a theatre, film & pop culture review
Missing: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
First-time nominee Octavia Spencer is the frontrunner here, having already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice awards for her no-nonsense maid in The Help. While the smirking Spencer is blissfully vengeful — author Kathryn Stockett wrote the character with Spencer in mind — her Minny Jackson is the stereotypical “sassy black servant” that is so prevalent in films like this (we’ll get into what “this” means in my upcoming Best Picture post). Tate Taylor’s amateurish direction simply doesn’t do anything to help her move beyond that.
Jessica Chastain’s Celia Foote represents another kind of stereotype in a film riddled with them: the sexy and silly non-Stepford wife that all the prim white racist bitches ostracize, Chastain does a nice job of creating some layers of vulnerability and depth that are obviously not built into character as written (there’s a reason The Help isn’t nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay after all). Why she was given her first nomination for this rather than for her vivid, ethereal work in The Tree of Life, we’ll never know, but at least she’s a breath of fresh air in a film that is stagnant with white guilt and “feel good” self-importance.
Albert Knobbs is a small film, with quiet, solid performances. Janet McTeer, as Hubert Page, the woman who dresses as a male painter and lives with her “wife” to “get by” in a time and society that would not allow two women to live together, possesses a hearty sense of humor, strong voice and sturdy frame that marks her performance admirable, if not entirely believable (those breasts!). But that’s the premise of the film, so if you don’t buy into it, there’s not much else to be done. A strong stage and film actress, this second nomination of McTeer’s is deserved, but the role simply isn’t showy enough to really get her noticed.
Though a fan of Melissa McCarthy (I can’t be the only one still waiting for a Gilmore Girls movie), I just can’t get behind her nomination here. Playing the the gross-out, shame-free comedy that is usually relegated to guys — apparently she and Jonah Hill switched gigs this year — McCarthy does have some stellar moments such as the airplane scene when she hilariously insists her neighbor is an air marshall. But her inclusion in this year’s nominees is obviously the Academy’s rare concession to popular consensus.
It’s hard to believe that The Artist’s sweep of this year’s awards won’t include that for Best Supporting Actress, but unfortunately the deserving Bérénice Bejo will be going home empty-handed. Though we never hear her voice, her animated facial expressions — that innocent head tilt and coy li’l wink — and super-sunny disposition as the burgeoning star of the silent screen capture the heart of a down-on-his-luck established actor. Peppy Miller may be more one-dimensional than Minny Jackson, but at least this enchanting performance by a beguiling unknown doesn’t come with a side of deluded nostalgia — just pure, pure joy.