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Three of the actors nominated for best supporting actress at this year's Oscars are previous Academy Award nominees, and one of them has won multiple Oscars.

You'd think that might give them an advantage.

It doesn't.

That's because this category has been overwhelmingly dominated from the beginning of the movie awards season by one performance (as has the supporting actor category, interestingly). Patricia Arquette, an actress who's mostly been on television for the past decade, has won virtually every award in sight for her role as a stressed, complex mother in "Boyhood," which was shot over a period of 12 years.

If she were to lose, it would be the night's biggest upset. Then again, it's the Oscars and anything can happen. Let's look at the nominees:

Meryl Streep for "Into the Woods" — The Academy obviously intends to give Streep so many nominations in her lifetime that no one will ever come close to topping her. This is her 19th nomination since 1979 (with three wins), so that mission has pretty much been accomplished. But she's not going to win for playing a singing tragicomic witch.

Laura Dern for "Wild" — Dern is certainly the best thing about "Wild," playing a mother who dies far too young. And how is it that David Lynch's main muse has only been nominated once before, for 1991's "Rambling Rose"? There's much earned admiration for Dern, but this role only shows a fraction of what she can do and lacks the big showy moment that might put her over the top. She's always worth admiring (she also had "The Fault in Our Stars" this year), but this is still a long shot.

Emma Stone for "Birdman" — Stone's firecracker performance as Michael Keaton's aimless daughter — which certainly does contain a big showy moment, when she goes on the attack against her father — is pretty perfect and promises many more nominations for the 26-year-old. And it's especially impressive given the film's long shots, which allow for no hesitations or slight misses. In many years she might be the fresh-faced winner of this category. But the field this year is just too strong.

Keira Knightley for "The Imitation Game" — This is Arquette's biggest competition. Knightley, who's only 29, was nominated for best actress in 2006 for "Pride & Prejudice," and has been featured in a host of prestige films ("Atonement," "A Dangerous Method," "Anna Karenina") as well as movies both commercial and edgy over the past decade. Just as importantly, "Imitation" has been following the same release and popularity arc as another British period piece, "The King's Speech," which won the best picture Oscar. She underplays beautifully in this film, elevating the entire enterprise. Again, in another year ... and maybe even in this one.

Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood" — Here's the simple fact: This movie was shot over 12 years. No actress has ever aged that way on screen before. No experiment like this has ever succeeded so well. And even though the film follows a boy, Arquette is the movie's heart and soul (the film's first half could have been called "Motherhood"). She simply seems to be living the part of a divorced single mother who keeps falling into romantic train wrecks — there's no apparent acting going on. And that's the best sort of acting there is.

Should win: Patricia Arquette

Will win: Patricia Arquette

TLong@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

The 87th annual Academy Awards

Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris

Feb. 22

ABC

Enter our Oscar contest

The Detroit News will give a 40-inch Sony LED SmartTV to some lucky — OK, skilled and knowledgeable — reader who can predict this year's Oscar winners in the top eight categories.

Entering the contest is easy. Write down your picks for best picture, director, actress, actor, supporting actor, supporting actress, original screenplay and adapted screenplay and email them — along with your name, address and phone number — to contest@detroitnews.com by 5 p.m. Feb. 20.

Winners will be drawn on Feb. 23 and announced in Arts & Style on Feb. 24.

In case of a tie, the winner will be arbitrarily drawn out of a hat; otherwise, whoever gets the most correct answers will eventually be able to watch films by this year's Oscar winners on a SmartTV in the comfort of their own living room.

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