Spencer’s ‘supporting’ sweep easy as Oscar pie

Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic

WASHINGTON – In our “Countdown to the Oscars,” WTOP listeners have already predicted that Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) will win Best Actor and that Viola Davis (“The Help”) will win Best Actress. We now turn to the Best Supporting Actress category, where Davis’ co-star is practically a lock.

Who Should Win: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)

Who Will Win: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)

Octavia Spencer – “The Help”

After cleaning up for ungrateful bosses in “The Help,” Octavia Spencer has been cleaning up on the awards circuit, winning at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, BAFTA Awards and the National Board of Review. Expect her to make it a clean sweep at the Academy Awards in her first career nomination. Predicting this one is easy as pie. Big old “chocolate” pie, like the kind used by Spencer in a hilariously gross payback scene.

The scene is just one shining moment in a film full of juicy performances. While Emma Stone carries us through the plot, and Viola Davis bears the emotional weight, Spencer is the one we remember. Her sassy “I never burn fried chicken” attitude provides an important comic relief for a film so heavy with racial oppression. She doesn’t make light of a terrible situation; she makes light in spite of it.

Jessica Chastain – “The Help”

Joining Spencer is her “Help” co-star Jessica Chastain. It’s no coincidence that both would receive nominations, as their characters share a number of memorable scenes together. Spencer’s character goes to work for Chastain, teaching her domestic skills and aiding in personal affairs. Drinking herself sick and taking great pains to squash gossip, Chastain’s character is a more erratic version of January Jones in “Mad Men,” a beautiful porcelain blond living in a phony post-war suburbia.

It’s Chastain’s first Oscar nomination, and ironically, it wasn’t her best performance of the year. Like Brad Pitt, Chastain deserved a nomination for “The Tree of Life,” but instead got one for a more mainstream film, she for “The Help” and he for “Moneyball.” Themes of anguished motherhood pervade both her roles, and her Oscar nod completes a trio of acting nominations for “The Help,” catapulting it to the top prize at the SAG Awards for Best Ensemble Cast.

Melissa McCarthy – “Bridesmaids”

A few years ago, Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly took the award stage to complain that comedians get “no love at the Oscars.” Actress Melissa McCarthy bucks that very trend, proving so hysterical in “Bridesmaids” that she was tapped for a nomination. The film has often been called the female version of “The Hangover,” making McCarthy the kindred spirit of Zach Galifianakis, both crude, overweight outliers in uproarious wedding parties.

It’d be nice to see more comic actors get Oscar respect, rather than winning only lifetime achievement awards. When are we going to start recognizing the Chaplins, Keatons and Marx Brothers in their own time? As Octavia Spencer wins the statue for baking her “special” pie in “The Help,” you can bet McCarthy will be grinning ear to ear, knowing that she desecrated a sink. Expect Billy Crystal to connect those dots at some point in the show.

Berenice Bejo – “The Artist”

The one possible spoiler in this category is Berenice Bejo as the vibrant young actress Peppy Miller in the French silent film “The Artist.” Her co-star Jean Dujardin is likely to win Best Actor, and like him, Bejo must portray her character without words. Her character is in quite the predicament, eying potential stardom in talking pictures while trying not to lose her silent movie-star man.

Blending a rare charm and beauty, her best scene comes when she enters Dujardin’s dressing room and spots his coat (a status symbol). Bejo makes movie magic as she slips her arm into one of the sleeves, pretends it’s Dujardin’s hand on her hip, and embraces her invisible lover. What a special scene, considering Bejo is the wife of the film’s writer/director Michel Hazanavicius.

Janet McTeer – “Albert Nobbs”

Rounding out the list is Janet McTeer in the Glenn Close vehicle “Albert Nobbs.” While Close plays a woman disguised as a male butler in 19th century Ireland, McTeer plays the hired house painter who discovers her gender secret. It’s the second nomination of McTeer’s career after “Tumbleweeds” (1999), and she’ll most likely have to earn another before she takes home the gold.

Check out our Best Actor and Best Actress predictions. Join WTOP for an in-depth look at all nine Best Picture nominees every Wednesday and Friday until the Academy Awards on Feb. 26.

Read more from WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley by clicking “Fraley on Film” under the “Living” tab above, and check out his blog, The Film Spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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