Nominations: 4 (Best Picture; Best Actress: Viola Davis; Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain; Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer)
Availability in the US: On DVD and Blu-ray
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic material
In a small town in 1960s Mississippi, Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring writer, turns her town upside-down when she decides to interview the black maids who have helped raise the white children of her town. The first maid who agrees to be interviewed is Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter's best friend's maid. Meanwhile, after being fired for using the indoor bathroom rather than the outhouse during a raging storm, Aibileen's friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) goes to work for social outcast Celia (Jessica Chastain), who has little love for the social order of town.
From beginning to end, The Help is nothing short of excellent. It is, at turns, funny and sad, heartwarming and heartwrenching. As the brave and bold Aibileen, Davis is marvelous. Bursting onto the Oscar radar three years ago in Doubt, Davis shows range here that her previous nominated performance lacked. Octavia Spencer also shows impressive versatility as Minny, who is distrustful, mischievous, and yet understanding and caring. This is Spencer's first nomination and first real noteworthy film role, which would hurt her if the category were chock full of veterans, but of the five nominated actresses, only McTeer has ever been recognized before by the Academy. Chastain, whose role is rather small compared to Spencer's, is just as phenomenal and no less deserving of recognition, leading some to worry the two may split support for the film in the supporting actress category.
As one of the best films of 2011, The Help seems almost certain to garner at least one or two awards on Sunday; Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are both considered frontrunners in their respective categories, and Davis is almost a shoo-in. Spencer's success is less certain; her awards buzz peaked early, and a sweep of major awards by The Artist could bring Bérénice Bejo along for the ride, especially if Chastain syphons off some of Spencer's votes.Grade: A+