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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2011-2012)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2011

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Analysis:

This category felt like Octavia Spencer from the jump at the time. And it annoyed the shit out of me. Because why? Not to mention the never-ending amount of annoyance I had for the Melissa McCarthy nomination, which I won’t get into right now.

SAG had all five here. And I remember this being a pretty cut and dry, boring category with a clear winner. So that backs it up.

BAFTA had 3/5. Missed McTeer and Bejo in favor of Carey Mulligan for Drive and Judi Dench for My Week with Marilyn. One was a “Judi” nomination, the other was a “never gonna happen.”

The Globes had 4/5, with Shailene Woodley over Melissa McCarthy. Which, you guys have no idea how much happier I would have been for the Shailene Woodley nomination. Especially over the McCarthy nomination. I’d have probably even voted for Woodley in this category at the time. She was great in The Descendants. I’m shocked she didn’t get more traction in the precursors.

BAFTA had 4/5, missing McTeer in favor of Woodley and also Carey Mulligan. Which is a very BFCA thing to do.

Spencer swept all these, so everyone knew how this was gonna turn out. And we knew what the category was gonna be too. So most of this was me holding out hope Woodley could sneak on, and once she didn’t, resigning myself to the inevitable.

The Artist is such a wonderful film. Simple to the point where I wonder how it’s gonna hold up as a Best Picture winner, but man, do I love it.

It’s about George Valentin, a silent movie star who is on top of the world… until the coming of sound. And slowly everything starts falling apart for him.

Bejo plays Peppy Miller, an aspiring actress who meets Valentin early on, and soon after, their careers take opposite trajectories. She becomes a huge star as his star begins to fade. Though there’s clearly an attraction there and she secretly helps him out in his time of need.

She’s so utterly likable and charming that it’s hard not to fall in love with the character. From the scene where she and Dujardin dance from the opposite sides of the backdrop, to her putting her own hand in his suit jacket, to the scene where they meet on the stairs and she dances for him — she’s wonderful.

Now, the performance is solid, but I get not voting for it. I want to because of how much I love the film and the character, but even I’ll admit the performance isn’t necessarily tops and you don’t need to vote for it. But we’ll see.

The Help is a light, breezy film about race. You know, for white people.

Emma Stone is a white girl who comes back to her small southern town and decides to write a book from the point of view of (insert title here). She interviews all the black housekeepers, who know all the secrets, which of course no one really wants to do for fear of being fired and such. And overall, it’s a solid movie with good performances. Not exactly hard hitting, but definitely good.

Octavia Spencer plays Minnie, an outspoken woman who keeps getting fired for speaking her mind. She ends up working for Chastain, who nobody wants to work for, and her big moment is where she reveals she once baked her own shit into a pie and fed it to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in retaliation for being fired simply for using the bathroom in the house during a thunderstorm.

She’s a brash, likable character, but honestly, there’s not a whole lot there for her character in terms of an arc or much of anything for me to want to vote for her. I’ve been saying that since she won. She’s good. But I don’t feel a defined arc and so much of the performance seems to be based around the one scene. It’s tough to want to vote for her in this category, especially since…

Jessica Chastain plays not too bright, but likable woman married to a rich man who used to date Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. So as such, Howard has made it so nobody talks to her. And as such, no one wants to work for her either. So Spencer is reduced to having to work for her since it’s the only job she can get. Only Chastain doesn’t want her husband to know she’s hired a maid. So it has to be kept secret.

She’s the emotional center of this movie. To me, the best scene in the movie is when she and Spencer make fried chicken and go to eat it, and she sits down at the kitchen table with Spencer, who tells her it’s not right. She’s supposed to eat in the dining room while Spencer eats in the kitchen. And very succinctly and sternly, she says, “I’m fine right here.” Which, without any fanfare whatsoever, speaks volumes.

