” Early whose high-flying career spirals into drug abuse, has the best chance at earning best supporting actor, Oscar experts said.

Both actors have won huge critical praise and supporting role honors at Hollywood’s Golden Globe Awards and at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Yet, Oscar experts said voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars on February 25, are a fickle bunch who often surprise the pundits by handing victories to dark horse nominees.

“(Oscar voters) are notorious contrarians and stubborn people who don’t like to be told what to do,” said Tom O’Neil, columnist for Oscar Web site

Boosting Hudson’s chances are her showstopping singing and her sympathetic character, who suffers rejection and heartbreak.

“Everybody’s been rejected at some point in time. Effie does what anybody would do ... she’s real,” Hudson said.

Moreover, Academy Award voters like to honor new talent in the supporting category. Effie is the first movie role for Hudson, who was kicked off the hit “American Idol” television show only to make a comeback in “Dreamgirls.”


But there is another newcomer among supporting actresses, 10-year-old Abigail Breslin, who played a beauty pageant contestant named Olive with a winning attitude in “Little Miss Sunshine.” The low-budget movie was a box office hit, and Oscar voters like to reward hit movies.

“If you vote for ‘Miss Sunshine,’ you vote for an American phenomenon. You vote for a family film with themes about beauty and winning,” said veteran critic Emanuel Levy.

Competing against them are Australian Cate Blanchett in “Notes on a Scandal,” Mexico’s Adriana Barraza in “Babel” and Japan’s Rinko Kikuchi, also for “Babel,” who the handicappers all say have a lesser chance than Hudson and Breslin.

Meanwhile, the “Sunshine” factor -- along with the notion that Oscar voters also like to honor movie veterans -- could give Alan Arkin a shot at triumphing over Murphy.

In “Sunshine,” Arkin, 72, portrays Olive’s grandfather, who is her greatest champion and her worst enemy. He must walk a fine line between love and hate.

“For some reason, you don’t hate him. I don’t know why. He’s ineffectual, and I guess that’s why,” Arkin said.

Arkin has received two other Oscar nominations -- in 1966 for “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” and in 1968 for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

Also nominated are veteran Jackie Earle Haley playing a paroled child molester in “Little Children” and past nominee Djimon Hounsou as a father searching for his kidnapped son in “Blood Diamond.”

Both Haley and Hounsou are given an outsider’s shot, and to lesser extent the pundits said not to count out Mark Wahlberg, an incorruptible cop in “The Departed.”