Redgrave and the ladies of 'The Help' lead the conversation on Best Supporting Actress

Posted by · 9:51 am · October 17th, 2011

Four weeks of digging in on the acting races draws to a close today with the supporting actresses. Four weeks because there hasn’t been a lot to talk about, unless you want to draw dubious parallels between, say, “Moneyball” and the zeitgeist or hear for the hundredth time how “The Artist” is winning over festival audiences (and quickly becoming the most over-hyped film of the season).

So let’s see what we’re working with. Three performances that seem formidable and have actually been seen seems like a novel place to start.

In “The Help,” Octavia Spencer gets a mixture of heart-string tuggery and comic relief. She claimed an early spot in the category when the film opened in August, claimed three straight weekends at the top of the box office and shot up the list of Best Picture hopefuls. However, I’m wondering lately whether she’ll be joined by a co-star.

The supporting actress field is notable for consistently allowing for multiple performers in one film to slide in. Recent examples have come in films like “Almost Famous,” “Gosford Park,” “Chicago,” “Babel,” “Doubt,” “Up in the Air” and just last year in “The Fighter.” With that in mind, Jessica Chastain is having a bang-up year and it would just seem wrong if she were to miss out on some recognition, and by many accounts, she’s the best part of “The Help.” I’m thinking maybe that can happen.

Chastain also shows up, as if we need to mention it yet again, in “Take Shelter,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Debt” and “Coriolanus,” in order of potential for recognition. Quite the slate.

Even earlier than August — going way back to the Berlinale in February — Vanessa Redgrave started turning heads in Ralph Fiennes’s “Coriolanus,” which The Weinstein Company eventually picked up. She seems to be the most agreed-upon contender in the field so far. (She also gives a wonderful performance as Queen Elizabeth I in “Anonymous” that will help her cause.)

Moving on, Shailene Woodley gets a nice mixture of comedy and drama in “The Descendants” and has the kind of sparkling personality that goes a long way on the circuit. Meanwhile, Judi Dench is said to be quite a presence in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” so assuming the film delivers, or assuming the performances stand on their own in case it doesn’t, she is someone to watch (also popping up, though briefly, in “My Week with Marilyn”).

A pair of performances that first took a bow at the Venice Film Festival this year could stand out in Carey Mulligan (“Shame”) and Keira Knightley (“A Dangerous Method”). The former has already been well-positioned by her publicists for a Hollywood Film Awards honor, while the latter’s categorization is still somewhat in question. I can’t get an answer out of Sony Pictures Classics on it, but perhaps they’ll see the error of their ways with the doomed lead push for Lesley Manville last year and keep Knightley where she has the best shot at some recognition.

Speaking earlier of “The Artist,” one aspect of the film could bubble up here and that’s Bérénice Bejo’s performance opposite sure-fire leading actor contender Jean Dujardin. That film started its awards path in Cannes, while “Albert Nobbs” and a charismatic turn from Janet McTeer first took off at Telluride.

Elsewhere there are some question marks. Sandra Bullock could have enough emotional material to dig in on in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” or not. Naomi Watts might have something substantial to work with in “J. Edgar,” or not. And Emily Watson might stand out in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” or not.

What we do know is Marion Cotillard is charming and irresistible in “Midnight in Paris.” We know Bryce Dallas Howard is diabolically bitchy in the outstanding ensemble of “The Help.” We know Evan Rachael Wood shows some impressive range in “The Ides of March.” We know Anjelica Huston does the utmost with her limited screen time in “50/50” and we know Elle Fanning was one of, if not the best part of J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.”

And we also know a lot of people are trying really hard to insert Melissa McCarthy into this conversation for her work in “Bridesmaids” in the wake of her Emmy win (though I’d be tempted to agree with Guy that Rose Byrne is more deserving).

But this is a race very much in transition and fluid at the moment, I think. I expect things to solidify over the next few weeks, but for now, there are a lot of possibilities.

Now. The Contenders section. It’s ready! I’ll be introducing it and linking to it separately later this morning/afternoon, but the wait is over. The sidebar will be expanded soon enough to include all of the categories once again, but for now, at least we have the various fields set here at our new HitFix digs. More shortly.

What are your thoughts on the Best Supporting Actress race? Have your say in the comments section below!

Comments Off on Redgrave and the ladies of 'The Help' lead the conversation on Best Supporting Actress Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: HitFix · In Contention