Gold Diggers: The Oscar Chances of The Help

So right now there is a whole lot of talk going around about this little movie that could. While The Help is a movie I’m not particularly too wild about, it’s important to take a look at it in the abstract sense. Right now, it’s the movie everyone is talking about, which is impressive for a movie on its 3rd weekend, even at the end of August. People are talking about the controversial messages, both overt and unintended, that stem from white people effecting change for blacks. People are talking about it as a female book of the month movie adaptation and how it compares to the now annual list of late summer similarities. But what I hear most now is people talking about The Help and the Oscars.

Let’s start big. Right now, a perfect storm is brewing. The Help is going to have 5 things going for it to snag a Best Picture nominee.

1) Box Office Everyone loves a money-maker. Or at least all of the executives who vote on Best Picture do. A box office hit means it’s well attended, relatively well liked, and also will draw viewers to watch the ceremony. Since it only cost $25 million to make, it is going to look like a huge success story.

2) Acting The number one reason to see this movie is the wealth of performances on display. The ensemble, as a unit, is one of the strongest you’ll find this year. Each of the big name actresses gets to shine and several newer names are also coming to the forefront. Emma Stone is the new “it” girl, Jessica Chastain is the new girl who’s everywhere, Viola Davis is the pedigree Oscar nominee, Sissy Spacek is the famous actress in a comedic role, Octavia Spencer is the funny one, Bryce Dallas Howard is getting her resurgence, Allison Janney is ALWAYS wonderful, and that’s just off the top of my head.

3) Controversy A good controversy, whether well-founded or not, is good at keeping the movie in discussion. Those ballots aren’t going out for another 4 long months when hundreds of films are going to do their best to bait those little gold statues. With a controversy, it’s likely to still be remembered after that long haul. And hey, no press is bad press.

4) Minority Votes While it is a bit presumptuous to say that all women vote for movies with a female cast or all veterinarians would vote for Zookeeper. But there is some truth in it. If more females want to see female ensemble movies, which in turn means more roles, they are going to vote for the female movie. If black people want to see black roles, they will vote for The Help. This may sound a little affirmative action, but who cares? If it progresses the film world forward, then why not?

5) Narrative What each of these factors builds up to is the existence of an Oscar narrative. This is no longer a movie – it’s a phenomenon. The press of the movie itself is following a narrative arc. This is how The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, and Slumdog Millionaire all made it to the end. They had stories. People are rooting for this movie in all of these different unique ways. So long as these ideas are kept fresh, this movie will go all the way to a best picture nomination.

With a Best Picture nomination comes a Writing nomination just behind. This makes a lovely nomination in the adapted screenplay category because the book was so popular.

Now comes the tricky part. Acting.

There are really only four names I could consider seeing getting nominations.

1) Viola Davis She is the life and blood of this movie. She also gives a powerhouse performance in a quiet role. She is acting her pants off. And pants off acting gets a nomination. The question with her is what category? I am convinced that she is the lead in this movie, even more so than Emma Stone’s character. I think Disney will see that and she will get a nomination.

2) Octavia Spencer Sandra Bullock already famously endorsed this vote. She gives an equally wonderful if just a touch lighter performance alongside Davis. The supporting actress category was built for performances like this. She’s even got a chance to win!

3) Jessica Chastain Between The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Debt, Coriolanus, and The Help, Ms. Chastain is going to be all over the cinema of 2011 and she’s currently 3 for 3 on the performances I’ve seen. If the world decides to giver her a 2011 commemorative nomination, this seems like her best bet so far, but that certainly is a long shot.

4) Emma Stone She is the other red head who is having a good year. While the part certainly isn’t weighty enough, the power of Easy A, Crazy Stupid Love, and now this could push her just far enough. And Disney has said they are ready to campaign for her. Interesting.

Finally, the one nomination I will guarantee is one NO ONE has even mentioned yet. The Help will snag a nomination for Best Original Song. Mary J. Blige’s song “The Living Proof” will show up. It’s a big star, singing a big moving song in a category that routinely struggles for nominees. Sure Cher missed last year, but that’s because no one respected her movie. People respect Mary J. Blige and they respect the movie.

The only other category it MIGHT break into is Best Director, but I don’t think Tate Taylor has a large enough profile, nor a large enough role in the film and the narrative of the film’s Oscar race to make it through. He’s just a friend of author Kathryn Stockett, and he will be rewarded for that in the writing category.

The Help’s 5 nominations

Best Picture, Actress – Viola Davis, Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer, Adapted Screenplay, Original Song

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