Oh, and there’s a scene where Chastain miscarries and only tells Spencer and keeps it from her husband. Not to mention her final moment, where her she cooks Spencer a meal made entirely on her own as a thank you. She gets comic scenes where you get to like her, emotional scenes where you get to wholly sympathize with her, and she’s the moral center of the film. To be quite honest, I can’t really understand why, on a pure performance level, why Spencer won over her.

Bridesmaids is a cultural phenomenon of a comedy. It is what it is. I’m not separated from this film enough to have objectivity about it.

Basically it’s about a wedding and the competition between the bride’s maid of honor and another bridesmaid, who threatens to take over the wedding planning. It’s — a comedy. Don’t worry about what it’s about. Plus at this point, most people have seen it.

Melissa McCarthy plays the groom’s sister, who is basically just a foul-mouthed and crude human being. That’s really all she is. She ad-libs every line and says crazy shit all the time. She’s basically doing a foul-mouthed Chris Farley bit. The way she moves is very Farley. But the fact that she curses all the time takes away from it. The beauty of Chris Farley is that he didn’t need to resort to that stuff to be hysterical.

I have very, very strong feelings about this performance and how it relates to this category, but to keep it simple, whatever your feelings are about this performance, there’s no way you actually vote for this. So that’s all that matters.

Albert Nobbs is one of those passion project kind of movies. Clearly Oscar bait to the max, but also an interesting story.

It’s about a woman who lives as a man in 19th century England in order to make it in society. So she has to constantly maintain her secret. That’s pretty much the movie.

Janet McTeer plays someone who’s doing the same thing, posing as a man in order to get by. She lives with a wife, and paints. She and Albert become friends. There’s not a whole lot to the performance. McTeer is good, but there’s nothing here to really vote for. She felt like one of those nominees that was, at the same time, both inevitable and really really uninteresting. Which is what it is. If it weren’t for my feelings about Melissa McCarthy’s performance, she’d be fifth. And as it stands, that’s basically 40% of the category that’s a blank for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: McCarthy and McTeer are off before we even think about picking someone. They’re absolute no go to start. And between the two Help nominations, Chastain is clearly the better of the two. There’s so much more going on with the character and the actual performance. And while Bejo is utterly charming and lovable, I wouldn’t take her. To me, this is an easy Chastain win all around.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jessica Chastain, The Help
  2. Berenice Bejo, The Artist
  3. Octavia Spencer, The Help
  4. Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  5. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Rankings (films):

  1. The Artist
  2. The Help
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Albert Nobbs

My Vote: Jessica Chastain, The Help

Recommendations:

The Artist is a Best Picture winner. So that makes it a certain level of essential. No idea where we’re at right now, but I’m calling it an essential movie.

The Help will not be an essential movie the more time goes by. But it won an Oscar, so Oscar buffs need to see it. And it was a big film in 2011. But we’re five years out. It’s highly recommended, but not essential.

Bridesmaids is somewhat of a culturally essential movie. Which will also change the more time goes on. It’s okay. I don’t recommend it all that much. It is what it is. Most people have seen it and like it.

Albert Nobbs — ehh. Take it, leave it. Whatever you want. It’s fine. Not essential at all.

The Last Word: I don’t see Spencer as the best choice in the category. For me, it’s Chastain all the way. Her performance in the same film was roundly superior, and I didn’t even mention once the fact that in this same year, she was also in The Tree of Life. To me, she’s the only one that should have really won this category. You want to argue Spencer being a better choice over Berenice Bejo, fine. I’ll take that, even though I liked Bejo better. But I don’t see how anyone denies Chastain being tops in this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2012

Amy Adams, The Master

Sally Field, Lincoln

Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Analysis:

2012 was a fun year. Which I don’t know why it was. Because this category wasn’t overly inspiring. I guess because I loved Les Mis and was pleased with the result.

SAG only had 3/5. They missed Weaver (everyone did) and Amy Adams in favor of Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy. Never gonna happen) and Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. More on her in a minute).

BAFTA had 4/5, missing Weaver in favor of Judi Dench for Skyfall. Which is kinda awesome, all things considered.

