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Oscar Predictions Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer & Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain, The Help
Jessica Chastain, The Help

The list of potential Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominees is nearly as long as the list of female cast members in Tate Taylor's socially conscious comedy-drama The Help. In fact, several The Help actresses are either likely or possible Oscar contenders.

Much like in the Best Supporting Actor category, in which only Christopher Plummer is a true shoo-in for his role in Mike Mills' Beginners, the only shoo-in in the Best Supporting Actress category is The Help's Octavia Spencer, winner of a Golden Globe, and a SAG Award and BAFTA nominee.

Now, how could North American critics' fave Jessica Chastain not be a shoo-in? Well, Chastain is a near shoo-in. Though not a strong probability, it's certainly possible that she won't get enough first/second place votes for either The Help or Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. And it could get even worse: Chastain fans could choose to vote for her performances in, say, Take Shelter or Coriolanus. In fact, that's the one instance – one actor with multiple well-received roles in a single year – when “splitting the votes” to the detriment of a potential front-runner is an actual possibility.

In 1946, for instance, Olivia de Havilland asked Universal to not push her for Robert Siodmak's thriller The Dark Mirror, as Paramount was already campaigning for her performance as a long-suffering single mother in Mitchell Leisen's melodrama To Each His Own. De Havilland not only got nominated for To Each His Own, she went on to win that year's Best Actress Oscar. Forty years later, Julie Andrews was in the running for two movies: Blake Edwards' dramatic comedy That's Life and Andrei Konchalovsky's drama Duet for One. Quite possibly due to vote-splitting (competition in the Best Actress category was hardly fierce that year), Andrews failed to be shortlisted.

Now, despite our misgivings, we believe that Chastain will be shortlisted for The Help because of both the film's popularity and Chastain's SAG Award nomination. In other words, most Chastain fans will likely vote for her performance in Taylor's sleeper hit – a much bigger box office success than Chastain's other 2011 releases, and quite possibly her only effort many (most?) Academy members will bother watching.

The Artist's Bérénice Bejo and Albert Nobbs' Janet McTeer are both up for SAG Awards. Bejo even managed to get shortlisted in the Best Actress category for the BAFTAs. Oscar nominations for both, though not guaranteed, are likely. Albert Nobbs hasn't exactly set the North American box office on fire, but then again neither did Tumbleweeds (1999), which earned McTeer a Best Actress Oscar nod.

For slot no. 5, if we pick Melissa McCarthy for Paul Feig's sleeper hit Bridesmaids, that'll mean an exact Academy-SAG match. That may well happen, but we'll opt instead for a possible upset: Vanessa Redgrave for Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. Redgrave was recently honored by the Academy at a London ceremony, and despite her controversial politics, she has loads of admirers and remains one of the most respected actresses anywhere in the world. A Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Fred Zinnemann's Julia (1977), Redgrave has been shortlisted for five other Academy Awards: as Best Actress for Karel Reisz's Morgan! (1966) and Isadora (1968), Charles Jarrott's Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), and James Ivory's The Bostonians (1984), and as Best Supporting Actress for Ivory's Howards End (1992).

Another strong contender, of course, is Golden Globe nominee Shailene Woodley for Alexander Payne's The Descendants, a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination.

Other possibilities are Carey Mulligan for Steve McQueen's Shame (but, despite her BAFTA nomination, not for Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive),Sissy Spacek and Bryce Dallas Howard for The Help, Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster for Roman Polanski's Carnage, Marion Cotillard for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Judy Greer in The Descendants, Maya Rudolph for Bridesmaids, Sandra Bullock for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Judi Dench for Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar (but, despite her BAFTA nomination, not for Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn).

Jessica Chastain/The Help photo: Dale Robinette / DreamWorks / Disney Enterprises

Goran Visnjic, Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Goran Visnjic, Christopher Plummer, gay lovers in Mike Mills' Beginners

This is part one of our last-minute Oscar 2012 predictions, beginning with the Best Supporting Actor category. The 2012 Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Surprisingly, the only Best Supporting Actor shoo-in this late in the game is Christopher Plummer (the captain who romanced Julie Andrews in Robert Wise's The Sound of Music) for playing Ewan McGregor's gay father in Mike Mills' Beginners. Plummer has already won a Golden Globe, a series of critics' awards, and is up for a SAG Award.

Following a whole slew of North American critics' awards, Albert Brooks should have been a shoo-in as well for his gangster in Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller Drive. Brooks, however, has been left out of both the SAG Awards and the British Academy Awards. In other words, his Oscar nomination has become less of a sure thing.

