This category is a little more "open" than some of the others, as it is noted that Kate Winslet, who won the supporting actress prize at the Golden Globes, was nominated by the Academy for Best Actress for that very same role ("The Reader").
Let's take a look at the BetUS Sportsbook:
To Win Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona -140
Viola Davis - Doubt +300
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler +400
Taraji P Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button +1000
Amy Adams - Doubt +1200
PENELOPE CRUZ (-140 at BetUS) -- She is the most "decorated" of these nominees going into Oscar night, having won from the New York Film Critics, the L.A. Film Critics, the National Board of Review and Boston Film Critics, among others, as the neurotic ex-wife of the Javier Bardem character in "Vicki Christina Barcelona." Woody Allen's female leads/supports have usually done well at Oscar time. Cruz is the acknowledged favorite, but it is in no way a slam dunk, in this reporter's opinion.
VIOLA DAVIS (+300 at BetUS) -- She had one of those roles that was short, yet memorable, in the film "Doubt" as a concerned mother whose son is a suspected molestation victim, with the Phillip Seymour Hoffman character as the culprit. I imagine there were episodes of "Law and Order" where she had more screen time than the twelve minutes she had in her nominated role. Davis won the supporting actress award from the African American Film Critics, the Women Film Journalists and the critics' groups in St. Louis, Dallas and Houston, among others.
MARISA TOMEI (+400 at BetUS) -- She is something of a favorite of Oscar, having won for "My Cousin Vinny" and garnering a nomination for "In The Bedroom." In "The Wrestler," where she plays opposite Mickey Rourke, I saw her role as less substantive, less sympathetic and more cliched than most people did. Obviously I am in the minority, since she won awards from film critics from San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Florida, Phoenix and Detroit, and got a nomination from the Golden Globes. This field is not a magnificent one, which might give her a chance.
TARAJI P. HENSON (+1000 at BetUS) -- Henson is probably best remembered for her role in "Hustle and Flow," where she sang the song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" and also performed that number at the Oscars three years ago (it won for Best Original Song). She has a key role in "the Curious Case of Benjamin Button" where she works at a nursing home, finds young (or old, as it were) Benjamin Button on the doorstep and undertakes raising him. She is a good-hearted character, bringing humanity to a film that lacked it in many ways.
AMY ADAMS (+1200 at BetUS) -- She's not going to beat out the short but memorable stint of Viola Davis in "Doubt," so this two-time nominee (previously for "Junebug," also in the Best Supporting Actress category) has literally nowhere to go. That's been reflected in the fact that she has not received any of the "precursor" awards that would usually go along with an Oscar win.
In conclusion, I have a feeling that Tomei might be a favorite of many Oscar voters who are not committing themselves to Penelope Cruz. Viola Davis' turn may be just a little too short (though Beatrice Straight win an Oscar for a role that was even shorter). It's tough to include Amy Adams in the conversation. However, if I am going to move with a long shot (and this is the major category to do it), I would go with Henson. After all, this is Barack Obama's year, and the Academy may feel compelled to put something in the hands of an African-American nominee in this go-around.
(Charles Jay strolls along the red carpet - at his home - and also contributes to the BetUS Locker Room)