Best Supporting Actress: Is Octavia Spencer really safe for the Oscars?

DreamWorks/Courtesy

Related Posts

Yesterday I covered the Best Supporting Actor Oscar lineup, which seems like the most predictable acting category this year (see why in Tuesday’s post). Let’s continue our Oscar coverage with Best Supporting Actress. Here’s a little bit of fun trivia: this is the fourth consecutive year that this category sees two nominees from the same film. Following in the footsteps of “Doubt” (2008), “Up in the Air” (2009), and “The Fighter” (2010), “The Help” boosted the careers of Octavia Spencer, long-time formidable character actress finally getting her moment of glory, and Jessica Chastain, who had a ubiquitous year with six releases, propelling Spencer into frontrunner status in this category. Like Best Supporting Actor, this category might seem all sewn up, with Spencer steamrolling through the precursor awards; but out of the four acting categories, this one has witnessed some of the most shocking surprises throughout Oscars history. So, let’s break it down.

And the nominees are:
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Who will win? No one dominated the critics’ award season (apparently critics wanted to spread the wealth this year), but Octavia Spencer claimed every important precursor award, which includes the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Award, BAFTA, and the Screen Actors Guild Award. Spencer is probably safe for Sunday night, but several conditions might affect her chances and make room for an upset. If the Academy is having a Marisa-Tomei-a-la-My-Cousin-Vinny type of moment, Melissa McCarthy could take the award. If any of the acting categories seem to love comedy based on their track record, it’s this one, and here is where the Academy might want to show their love for “Bridesmaids” by honoring McCarthy’s raucous comic turn. Berenice Bejo might get carried away in all “The Artist” love floating around and pull an upset. If not, voters might split their love for “The Help” between Chastain and Spencer, and make room for any of the other three. But that’s a lot of “ifs.” I put my bet on Spencer.

Potential Spoiler: I went through all the potential moments that could pan out if Spencer’s steam proves not so hot after all. If anyone could disappoint her, it’s her costar, Jessica Chastain. Chastain appeared out of nowhere in 2011, and she suddenly seemed to star in almost every movie. The Academy loves rewarding actors who have great body-of-work years, and Chastain had a tremendous range of accomplishments in 2011. Plus, voters would still be honoring “The Help.”

Who should win? In the true sense of the word “supporting,” Berenice Bejo is misplaced in this category (she’s the female lead of her film) and Octavia Spencer shares as much screen time as the aforementioned leads of “The Help,” Viola Davis and Emma Stone. Still, it’s hard to kvetch about their correct category placement when both actresses did such amazing work. Spencer breezes through her film with sharp comic timing, spiky-mouthing, and incredible screen-chemistry with her costars. Instead of trying to keep up with her gifted costar — the fantastic Jean Dujardin — Bejo demonstrates an admirable degree of confidence and charisma in “The Artist.” Chastain nails her character’s poignant naivete, bubbly personality, and hidden pain underneath Celia, never stealing the scene from Spencer, but sharing it with her on equal footing. McTeer escapes unscathed from “Albert Nobbs.” Her character resonates the most out of every element in her film; her self-assurance and ease in her mannish outfits, her sexuality, and her unorthodox lifestyle comfort the audience. And McCarthy creates one of the most fascinating characters this year. Instead of zeroing in on Megan’s coarseness, McCarthy fills scenes with boisterous energy, either through bawdy humor or sweet, embarrassing moments or poignant character interactions. She wrings big laughs but never forgets characterization, which only elevates the film. It’s such a strong lineup, I’m happy whichever way it goes.

Who got snubbed? Even as the critic award season faded and the precursor awards started to narrow the field down with their shortlists, the category seemed up in the air up until the Oscar nods were announced. Eight ladies — the five Oscar-nominees, Carey Mulligan (“Shame”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Coriolanus”), and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) — were duking it out all season long for five slots, and any of them seemed like potential threats. So in that sense, Mulligan, Redgrave and Woodley got snubbed, some more surprisingly than others. Mulligan probably suffered from her film’s explicit-sexual nature. Redrgave was a victim to one-week qualifiers — “Coriolanus” only opened for a week in LA — so probably not many voters saw her film. And Woodley just wasn’t that memorable, especially compared to the five nominees who did make it in. There were so many other performances that went unnoticed all season long and never stood a chance, even though they probably deserved recognition, e.g. Melanie Laurent, “Beginners”; Jeannie Berlin, “Margaret”; Angelica Huston, “50/50” — it’s too long. I could go on forever.

My ballot: Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”; Carey Mulligan, “Shame”; Jessica Chastain, “The Help”; Amy Ryan, “Win Win”; and Angelica Huston “50/50”

What are your picks and predictions?