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.

THE SESSIONS



I think that if someone is disabled, they should at least have the decency of being bitter and angry.  But I guess that Mark O’Brien, the central character in writer/director’s Ben Lewin’s movie The Sessions, didn’t get the memo.   Mark, crippled by polio as a child and unable to breathe on his own for long periods of time, has, what some might term, a rather positive attitude toward life, attending college and becoming self-supporting as a writer.   He never reaches the highs (or, perhaps more accurately, the lows) of Annie singing Tomorrow or the Von Trapp kids singing Do Re Mi.  In fact, one of the funniest lines here is when Mark is asked if he believes in God and he says he has to, that life would be unbearable if he couldn’t blame someone for all the awful things that happen.  But Mark has somehow managed to achieve an equilibrium about life that I doubt I’d be able to achieve in similar circumstances.
But there is one aspect of his life he has yet to explore.  Now, one of the rules for screenwriters is that if you are going to write a story in a familiar genre, then you need to find a new perspective, a new twist, to justify the foray.  And Lewin has more than learned that lesson.   The Sessions is basically a story about a man losing his virginity.   So we’ve had the horny teenage film (boy, have we had the horny teenager film) and we’ve had the middle aged man going all the way film (The 40 Year Old what’s his name).  So what’s left?  The man encased in an iron lung losing his virginity film, of course.  I mean, it’s so obvious, the only thing surprising is that someone hasn’t thought of it before.
John Hawkes plays O’Brien with a constant wistful look in his eyes.  But no matter how sad he is, Hawkes has this quality in his performance that won’t let you feel sorry for his character.  And you find yourself doing exactly what everybody else in the movie does: you fall for him, you fall for him hard.  And he has an advantage that many of us don’t—he is able to write love poems (taking a note apparently from Robin Williams’ teacher in The Dead Poet’s Society who told his students that the only reason one writes poetry is to woo women—though I always wondered how that applied to Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman).
Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, the sex surrogate who is called in like Dudley Do Right to help O’Brien achieve his goal, and it’s a perfect, if somewhat standard, roll for her, a character who starts off cold and distant, not able to share her emotions, finding herself forced to come out of herself (the Katherine Hepburn type part).   William H. Macy takes time out from his over the top, hedonist of Shameless to play a down to earth, practical priest who can only enjoy his hedonism second hand.  The previews make one think he’s going to be a caricature; but in reality, he brings a very relaxed and every day quality to his performance.
The movie is witty and touching and laugh out loud funny.  The directing, though a little flat perhaps, doesn’t get in the way and gets the job done.  There is one oddity that should be mentioned.  For a movie that preaches sexual freedom and that one should be comfortable with one’s body and nudity, Lewin is actually a prude and a bit of a hypocrite.  He has no problem showing the women in full frontal, but when it comes to the men, he uses a metaphorical fig leaf in the form of a very, very, very carefully placed mirror.   In the end, it makes one wonder who’s really the more uncomfortable with sex, O’Brien or Lewin?