The Globes had 4/5, having Kidman instead of Weaver.

And BFCA 4/5, missing Weaver in favor of Dench and Ann Dowd for Compliance. Which… Ann Dowd was terrific and go no traction this year whatsoever.

So, when figuring out this category, we knew four of the five were utterly locked. And that’s a typical scenario in this category, where when only four of the five are locked, you look at the rest and go, “I guess this one makes sense, but I don’t think they’re gonna do it.” And then a shocker comes in on the morning.

In this case, the shocker was Jacki Weaver, who makes complete sense when you step back and look at it, but at the time was one of those, “Whoa,” nominees. Because no precursors, to start. And then it’s, “Wow, they just nominated this film for four acting Oscars.” But, they clearly loved this film, and she was just nominated two years prior. So it makes sense.

When I was looking, I said, “They’re not gonna nominate Judi, so I guess it’s Maggie Smith. Because what else?” And it’s always something like Jacki Weaver. Which is one of those things you need to start thinking about and be ready for in cases like this. Which is how I managed to nail the Tom Hardy nomination this past year for The Revenant. I sniffed that shit right out.

But anyway, Anne Hathaway swept everything and was a clear winner all the way through in this one. No surprises there whatsoever.

The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson talking about scientology. He doesn’t tell you he’s talking about scientology, and he’s not explicitly stating that Philip Seymour Hoffman is L. Ron Hubbard, but let’s not pretend here. We know what it is.

The film is about Joaquin Phoenix as an unstable veteran who crosses paths with Hoffman and becomes part of his religion, or cult, or what have you. It’s an utterly fascinating film on a lot of levels, and is completely impossible to explain, plot-wise.

Amy Adams plays Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wife. It’s the kind of performance that would be nominated here. The thing is, and I noticed this when I saw the film for the first time, long before she was nominated — she doesn’t have anything to do. You get the sense that she’s gonna be the Lady Macbeth of the film, but you don’t really get glimpses of it. There are hints there, and there’s the one scene, which I’ll get to in a second, but ultimately, she’s sitting in the background of so many scenes, while Phoenix and Hoffman take center stage.

love Amy Adams. I want a reason to look to vote for her. I love this movie. Watching the trailer, I thought for sure this was going to be the surprise MVP performance of the film. But when it got done, all I said was, “She just kinda sits there, pregnant, and then spends a scene jerking Hoffman off in the bathroom.” Now, sure, jerking Philip Seymour Hoffman off in a bathroom should be enough to get you an Oscar nomination, but you have to really pay attention to the performance to see all the work she’s putting in, and even so, there’s not enough of her in the film to really make me want to vote for this, and I’m looking for a reason to want to vote for this.

Lincoln is a travelogue documentary about the capital of Nebraska. Great, great town.

Nebraska actually didn’t become a state until 1867. Just FYI.

Not a biopic of Lincoln so much as a time in the life of him. During the ratification of the 13th amendment, which, as the line says, “The greatest measure of the nineteenth century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.” That’s the film in a nutshell. It’s awesome. Also pretty great how they got Lincoln to play himself.

Sally Field plays Mary Todd. She’d been gone for a few years and this was her first big role back in a while. Given her stature, the film, the role, of course she got nominated. And, honestly… I thought the character was annoying. She’s good in the part, but either the way it was written or the way she decided to play it, I was not a huge fan of the character. It felt like Sally Field acting and not a character. Which is tough, since she’s up against a dude who’s so good, you actually forget there’s an actor playing the part. So, I get the nomination entirely, but would not vote for it at all.

Les Misérables is a title that sounds so much worse in English.

Big, classy, epic musical about Jean Valjean, in prison for twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread. He gets paroled, but realizes he can never have a life, so he starts a new identity under a new name. Though Javert, the policeman, is obsessed with finding him and taking him down, so he pursues him throughout the years. All this tied to a major historical event in French history (when a bunch of students barricaded themselves and tried to start a revolution. It didn’t end well). And they sing.

Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, the big supporting female part in the film, who gets the most famous song in the film, “I Dreamed a Dream.” She’s a factory worker who had a child with a guy who said he loved her and then left. So now she’s working to raise money for her child, who is living with a couple in another town as their child. It’s found out she has a child and she is fired. She then resorts to selling herself on the docks. She’s later found by Valjean when she is sickly and dying, and he, recognizing her, takes her in until she dies and promises to look after her child.

Her big scene is “I Dreamed a Dream.” And whatever you feel about the film, or the way they shot it, or the fact that nearly every line in the film is sung, there is NO denying how fucking good the performance is for this song:

Those three minutes, to me, are good enough to win her this category. In a stronger year, maybe not. But here — I’ll take those three minutes over every other one of these categories. She’s so good that she’s gone for almost two hours of the film and you still feel the performance.

Like Hathaway, hate Hathaway, hate the movie, whatever — you can’t deny that performance. You can vote for someone else, but you can’t deny it.

The Sessions is a film about a dude in an iron lung who decides he wants to get laid before he dies.

That’s actually not a joke. That’s what the film is about.

Helen Hunt plays the sex therapist he hires. She’s married, but she does start to have feelings for the guy. It’s… I mean, she’s fine. I don’t particularly love the film or the performance, but she’s solid. She’s an Oscar winner who had a solid performance in an indie darling. I get the nomination. Wouldn’t vote for it at all, and I’d wager nor would most people.

Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite of the David O. Russell films of recent years. It’s also the film that Russell purists hate the most. Which I also understand. Me, I enjoy both sides.

Bradley Cooper is fresh out of a mental institution after a breakdown he had when he found his wife cheating on him. He’s living with his parents and trying to start over and be positive. He meets Jennifer Lawrence, a woman who went a little nuts when her husband died and started sleeping with a bunch of men. They become friends and decide to enter a dance competition together.

Jacki Weaver plays Cooper’s mother, and she’s got a pretty thankless role in the film. She’s very solid, but she doesn’t get all the flashy scenes like the other actors do. So seeing her get nominated was more a shout out for a low key, respectable performance. I remember being really happy to see her on there because she was a solid choice to some dubious alternatives. But she’s not someone you vote for. Though admittedly, she is exactly what this category is all about, so I will give her major props for that.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Oh, it’s Hathaway all the way. That’s not even a question for me. She’s gone within the first forty minutes of the film, but man, does she pack a punch. The “I Dreamed a Dream” alone is worth the price of an Oscar. No one else in this category holds a candle to her. I thought Sally Field’s character was far too annoying and too overdone. I was indifferent about Helen Hunt’s performance. Jacki Weaver was nice, but was not someone I’m gonna vote for. And that only leaves Amy Adams, who felt like she was barely a part of the film. Even if you don’t want to take her for whatever reason, there’s really no one else to take.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
  2. Amy Adams, The Master
  3. Sally Field, Lincoln
  4. Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Rankings (films):

  1. Les Misérables
  2. Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Lincoln
  4. The Master
  5. The Sessions

My Vote: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Recommendations:

We’re too close to this, but, to make it easy — Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and The Master are all essential films. The first three won Oscars and The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson, and all his films are essential. Just see them all.

The Sessions is solid. Worth a watch, but you could also skip it and be fine. Your call.

The Last Word: It’s Hathaway. I don’t see who else you take. Some people will like Hunt. Okay, cool. Some will take Adams, even though I don’t see what’s there in the performance. Cool. Doubt anyone takes Weaver, and don’t think most people would take Field. This seems like a runaway Hathaway win. That song beats just about everything. It feels wrong, but best is best.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. Nathan

    I can deny Anne Hathaway’s performance. It’s easily the weakest performance there. She just shrieks and does a puppy-dog act. It’s blatant Oscar-baiting at its most contemptible.

    February 21, 2017 at 8:39 am

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