Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Melisa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)
What happened to make this category so uncompetitive? I thought from last August that Octavia Spencer would be a strong contender, but I never enivisioned her Mo 'Nique-ing her way through the latter part of the season.
Part of what happened was, the reputable critics decided -- not unreasonably -- that Jessica Chastain's breakout year should be noted. Unhappily, they opted to do this without distinguishing among her several performances. This set up, for the Academy, the obvious move of citing her most widely seen work, in The Help, rather than what I'd single out as her best, in Take Shelter. I certainly doubt she'd have ever won for the latter, but at least it would have set her apart. As it is, she's paired with Spencer the same way Queen Latifah was with Catherine Zeta-Jones: as the clear junior partner, one very unlikely to get votes from those disposed toward the film.
This critical mass around Chastain also prevented two other praised candidates -- Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Redgrave -- from getting any post-season traction. Janet McTeer is the only one to truly arise from the critics' corner, and her film is such a wee thing that her chances are negligible.
This leaves Berenice Bejo, who mostly acts perky for an hour and a half, and is not in Dujardin's class as far as range or winning over voters, and Melissa McCarthy in a thoroughly Academy-atypical performance. I've heard a few folk wonder if she could be this year's Marisa Tomei, but that misses the point of 1992. Tomei, yes, was the likable female character in a popular comedy, buts she was up against two unhappy middle-aged women in not-very-well-liked films, and two older ladies in corset films. As I see it, Octavia Spencer in her goes-down-easy film is already filling the Marisa Tomei slot. I'd be shocked were she to lose.