Even so, our guess is that Brooks will be shortlisted. The Academy, after all, tallies votes according to the preferential voting system. Thus, if only a minority of Academy members – around 20 percent – places Brooks in first or second place in their ballots, he'll surely be in. We believe it shouldn't be too hard for him to get those votes. If we're right, that'll be Brooks second Oscar nomination; the previous one, also in the Best Supporting Actor category, was for James L. Brooks' Broadcast News (1987). That year, Brooks (no relation to his director) lost to Sean Connery in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables.

The third slot goes to SAG Award and BAFTA nominee Kenneth Branagh for playing Laurence Olivier opposite Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn. If our prediction is correct, that'll be Branagh's first Academy Award nomination in the acting categories since Henry V (1989), which he also directed – and got nominated for his efforts behind the camera, too. Branagh lost the Best Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis for Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot, while that year's Best Director winner was Oliver Stone for the Tom Cruise vehicle Born on the Fourth of July. (Curiously, Olivier also directed and starred in a 1946 version of Henry V that earned him a Best Actor Oscar nod. He lost to Fredric March's World War II veteran in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives.)

Slot no. 4 will likely go to veteran Nick Nolte for his alcoholic former boxer and father in Gavin O'Connor's little-seen Warrior, a family drama co-starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. Nolte's previous two Oscar nominations, both as Best Actor, were for playing other troubled men: in Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides (1991) and Paul Schrader's Affliction (1998).

Slot no. 5 is a tough one. SAG committee voters went for Armie Hammer as Leonardo DiCaprio/J. Edgar Hoover's co-worker/intimate companion in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. Though a nomination for Hammer isn't impossible, we'd say it's less likely than one for, say, Patton Oswalt for Jason Reitman's Young Adult or for Jonah Hill for Bennett Miller's Moneyball. Our pick for the no. 5 slot, however, is neither Oswalt nor Hill (or Hammer), but Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method.

Mortensen has already been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, for Cronenberg's thriller Eastern Promises (2007). The fact that he is a much bigger name than most of his competitors surely is no hindrance to him – much to the contrary. Think dubious supporting players such as Ethan Hawke (Training Day) and Julianne Moore (The Hours).

Besides Oswalt, Hill, and Hammer, other possibilities include: Ben Kingsley for Martin Scorsese's Hugo, John Hawkes for Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Brad Pitt for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Jeremy Irons/Kevin Spacey for J.C. Chandor's Margin Call, Christoph Waltz for either Roman Polanski's Carnage or (less likely) Francis Lawrence's Water for Elephants, and Max von Sydow (or Tom Hanks??) for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Critical praise or no, a nomination for Andy Serkis for Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be a major upset.

Goran Visnjic/Christopher Plummer/Beginners photo: Focus Features.

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris, Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson, Alison Pill
Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson, Alison Pill, Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, despite the star wattage of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, has a chance only if the Academy members at Warner Bros. and Paramount decide to join forces like they did when making the movie, as the folks at Scott Rudin Productions will be spreading their Oscar love pretty thin already.

In addition to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, other Best Picture longshots include Terrence Malick's Cannes Film Festival winner The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight), Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (a Focus Features release that'll have a better chance if Focus' parent company, NBC Universal, throws its Oscar-voting weight toward the prestige British import), and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (FilmDistrict).

Even less likely, though certainly not impossible, are Paul Feig's Bridesmaids (Universal / Relativity Media), a SAG Award nominee for Best Cast, and George Clooney's The Ides of March (Columbia).

Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, no matter how brilliant, will land a Best Picture nod only if Farhadi himself lands a Best Director nod. Our point: Don't expect that to happen. The same goes for Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, Mike Mills' Beginners, and other such well-received “small movies” that failed to ignite at the North American box office. (Or to have Harvey Weinstein hawking them.)

Shoo-ins for the Best Director shortlist are Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Martin Scorsese for Hugo, and Alexander Payne for The Descendants. Our bet for the fifth slot is Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, though DGA Award nominee David Fincher is just as likely a contender for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Less likely (while remaining in contention) are Bennett Miller for Moneyball, Tomas Alfredson for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive, and Tate Taylor for The Help. Barring a miracle, Stephen Daldry's string of Oscar nominations – Billy Eliot, The Hours, The Reader; one for each of his feature films – will be broken when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is left out of the running in the Best Director category.

Midnight in Paris picture: Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics


         
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