I know I’m a bit early in predicting Oscar winners, but this year this particular major category is all but a mortal lock, so I’m going to write about it so that I can concentrate on other categories. Here is the breakdown of the possible reasons why each of these nominees can or will win the Oscar this year.
Bérénice Bejo for The Artist
For her: A major breakout role in a Best Picture nominee, the charming French star Bejo could benefit from her constant promotion of the film at Academy screenings and Q&As. This strategy worked well for then-little-known Marion Cotillard, who won the Best Actress Oscar four years ago for her unforgettable work in La Vie En Rose. This role is a bit of a category cheat, since it’s arguably a leading performance given the amount of screen time she has. (Heck, even the BAFTAs put her in the leading actress category.) Bejo has been nominated for every major guild prize, including SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice.
Against her: It’s a non-speaking role in a silent film, and Academy members may want to hear her in a speaking part before deciding to award her with their most glittering prize. Despite her numerous nominations, she didn’t win any of them and is usually considered an also-ran, category-wise. Bejo’s nomination may itself be the reward.
Jessica Chastain for The Help
For her: Another breakout performer, Chastain has no less than six films in play this year, with roles in Ralph Fiennes’s Shakespeare adaptation of Coriolanus, the indie favourite Take Shelter, the little-seen Texas Killing Field, the political drama The Debt and The Tree of Life, the latter making her the only nominee in this category to appear in two of the year’s Best Picture nominees. Chastain’s prolific presence gives true meaning to the term supporting actress. She had a major run of the critics’ prizes, winning awards in almost all major groups whilst sharing in Best Ensemble citations from SAG and Critics Choice.
Against her: The sheer body of work this year may be to her disadvantage, as she has also lined up a number of roles coming out for the next two years. Her versatility could, in fact, indicate to the Academy that since she could become a major star, she may have other chances to be rewarded. Chastain could also split votes with her co-star, the beloved Octavia Spencer.
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
For her: If ever there was a single memorable scene from any of the five women in this category, it’s likely McCarthy’s character’s unexpected bowel movement in a posh bridal salon. In other words, given the material she had to work with, she just might be the most fearless performer of the bunch. Short-listed for numerous awards and the unexpected winner at the Boston Film Critics, McCarthy is also the most high-profile nominee, since she appears weekly in the CBS hit comedy Mike & Molly, for which she won a surprise Emmy Award last fall.
Against her: That bathroom scene, puerile as it is, may turn off Academy voters who are already allergic to comedy. She also doesn’t have the aid of appearing in a Best Picture nominee or a prestige project unlike her other fellow nominees.
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs
For her: Veteran British character actress goes drag king à la Gwyneth Paltrow and Linda Hunt, and may end up being rewarded for her gender-bending performance. She easily received the best notices accorded the film, even from those critics who didn’t like Albert Nobbs. Plus, she has a theatre pedigree, having won a Tony Award in the past and appearing in prestigious British film, TV and stage productions.
Against her: The film doesn’t have the momentum of any of the women appearing in Best Picture nominees, or the sheer wide audience appeal of McCarthy’s movie. She needed critical prizes and not just rave reviews to boost her chances.
Octavia Spencer for The Help
For her: Winner of the SAG, Globe and Critics Choice awards, it’s a scene-stealing turn in a Best Picture nominee and popular hit. She also shared in some critics’ group awards along with co-star Chastain, and her gracious appearances on the awards show circuit have been well-received. She is a popular favourite and has also been seen supporting smaller independent projects at Sundance, proving that she has a wide and varied list of colleagues and friends rooting for her to win. (Some of them are even Academy members and reputation goes a long way. Just ask Eddie Murphy.)
Against her: Possibility of split votes with Chastain, but otherwise there are none to think of. Even those who didn’t like the help agree that her performance was a highlight.
Unless she declares her undying love and devotion to Kim Jong-Il or defects to North Korea, Spencer has this one in the bag.
The winner will be: Octavia Spencer.