Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
As the sweetest of domestic servants, suffering humiliation and soaring to triumph, Spencer is a standout in The Help’s flawless ensemble cast. A Golden Globes winner last week, she should be the one to walk down the aisle on Oscar night. The other four are likely to be her bridesmaids, including McCarthy, the first actress to snag an Academy Award nomination for pooping in a sink. Bejo topped that in The Artist: she danced, mimed, mouthed words no one could hear and filched moviegoers’ hearts on two continents. In Albert Nobbs, McTeer revealed a gentle gravitas as Glenn Close’s fellow cross-dresser.
Chastain’s impressive turn as a flighty blond outcast in The Help was one of six screen appearances she made last year; her work in The Debt, The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields and Coriolanus (plus Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome, shown at the Venice Film Festival but still awaiting U.S. release) make for a sensational résumé, but the Oscar will have to wait. Another half-dozen films, please, and quick.
Snubs: Vanessa Redgrave is no longer called the Finest Actress of Her Generation — maybe because that generation is 30 to 40 years past — but she gave her finest, most fiery screen performance in decades as Ralph Fiennes’ warrior mama in Coriolanus. Another Brit luminary, Carey Mulligan, Oscar-nominated two years ago as the precocious teen in An Education, earned ripe notices as Michael Fassbender’s drug-addled sister in Shame, but the film and her performance never achieved traction among Academy voters. Critics also praised Shailene Woodley’s performance as George Clooney’s rebellious elder daughter in The Descendants. The star of TV’s Secret Life of an American Teenager is just 20; she’ll be fine.
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