Predictions see Susan Sarandon Walking tall Monday night

by Eric James

Daily Cougar Staff

Over the years, the Best Actress category has served as the weakest award at the Oscars when finding enough "deserving" nominees. The problem originates mainly in bad roles for women and a lack of ample good roles, not bad performances.

This year, however, was perhaps the strongest year in recent memory for women. Not only were academy members not scrounging around for nominees, but it was pretty apparent that a couple of very fine performances would be left out.

Unfortunately, certain neglected performances (Nicole Kidman in To Die For) were perhaps better than other nominees that made the final list. No one can argue, though, that this year was not one helluva year for the Best Actress category.

In early critic's circle awards, the honors were divided evenly among many actresses. Kidman scored quite a few, as did Meryl Streep for The Bridges of Madison County, Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas and Sharon Stone for Casino (taking home that all-important Golden Globe).

Stone has since initiated a strong Oscar campaign, making up dice key chains to send to all the Academy members. Stone's past, however, could affect her in two ways. The Academy could decide they don't want to hand their coveted award to a woman who, just three years ago, was exposing her assets for all the world. They could also decide that her performance displays the changes and advances Stone has made in her career and honor her for her achievements.

Shue gave an equally impressive and shocking turn as Sera in Vegas. Her performance was raw and gripping, and she does have the hooker hoopla working for her.

Emma Thompson is one of two true shoo-ins this year at the Oscars. It's not for the acting category, however. Thompson will take home the statuette for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility.

An actress nominated in the adapted-screenplay category is an Oscar first, and Emma will take that award home, which nixes her from Best Actress contention.

Streep is a veteran actress who received her 10th nomination this year. She is back in top form after taking on a string of "what the hell was she thinking" roles over the past couple of years.

Her lonely Iowa farm wife has Streep doing what she does best -- accents -- and also displays another side of Streep not often seen in her more dramatic roles. She brought class to Bridges and intertwined that with a fun-loving spirit that made the movie as romantic and whimsical as the book could only hope to have been.

This category, however, was decided by the Screen Actor's Guild Awards. The winner was Susan Sarandon for her stirring portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. As Sarandon made her way up to the stage, her fellow actors (and Academy voters) stood up to applaud Sarandon in what would become her fifth Oscar-nominated performance.

Within the past five years, Sarandon has garnered four Academy Award nominations. She could easily be termed as the actress of the '90s. Her portrayals are always emotionally moving and solid as a rock. She brings a certain intelligence and sophistication to every role she blesses, and as Sister Helen, Sarandon shines like never before.

Sarandon has paid her dues over the years, often a needed ingredient in winning an Oscar, and her performance here is brilliant and top-notch. In a year of some of the best performances by women in a very long time, that's quite a statement.

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