The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

by Rachel · February 17, 2012 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 3 Comments
Editor’s note: Welcome to the twenty-fourth of a 32-part series dissecting the 84th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

So….Oscars…. For a season, which three to four months ago seemed rather open, the Oscar race for 2011 in film has descended into something seemingly predictable. And, it’s no surprise really. It’s the usual way of things so that by the time nominations are actually announced everyone’s already talked out and the winners already seem assured of their status. Take the race for Best Supporting Actress into consideration, for example. Sometimes the supporting categories have more leeway for upsets, but this year it’s the two supporting categories which seem to be all wrapped and ready to go. The thing is, though, there are so many crutches of this “winner-only” Oscar discussion – particularly the disservice it does to the other nominees. Remember, Supporting Actress, like the majority of categories, assembles its nominees via the preferential ballot system which means that each of these five ladies amassed a significant amount of #1 votes in order to get nominated. Thus, even though it would seem like a runaway for Spencer with the Oscar, being nominated is really nothing to shirk at. Let’s assess the field. 
Bérénice Bejo in The Artist
as Peppy Miller 
What Helped her to #1 VotesLove for The Artist: Even if you think that Bejo’s work in The Artist is excellent, it’s difficult to deny that the onslaught of support for the supposed Best Picture frontrunner didn’t help her to #1 votes on a number of ballots. 
The Lovable Ingénue: Perhaps at 36 Bejo doesn’t quite fit the bill of an ingénue in real life, but her character is one and voters have always seemed to respond positively to this specific register in this category before. And even though she’s not a babe, Bejo is still new to American audiences and of the four acting categories this one has always been most responsive to “newcomers”. 
Category Fraud (?): Incidentally, I think Bejo has much too thin a role to work with to be considered as a true lead, but the debate of what constitutes a leading character versus a supporting one shall continue uninhibited for infinite years, I’m sure. Either way, Bejo has been cited as lead elsewhere (BAFTA, Cesar) and the film does pay specific emphasis on her rise to stardom and the final act does become a duo between her and Dujardin. It cannot hurt one when your role is a prominent one and your co-nominees are supporting on the edges. 
Charm: Bejo’s biggest asset is her charming smile put to good use over the 90 minutes, or so, of the film. In a movie about movies I’d wager that voters want to be charmed and regardless of where you are on the argument of difficulty regarding her performance, charm is not easily created. (And, she dances.) 
 Jessica Chastain in The Help
as Celia Foote 
What Helped her to #1 VotesUbiquity: In a decade’s time it’s very possible that the eventual winner might become a footnote in the behemoth of a career Jessica Chastain fostered beginning with this year to top all years. I could make a strong case for two, maybe three of her other performances this year (The Debt; Take Shelter, The Tree of Life) and who knows how many voters thought, “Hmm, Jessica is good. Which movie has the most heat? Celia Foote it is.” 
“I can make corn pone”: Line readings. I was more than a little thrilled when Kris Tapley (In Contention) cited Chastain as his MVP for The Help. The film is one which tries its utmost to dovetail a slew of significant issues into a 150 minute narrative and with so many issues to mire through and so much character development to establish dialogue becomes especially important, and so many of the best line-readings come from Chastain who is at once adorable, sexy, beautiful and heart-breaking. It doesn’t hurt an actor’s chance when a voter can single out your performance by remembering key bits. 
The Surprise Factor: We first meet Celia A. Foote making a call for a maid, and when we meet her our first impressions seem to be about to be reinforced – peroxide hair, uxorious amounts of physicality, a bit of an empty head it would seem and she might be – but then she might not. Celia’s importance in the Minny arc is one which is sort of thrust upon us and turns into one of the most rewarding bit of the film. Audiences don’t see the character (or the performance) coming, and that sort of surprise factor works so well in establishing a new performer and in allowing them to achieve a place in our memories. Voters could hardly resist, I’ sure. 
Being Snubbed at Bridge: So, maybe specific scenes don’t land you Oscar – although scenes with readymade Oscar clips don’t hurt. And this scene doesn’t play out like an Oscar clip but pulling from the surprise factor of Celia being such a sound character, Jessica just devastates in that scene where she realises she’s being snubbed making us realise that these Bridge girls are not just racist, they’re snobs. 

Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs
as Hubert Page 
What Helped her to #1 VotesClose: Even as the general feeling towards the film seemed to be one of mild disinterest veering into vague disgust, the film managed to pick up three nominations, two for its acting. It’s Close’s pet project, and has been for decades, and I imagine voters in the Actress category couldn’t have resisted that determination. The thing about Close, though, is that she is such a class act nary an interview or presser session passed where Glenn did not make it her duty to talk up her cast and crew, and at the top of the list of honourable mentions was McTeer. A voter placing Close at the top of the Actress list might have thought, hmm – if Close, why not McTeer? 
The Brash Confidence: Even though I think it’s unfair to indict Glenn for playing an overwhelmingly introverted character so well that it comes off as reclusive, Albert Nobbs is in need of some fresh air oftentimes, though, and that is McTeer. Grandiose, yet still straightforward and approaching her role with the right amount of easy practicality and – dare I say it – swagger McTeer’s characterisation becomes one that is difficult to ignore, especially when Close – forever partaking in symbiotic onscreen pairings – doesn’t try to overpower her in key scenes. 
Pedigree: Of the five nominees McTeer is the only one who’s NOT celebrating her first nod (she did that back in 1999 when she got an Actress citation for her work in Tumbleweeds). And, although I can’t specifically think her inclusion is evidence of the voters not wanting to go completely for the newbies, McTeer is a veteran of the stage and a respected thespian (despite the paucity of recent film roles) and a potential default nominee in that her name is recognisable, her star is (somewhat) proven especially among the slew of actresses who were fighting for those last three spots. 
Gender Bending: “Close and McTeer are not believable as men.” I sort of shrug at such a criticism because knowing that they’re NOT men makes it that much more difficult to forget it. Page is a different man than the man that Nobbs is, and McTeer’s gender bending is much more overt. For me, she shines best in the most mundane of instances like arguing for better wages, or smoking a cigarette. Gender bending may be “baity” but it’s tough to deny that voters would have a field day.
Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
as Megan 
What Helped her to #1 VotesMomentum: It’s a difficult thing to trace what really defines moment, pinning it down to specificities is particularly difficult. I remember, though, when McCarthy earned her Emmy nomination fresh off the film’s release someone jokingly quipped, “what if the love for the film transfers to the Emmy’s.” Well, she won the Emmy (was it love for the film? Who the hell knows, right)? Still, after decades in the business everything seemed to be falling into place for McCarthy and the wave of love kept growing and growing until we ended up here. Momentum, thy name is McCarthy. 
Comedy Relief: And, not just for the film. I’m sort of ambivalent towards the alleged feeling that the Oscars’ are anti-comedy. But, of the 20 performances nominated this year McCarthy’s is the only one which is completely comedic (yes, including those silent stars) and why wouldn’t voters go for some levity amidst all the seriousness? In a year of rising stars, victims of racism and small-town bigotry, gender bending dormant lesbians, suicidal sisters, rebellious teens and morbid mothers who “supped” upon themselves, McCarthy’s stood out, for better and for worse. All the way to the top of voters’ ballots. 
“The Best Comedy. Ever!”: Since summer, the talk of Bridesmaids has burgeoned into something almost out of control. It descends into something the slightest but overwrought when it’s heralded as a godsend to modern comedy, to which I say – errr, okaaaaaay. BUT, the film has been massively successful and as its success continued to grow and the year-end award chatter began and the film emerged as a potential contender, fans couldn’t completely bet on its Best Picture chances, they couldn’t bet safely on Wiig, even its screenplay nomination was in jeopardy (what with its many improv bits almost derailing its inclusion) and Melissa turned into the film’s very own Derby Horse – watch her make the critics’ fall in love, watch her get the SAG love, watch her take BAFTA. Why, hello there Oscar. Bridesmaids’ fans unite! 
Adorableness: Remember McCarthy’s stellar work on Gilmore Girls? Have you ever seen her in an interview? The woman is adorable (giving the adorable princess, Miss Chastain, a run for her money) and another reason her work in the film could be that much more appealing to voters is because of the great difference it is in McCarthy’s natural sensibilities as an actor. We know that she’s funny, but we didn’t know that she was funny like this. And even as her character is painted in some garishly broad strokes (so oddly, it’s one of the film’s weaker characterisations where said comedic bits are meant to be funny only because of her plus-size figure) McCarthy sells it for all it’s worth. And she’s completely charming from start to finish, and effective stealing scenes like nobody’s business. 
Octavia Spencer in The Help
as Minny Jackson
What Helped her to #1 VotesMs. Sassy-Pants: Oda Mae Brown and her quips, Mona Lisa Vito and her quips, Queen Elizabeth and her quips, Velma Kelly and her quips, Katharine Hepburn and her quips. This is a trend. You know what award bodies like? Women who bring the sass for those supporting roles laced with that caustic, yet lovable, undertone. And, Minny – as brass as can be – fits the bill excellently – it’s a vividly memorable turn with all the oomph Oscar loves to reward in the category. How could you expect the voters to resist it? 
The Character: More than the sass, though, Minny is someone for the audience to root for. Viola’s Aibileen is a lesson in suffering in silence, and some audience members might find it difficult to root for her easily. It’s why Minny,  a character who exudes the extrovert aspect of life, complements her so well, and Minny becomes the audience’s receptacle into which they can get some amount of their catharsis, finding someone to root for. 
With a Little Help from My Friends: Do you know Octavia’s been working since the 90s as an actor and a casting director? The woman is known in the industry and one of the sweetest things about the season is seeing her with so many actors you didn’t know she knew (Sandra Bullock was tooting her horn since early 2011, she was at the SAG with Josh Hopkins). So, instead of having a performance fade into the background because it’s from an unknown her fellow actors have been anticipating her work here. They like her, they respect her and they’re ready to give her their love. 
The Pie Scene: Eat. My. S***. I don’t think I need say more, right? It’s actually a fine group of nominees if you think about it, and from all indications Octavia will sail through to a win – which I would not be averse to, even if she falls somewhere around 4th for me in the line-up. But, it’s not just about who takes the prize home. All the nominees are worth fêting.

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3 Responses to The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

  1. This is a great article, Andrew. I particularly like that you give each actress their due while touching on most of the main themes in Oscar punditry– the ingenue, category fraud, ubiquity, coattails, pedigree, gender bending, the surprise, the career actor, respect from peers. If I was going to try to explain to someone what factors go into the Oscar race, I might very well give them this article as reference. Excellent job!

  2. wonderfully written piece! but i can’t agree with you on bejo or spencer. Bejo propelled the artist, and is the unsung hero in the movie. i wish more people saw that. Also, Chastain was so not impressive in The Help, and neither was Spencer. In my humble opinion….:)

  3. EFC says:

    Good article, Andrew. I think it’s definitely going to Spencer, but this category has always been known for its surprises/upsets, so it’ll be fun to see how this plays out.

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