2003 was a rather unfair year in the Supporting Actress Category. Before the nominations were even announced, critics and media pundits were already predicting Renee Zellweger would be the category’s winner for her [substandard] performance in Cold Mountain. This prediction wasn’t because she gave the best performance, but rather it was finally an opportunity to give the Bridget Jones and Chicago star her “overdue” Oscar. She was the favorite to win the previous year with Chicago, but had lost to Nicole Kidman for The Hours. 2003 was also considered Zellweger’s year as compensation for her two previous losses. Therefore, the other nominees within the category were grossly ignored and hardly considered to be contenders at all.
House of Sand and Fog almost functions as a contemporary Shakespearean tragedy in that nobody is offered an escape from the situation that arises concerning a simple house. The film stars Jennifer Connelly, whose character is wrongfully evicted from her home due to a property tax she never owed. Before she can reclaim her home, it is purchased by Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a former Iranian general, who was forced to flee Iran with his family to escape persecution. Upon purchasing the house, Behrani decides to remodel it and capitalize on a higher real-estate market price, hoping to use the new income as a means to provide his family financial security and give his son a college education. When Behrani is notified of Kathy’s issues, he decides to ignore her pleas to sell her back the house, instead choosing to use this financial opportunity as a way to provide for his family. What transpires is a series of threats that transgresses into violence, and ultimately, tragedy.
Shohreh Aghdashloo, who starred as Behrani’s wife, was the surprise performance of 2003. A native from Iran, Aghdashloo was unknown when she did this film, yet she was comparable, if not superior, in acting when sharing scenes with Ben Kingsley (who was also nominated for this film). Her character represents the heart and soul of this film, a feat that isn’t necessarily easy given the tension throughout the film with the majority of the characters. Aghdashloo exhibits an aura of innocence-lost, a sentiment that becomes more pronounced the further the film progresses. She also provides a sense of confusion to the character, establishing her as a foreigner who is attempting to stick to her native customs and is devastated by the culture shock that occurs the deeper the situation between Behrani and Kathy becomes. Furthermore, due to the establishment of innocence conveyed by Aghdashloo, when tragedy strikes, it is her character that the audience is immediately concerned with. Aghdashloo is careful in her portrayal of Behrani’s wife, conveying vulnerability and a lack of strength, not because she isn’t a strong woman, but because she feels unwelcomed in America, a country that is supposed to embrace those fleeing from persecution.
Lost to: Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountain (2003)