Could one movie dominate this year’s best supporting actress Oscar lineup? Certainly an argument could be made for any number of actresses in the ensemble hit, The Help and in fact two of them were nominated for Critics Choice Movie Awards today. But it is more likely Oscar voters will want to spread the wealth rather than repeat what they did for 1963’s Tom Jones, when three ladies won the lion’s share of nominations in the category. The competition among supporting thesps is just too strong this year to go in that direction. Here is a look at the way this highly competitive category is shaping up.
OCTAVIA SPENCER, THE HELP
As Minny Jackson, a civil rights-era maid, Spencer made a very memorable pie and got the bulk of the laughs among a large ensemble. She is a sure thing nominee, not only for her comic ability but her dramatic scenes too, making her a formidable contender and crowd favorite.
BÉRÉNICE BEJO, THE ARTIST
Taking on the challenge not only of playing the lead female role in a black and white silent film, Bejo also had to learn to tap dance and sing in addition to being a believable budding superstar of the silver screen. In other words she does it all except talk. But it’s more than enough.
SHAILENE WOODLEY, THE DESCENDANTS
Breaking out of the cable TV teen comedy ghetto, Woodley showed she is the real deal, delivering a layered, complex and three-dimensional performance of a teenage girl who suddenly faces big responsibilities. Creating a believable father/daughter relationship opposite George Clooney, Woodley emerged as the one to watch from her generation.
VANESSA REDGRAVE, CORIOLANUS
As an ambitious and politically shrewd military woman and mother, the inimitable Redgrave had her finest hour on screen in years, particularly in one killer monologue that remains perhaps the finest piece of acting in any 2011 movie. A controversial Oscar winner for 1977’s Julia, her performance here is certain to net her a remarkable 7th career nomination.
SANDRA BULLOCK, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE
For her first role since winning the best actress Oscar two years ago for The Blind Side, Bullock took on a smaller but very meaningful role as the mother of a boy searching for answers after his father is killed on 9/11. Highly emotional and nicely underplayed, Bullock gets another shot at the brass ring and should have the audience in tears once again.
JESSICA CHASTAIN, THE HELP or THE TREE OF LIFE or TAKE SHELTER
Where to start with Chastain, who it seems was in every other movie released in 2011? She was superb in all, so runs the risk of cancelling herself out completely. The New York Film Critics gave her theirsupporting actress award for a trio of films (and they didn’t even mention The Debt), but the Academy doesn’t have that luxury. Her best bet will probably be the role most widely seen, as Celia Foote in The Help but it may be hard to separate her from a group of very talented co-stars.
JUDI DENCH, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
Multiple Oscar nominee Dench actually won for an eight minute role in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and her role her as the great actress Dame Sybil Thorndike is not much bigger, but just as memorable. After all, there is nothing like a Dame playing a Dame. Her role as Hoover’s mother in J. Edgar also gives her added exposure.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, BRIDESMAIDS
Broad comedic performances like McCarthy’s in this female raunch comedy rarely get serious Oscar recognition but the Emmy-winning star of Mike and Molly so thoroughly and shamelessly stole every single scene she was in that there is lots of buzz percolating, and Universal’s main hope of sneaking into this year’s race.
JANET McTEER, ALBERT NOBBS
This movie is supposed to belong to Glenn Close but her co-star Janet McTeer dominates every scene she’s in and nabbed an Indie Spirit nomination for her efforts. Unless you know in advance she’s even in the film you won’t recognize her and actors love roles where a performer completely disappears into the character.
CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES:
JUDY GREER, THE DESCENDANTS
Another small but great supporting turn from this veteran actress who has never really gotten the recognition she deserves. Actors know her though and they are doing the voting. Her funny, touching portrayal of a betrayed wife who tries to make amends for her husband’s indiscretions is unforgettable. A hospital room confrontation with star George Clooney is priceless.
MARION COTILLARD, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
This Oscar winner is a delight under the direction of Woody Allen and we all know Woody has a knack for landing his supporting stars Oscarnods so don’t discount her chances.
ANJELICA HUSTON, 50/50
As the doting, concerned mother of a cancer victim, Huston is pitch perfect, another fine outing from an actress who has grown into one of our finest. She won an Oscar for 1985’s Prizzi’s Honor and could find herself in contention yet again if enough people pop in the DVD screener.
CAREY MULLIGAN, SHAME
After charming audiences and winning a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination in An Education, Mulligan changes pace, and hair color, completely to tackle this raw, naked NC-17 role – and she nails it again even getting to sing “New York New York.” Is there anything she can’t do?
EVAN RACHEL WOOD, THE IDES OF MARCH
This is the kind of tortured role young actresses kill for and Wood delivers on all cylinders. For whatever reason, there hasn’t been a whole lot of awards buzz around it but actors will recognize a total pro performance and she could be a sleeper.
JODIE FOSTER, KATE WINSLET, CARNAGE
Like their male counterparts, Oscar winners Foster and Winslet may split the difference in this screen adaptation of the Broadway farce, God of Carnage. It is a Solomon’s choice between the two so take your pick.
BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD, THE HELP
We started with The Help and we will end with it. But Howard deserves recognition, some kind of recognition for believably playing two very unlikeable women and making us still care what happens to them. She made the most of her few scenes in 50/50 but she dominated them as a spoiled southern belle in The Help. She may be overshadowed by a couple of her co-stars but consideration should be paid.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.