’m no Oscar prognosticator, but yesterday I saw what I consider to be the first performance that is a lock for a Best Actress nomination – Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart. Sure, there are dozens upon dozens of Oscar-bait movies waiting to burst out of the gate this fall, but the actresses in those films will have to settle for one of the other four nomination slots.

It isn’t even that I think Jolie gives such a great performance; while she’s very strong she has a problem with her accent, which seems to slip from French to Count Draculaynian every now and again. She certainly doesn’t give half the performance that my dark horse current fave for a nomination, Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose, does. But Jolie has a number of things going for her:

The Movie is Important. In A Mighty Heart Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, the wife of kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. The film, directed by Michael Winterbottom in a style that’s half weepie and half neofactualist procedural, is about the month between Pearl’s disappearance and his murder, and how his wife stands tall at the center of the group trying to find him. This is a story that, while it took place five years ago, remains shockingly and depressingly current, and Winterbottom’s movie doesn’t hesitate to look at Pearl’s kidnapping through a complicated, globalist lens. At the same time this is a story of how savage and almost inarguably evil jihadists killed an American Jew in cold blood – the story hits both sides of the aisle. Plus, nominating Jolie means that the real Mariane Pearl might come, and these guys can never pass up that kind of legitimization.

She Changed Her Appearance. This is actually the controversial aspect – Jolie is playing a woman of Afro-Cuban ancestry, and she wears make-up to darken her skin and a big frizzy wig. When I first saw the pictures of Jolie in costume (which also includes a big fake pregnant belly), I thought the film was skirting the edges of good taste – surely there was someone in the world who is the right skin color to play this role? In context it doesn’t seem very offensive, and compared to the Pakistanis with whom she shares the screen, Jolie just looks sort of tanned. While this isn’t a real physical change, like DeNiro gaining weight for Raging Bull, or a ‘shocking’ make-up effect, like Kidman having an ugly nose in The Hours, I think the Academy associates any change-up of looks as ‘stretching’ and ‘acting.’

She’s Got a Helluva Scream. I already know what Angelina Jolie’s clip is when they announce the five Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. It’s a scene at the end of the movie where she’s told her husband has been killed; Jolie starts the scene in a numbed, teary silence, and then wanders into her bedroom, slams the door and starts wailing. Jolie’s screams of pain are impressive and primal – you could feel everyone in the theater shifting in their seats as her howls touched some spot deep inside our brains that still operates in a primitive, pre-verbal way. The truth of A Mighty Heart is that the film often wanders away from Mariane Pearl, and she may not be the most fascinating character in the story… but Jolie wrenches the spotlight back to herself with sheer willpower in this scene.

There’s a long time between now and the Oscars, and anything could happen, but this is one you can take to the bank: Angelina Jolie is assured an Oscar nomination for this film.