Academy of One: Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2011

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I want to get right into it today as there is a lot to cover and quite a few actresses I want to write about. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • Berenice Bejo - The Artist

  • Jessica Chastain - The Help

  • Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids

  • Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs

  • Octavia Spencer - The Help

This is a fine group of actresses and their performances offer some great comic relief. Yet, I feel quite a few stunning performances were unfairly left off this list and of Jessica Chastain’s six roles in 2011, I have a different film in mind to reward her with a nomination for.

O.K., so here’s my list of possibilities, trying to not double up on multiple wonderful performances from the same movie. I will however give you those alternate takes when I go into further detail.

  • Sareh Bayat - A Separation

  • Jessica Chastain - The Tree of Life

  • Keira Knightley - A Dangerous Method

  • Melanie Laurent - Beginners

  • Kim Wayans - Pariah

  • Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Sareh Bayat’s role in A Separation deepens as the film goes on and the layers behind her actions are peeled away. It all leads up to the stunning scene where she confesses her lie to clear her conscience and it leads to her downfall not only financially, but in her relationship as well. (Alternately: Leila Hatami)

The Tree of Life is my preferred performance of Jessica Chastain’s breakout year. As the embodiment of nurture/grace, she pulls off an incredibly naturalistic performance where she exudes love and affection in all she does even as she fiercely defends her boys against their strict father.

Keira Knightley is not an actress I would have thought of for this role, but that’s precisely why she knocks it out of the park. Her performance requires a physicality that she’s able to pull off and make believable as well as really having an ear for a tricky Russian accent. It’s my belief that this is the best performance of her career.

I have a strong attraction to wonderful French actresses. It must be something in the accent. It’s plain to me that Melanie Laurent is superb at playing an actress who is unable to stay in one place for long whether it be for work or just because the past has caught up to her there. Her physical choices and ability at expressive nuance are magnificent especially in the scenes when her character has laryngitis.

Every story of a person finding themselves needs that antagonistic presence that wants them to be a version of normal. Kim Wayans is able to embody that trope, but elevate it at the same time as the character has more layers to her than her faith and bias. She’s a woman who needs control and Wayans is able to tap into that perfectly. (Alternately: Pernell Walker)

Shailene Woodley, in her breakout performance, is able to add the nuance to what could have been a typical bratty teenager role. She shows the thick skin and reveals the sadness beneath in engaging and beautiful ways. That scene of her crying underwater is just heart-breaking.

All right, now that I have my list, it’s time to see if I can eliminate any from the original contenders. Here’s that list again.

  • Berenice Bejo - The Artist

  • Jessica Chastain - The Help

  • Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids

  • Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs

  • Octavia Spencer - The Help

I have two I think I can move aside. First up, Berenice Bejo. As I tend to start all of these, I don’t think it’s a bad performance. It’s just a performance modeled off of so many others that came before it in the Silent Era, which makes me less agog and more uninterested.

Next, I think you may be able to predict this one, but I’ll write her name down anyway, Janet McTeer. She certainly has the strongest arc of any supporting character in Albert Nobbs with the addition of the least cliched personality, but I think with this character there were too many attempts at madcap humor that just didn’t land and it soured me on the performance.

Now that I have the unpleasant part out of the way, here are the two I’m elevating to nominee status.

  • Keira Knightley - A Dangerous Method

  • Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

With these additions and a tweak to Jessica Chastain’s entry. Here’s what the field looks like now.

  • Jessica Chastain - The Tree of Life

  • Keira Knightley - A Dangerous Method

  • Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids

  • Octavia Spencer - The Help

  • Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

I have my nominees in place, so with that I ask, does Octavia Spencer still reign supreme? Short answer, no.

The Academy rewards comedy so little because comedy is often far more subjective than any other performing art and that comedy often deals with the surface and rarely dives deeper than it needs to for the joke, but when you watch Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids you’re not just getting the balls out funny version of Megan, you also get to see the person beneath.

One of my favorite scenes in the film, of which there are so many, is when Megan goes to Annie, who’s hit rock bottom in her life and Megan tells her about her life before. The story is peppered with hilarity, but it’s the true heart that McCarthy is able to sell.

She breathes life into a scene that could have so easily been dismissed or played completely for laughs. The best part of all is that it doesn’t even feel one iota out of place in the film. It fits so well with the narrative arc and McCarthy nearly brings tears to my eyes with this story in a comedy.

I encourage you to re-watch Bridesmaids with an eye on McCarthy, especially if you don’t agree with me. I hope you see what I see in this hilarious and affecting performance

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for Best Director.

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