by Wilfred Okiche
I read the piece published earlier where my colleague listed 5 reasons why the civil rights drama, ‘The Help’ swept the Screen Actors Guild awards and will go on to sweep the Oscars and I can only say, ‘They wish.’
My colleague is clearly enamoured of the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel but a critical appraisal of this year’s awards season suggests that ‘The Help’ stands little, if any chance of a sweep.
It already has some one trophy in the bag come Oscar night, yes. Octavia Spencer is definitely going to be crowned best supporting actress (and we’ll probably never hear of her again) but as for winning best actress and best picture, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
For Meryl Streep, it’s about time.
Right now, the best actress race is a three way tie between Streep (The Iron Lady), Viola Davis (The Help) and Michelle Williams (My week with Marilyn). Williams started great, winning the golden globe but has lost a lot of steam lately, leaving the race for a Streep vs. Davis showdown. Of course it would be nice to support the underdog,(Davis) in this case but when it comes to winning, for the last 30 years, Streep has been something of an underdog too. Yes she has scored more noms than any actor, dead or alive but no she has not won an Oscar since I982’s ‘Sophie’s choice’. Her embodiment of the iron lady has been heavily lauded and it is inconceivable that America’s greatest living actress has only one best actress win to her name (her only other win is for a supporting turn in 1979’s ‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’’. It is a slight the academy finally has a chance to correct. And they will.
Great lines? Not nearly
While ‘The Help’ had peerless source material and was adapted exquisitely to screen, it did not score a best screenplay nod and it is this omission that will cost it the best picture race. From the nominations, it is essentially an actors film and nothing more. The wins are expected in the acting categories. Films like ‘The Artiste’ and ‘The Descendants’ who are nominated across the board are more serious challengers for best picture.
Who needs the A-list? We do
After a ratings decline last year, thanks to the uninspired hosting of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the academy will want a ratings coup this year and this may mean going back to what they trust- in other words, Meryl Streep. She is a movie star par excellence, represents the traditional Hollywood and her win is likely to draw in more viewers than say a Davis, who despite a previous nomination, is still unknown in most circles. Plus how long can the academy deny Streep that second best actress trophy?
The finest acting you can find
In all fairness, both movies boast off the finest acting possible, one from a tight ensemble and the other from one of the greatest actresses ever. While the supporting acts in ‘The Iron Lady’ do fine work, there is no doubt from the get go whose movie it is. It is Streep’s and she almost single-handedly carries it. ‘The Help’ benefits from stellar input from all of it’s talented performers and each holds their own, combining to produce a great wholesome experience. Davis, Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, are all superb and no one owns the film individually. Some critics have argued that Spencer spends as much screen time as Davis but was shifted to the supporting role to boost her chances of winning and avoid the dreaded vote-splitting. While it may work for Spencer, Ms Davis may end up losing out.
It’s the role not the performance
Most often than not, when there are two great performances, the scale is tipped towards the most iconic role. For the last 10 years, most best actress wins have gone to actresses playing real, larger than life characters, (see Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’, Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind side’ and Helen Mirren in ‘The Queen’.) Sure, Davis’ role, as important as it is inspiring is great but she has nothing on the real life Thatcher who is one of history’s most influential figures. Davis plays Aibilene, a fictional variant of the strong black woman. Streep is Thatcher.
There you have it, my five cents on why only Octavia Spencer should be preparing an acceptance speech. And I do agree with my colleague on one account, we’ll both be slitting our wrists should Rooney Mara be announced best actress.