Academy Awards season is always electric especially after most of the other awards shows are already in the can.  So many people tend to base their Oscar predictions on the outcomes of the Golden Globes, the SAG awards as well as few others.  Sometimes these predictions are spot on and at other times a dark horse in the running edges out the favorite nominee.  So far Octavia Spencer (The Help) has emerged as an obvious front-runner. Whatever the outcome might be in 2012, each of the five nominees for Best Supporting Actress are all talented craftspeople, however not every role in the spectrum is exactly Oscar material.

Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)I find this nomination a bit befuddling as it is somewhat out of character for the Oscars.  It brings to mind Marisa Tomei’s 1993 win for My Cousin Vinny. McCarthy must have been blown away when she got the call that she had been nominated for her first Oscar for a role in a raunchy comedy. I did enjoy McCarthy’s performance and I thought she was one of the best parts of this very funny film.  McCarthy portrays Megan, the future sister-in-law to Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  McCarthy is raw, inappropriate and unapologetically disgusting at times.  She brings a vulnerability to the token “fat girl” role as she makes an unlikely leap from a comic, chubby chick to a full-fledged, three-dimensional character near the end of the film. Oscar doesn’t always shun comedies but more often than not, performance nominations and awards go to dramatic roles.  2011 was a year full of strong supporting dramatic roles and when McCarthy made the list but Carey Mulligan (Shame) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) were both left off, I really had to wonder.  This nomination made me think that the Oscars need to honor performances differently by giving comic actors a category of their own.  Comic and dramatic acting are two different skill sets and often times the comic actors stand no chance of taking home the statue even if they are nominated.  It is no different here. McCarthy was wonderful, but it is highly unlikely that she will be going home with Oscar in hand. That is unless, of course, the Academy has another My Cousin Vinny moment.

Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)Who doesn’t love this unlikely movie star? McTeer was previously nominated in 2000 as Best Actress in a Leading Role for Tumbleweeds. In 2012 she finds herself with another Oscar nod for a role that took her out on a limb. McTeer is a masterful actress whose imposing physical stature is rare for a woman in film. McTeer’s height was certainly a consideration in casting for the role of Hubert Page, a woman that dresses as a man in order to make a living in Albert Nobbs.  But it is her magical honesty that made her so compelling as Mr. Page.  McTeer never “puts on” the man, so to speak.  And her undeniable femininity is never fully masked.  That is where the beauty in this character lives, in the witnessing of a person forced to live a lie.  McTeer is remarkable in this flawed film.  Despite the slow pace of the narrative, McTeer is totally engaging in this role.  McTeer is certainly a good choice for the Oscar but given the competition, I doubt very much that she will take it home.

Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)Bérénice Bejo is certainly the dark-horse in the running.  The novelty of a modern silent film has had an almost mystical effect on the public.  Bejo’s portrayal of Peppy Miller, an aspiring star coming up through the silent film era, is lovely.  The film and the actress have both become critical darlings. Bejo has almost no text with which to tell her story, save a line or two at the end of the film.  This is definitely a unique challenge when it comes to acting. It is certainly unlike any other in its category and because of that the Academy may very well be so charmed with it that they can’t resist.  I was captivated by Bejo’s performance but not blown away.  She was just an inch shy of really touching me emotionally and while that may partially be a product of the silent genre, it is fair to say her work not “the best” in this category.  However, the romantic Academy may see it differently. It is not a stretch to think that they would honor Bejo with this award; many people think that they will.  But while it might not be a surprise if Bejo wins, it will be an upset for sure.

Jessica Chastain (The Help)Life has been good for Jessica Chastain of late.  She has bounded onto the screen with several dynamic performances, including one which earned her an Oscar nomination. Chastain’s turn as Celia Foote in The Help has secured her place as a rising star.  Her purity, sweetness and vulnerability shine on the screen and it is impossible not to fall for her in this role.  It is an enviable role for any actress, the meat of Celia’s emotional arc is rich and Chastain does it justice in no small way.  This might be her first nomination for an Oscar but it is not likely to be her last.  For that reason, if no other, I wonder if the academy might hold off on giving her the honor this year.  Given the outcome of the Globes and the SAG awards, I think there is only a very slight chance that Chastain will win.

Octavia Spencer (The Help)Octavia Spencer must be floating on a cloud these days; not only has her performance as Minny in The Help earned her an Oscar nod but Spencer has literally swept the awards circuit this year, including the Globes, BAFTA, SAG, London Critics Circle, Chicago Film Critics and so on.  Spencer is clearly the favorite for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and she deserves to be.  Spencer brings Minny to life beautifully and for fans of the book, no one else could have done as well.  Minny is lovely, direct, tough, vulnerable and endearing.  The social impact of the film is profound and the cast is to be commended for lending their truth to these characters, characters that were not popular to some who took offense at the way in which black women were being portrayed.  But these characters, including Minny, are important, relevant and real.  Spencer is so talented and so nuanced in her work that it is impossible to resist Minny.  And that is why no critic has resisted so far.  It is almost certain that Oscar will see it the same way and Spencer will have a lovely new man gracing her mantle on Monday, February 27th, 2012.

All in all, this is a great group of ladies.  If those who are unlikely to win (McCarthy, McTeer, Chastain) remember that the nomination is really a great honor then they will have a wonderful night just basking in the limelight.  The dark-horse (Bejo) may be in for a great surprise if the envelope reveals her name, but she is best off to prepare for the loss and revel in the win if it should happen.  The odds on favorite (Spencer) will have the night of her life, and if for some reason she doesn’t win, hopefully she will look at all of the awards she has won thus far and still be proud of her admirable achievement.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 27: Best Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 31: Best Animated Short – Savanna New

February 1: Best Documentary Short – Christa Youngpeter

February 2: Best Documentary – Dantzler Smith

February 3: Best Foreign Language Film – Steve Neumann

February 4: Best Visual Effects – Michael Benedict

February 5: Best Sound Editing – Michael Benedict

February 6: Best Sound Mixing – Joseph Doherty

February 7: Best Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 8: Best Costume Design – Jax Russo

February 9: Best Art Direction – Scott Youngbauer

February 10: Best Film Editing – Michael Benedict

February 11: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

February 12: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 14: Best Animated Feature Film – Steve Neumann

February 15: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Doherty

February 18: Best Supporting Actress – Angela Stern

February 20: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 22: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 23: Best Picture – Kit Bowen