BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS OSCAR 2012



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Continuing my analysis of the 2012 Oscar race, it’s time to look at the Best Supporting Actress category.  This category has one of the same issues as the Supporting Actor category: for every lead in a movie, there are numerous supporting roles.  At the same time, as usual, it does look like the group is getting narrowed down to six or seven.
This category does have two unique issues this year.  One is that, unlike the Supporting Actor category, career noms are rare in the female categories (there are exceptions, like Lauren Bacall, Sylvia Sydney and Ann Southern).  The nominees are on average much younger than their male counterparts.
The other issue I wrote about in my entry on Best Actress.  This is a weak year for women, so some actresses have to make a decision whether to push themselves in the lead or supporting.  In a normal year, actresses like Jessica Chastain and Helen Hunt, and even Helen Mirren maybe, might have gone for a supporting nom.  But this year, they may be feeling that they might be able to get a lead nom (Jessica Chastain has apparently decided to go for it).   Also, Helen Mirren definitely has a leading role and a good chance of being nominated.
Now the list:
Anne Hathaway to win for Les Miserables.  This is actually a difficult prediction to make since the movie hasn’t opened yet, so it’s an unknown quantity.  But the buzz is so…buzzardly, that it seems like for now, this is what is going to happen.   She’s also a lead actress taking a supporting role (Robin Williams, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Helen Hunt for The Sessions.  Pretty much a sure thing.  It’s an excellent performance that is really being pushed.  And the possibility of John Hawkes getting a Best Actor nom will only help her.
Sally Field for Lincoln.  Also pretty much a sure thing.  Like Hunt, it’s hard to see how this won’t happen.  It’s a strong performance in a movie that is doing better than people predicted and may, now that Argo has peaked perhaps too soon, actually win best picture.
Amy Adams for The Master.  As I’ve said before, the movie went over my head and I don’t really understand people’s ravings about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (I felt that it wasn’t their acting so much as their characters weren’t that well written).  But everybody seems to think this is a done deal.  But I suspect that the people behind the push for The Master may have to put some extra effort just to get the voters to see it since my impression was that it didn’t have that great a reception (except by critics, which may help turn the tide as the critics awards start dribbling in).
As for the other possibilities:
Maggie Smith for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  In many ways a surprise for me.  The movie kind of came and went.   But it’s Maggie Smith, who is one of the world’s finest actresses, and with the right push, they may be right.   There’s good buzz here.
Ann Dowd for Compliance.   I personally hope she makes it.  She’s great and it’s always fun when an unknown in a small movie makes the list (Melissa Leo in Frozen River and Richard Jenkins in the Visitor).  My friend says she may get the Jacki Weaver nomination (they are both character actors, older women, relatively unknown before their movies were released—Weaver got a nom for Animal Kingdom).   There is only one problem here and that is that Jacki Weaver may get the Jacki Weaver nomination.
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.  A popular movie and Weaver is very good so she may be dragged along with the other nominees.  Poor Bradley Cooper if she does, because he will be the only major actor in the movie not to get a nom.
There are other names out there, but as of right now, no one that serious.
However, something should be said about Jessica Chastain.  For awhile, she was assumed to be running in the supporting category for Zero Dark Thirty, then she changed to lead.  One issue here is that the movie hasn’t been released, so it is an unknown quantity.  What most people were commenting on, though, is what part could she have in a film about the killing of Bin Laden that could be a lead?  This may be a bit chauvinistic an observation, but we are curious.  And it does seem, as far as I can tell, that the Golden Globes have put her in lead (and they make the determination before the voting commences).  So we shall see whether Chastain has talked herself out of a nom or not.

COMPLIANCE



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What would you do for a Klondike Bar?  What would you do if a police officer called you in the middle of a busy night as manager of a fast food restaurant and claimed they had a witness who saw one of the employees steal and the officer needs you to help him carry out the investigation, even to the extent of performing a strip search?  This is basically what happens (well, worse, actually) in Compliance, the controversial new film written (extremely well) and directed (in standard poverty row, digital chic) by Craig Zobel. 
Inspired by true events, in which a sociopath would call unsuspecting locations and claim to be with local law enforcement, Compliance begins as a very effective character study as to how gullible people are and how easy it is for us to obey authority, even if the authority is spurious.   It’s not an easy premise for Zobel to pull off.  No one in the audience is going to admit that if put in the same situation they would do the same thing (no matter that the epilog mentions that something similar happened 70 times in the U.S.).  
In fact, the audience is immediately going to go for the holier than thou attitude, looking down on the poor wretches who fell for the ruse saying to themselves that “of course they fell for it, they work in fast food”.   And there’s one very effective scene at the end in which the restaurant manager is interviewed by a TV reporter with the best attitude that a Pharisee can buy that perhaps earns the character more empathy than even Zobel might have intended.
But Zobel does sell his premise and he does it very effectively.  First through a very solid and believable screenplay with dialog that is well thought out, all delivered in a very realistic and natural vernacular and cadence.  But second, and perhaps more importantly, through a series of strong performances by all involved.  No matter how much you might question that such a thing could happen, the actors make you believe it.    The triumvirate that holds the film together, Dreama Walker as Becky, the victim; Ann Dowd as Sandra, the manager; and Pat Healy as “Officer Daniels”, the villain, are first rate.  Healy especially excels in his role as a salesman who can sell ice to the Eskimos with a delivery so oily and decadent he puts Hannibal Lector to shame.
Zobel also does one very interesting thing with the role of Becky by making her somewhat unsympathetic when she first appears on the screen, giving her the personality of a princess who thinks she’s too good for the job and superior to her manager.  At first one actually enjoys her discomfort, until what happens really starts to sink in.
But Zobel only sells it for about half way until something so awful happens that one slowly begins to have second thoughts about whether this could really happen.  At this point, it no longer becomes a study as to how far some stranger can con people, but becomes a study as to how far some screenwriter and director can con a theater audience, which isn’t the same thing.  I’m not saying that this awful thing didn’t happen in real life; maybe it did (it’s never stated one way or the other).  And I don’t want to dismiss so cavalierly something so awful happening to someone.  But even if it did happen, all I can think of is Mark Twain’s comment: The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible.  Because of this, the movie fails somewhat as a study of human nature, but still remains as a very effective horror movie.