The Oscar Warrior: Seeing Double in the Supporting Actress Race

ON

It seems to be an Oscar tradition, one that’s occurring more and more, and that’s the idea of two actresses being nominated in the supporting category for the same movie. It has happened the last three years and it might happen again with The Help if both Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are nominated, which the pundits and oddmakers seem to be favoring right now.

This is a tradition that dates all the way back to 1939 with Gone with the Wind getting two nominations in the Supporting Actress category for Hattie McDaniel (who won) and Olivia de Haviland. A few years later, Little Foxes got two nominations, Mrs. Miniver a year later, then The Song of Bernadette, then the original Mildred Pierce a few years after that. According to our count, this has happened 29 times with the only time three actresses were nominated in the category being for Tom Jones in 1963.

Last year’s The Fighter had nominations for Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, the year before it was Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air with Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick and Doubt (Viola Davis, Amy Adams) the year before that.

It’s not that strange because there are so many films based around ensemble casts that have great actresses in supporting roles, and you have to think every year, the Actors’ Branch of the Academy have movies they like more than others, so one has to assume that the movies that are performance-driven with a great cast stand out. Certainly, one could say that about all the movies mentioned above as well as Chicago and Gosford Park and Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, all with dual nominees.

This trend seems to point favorably to both Spencer and Chastain getting nominated for The Help but what are the odds on one of them winning?

Melissa Leo’s win for The Fighter last year was the first win for a dual-nominated movie in the category since Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago eight years earlier. Before that was in 1994 when Dianne Wiest won for Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway over fellow nominee Jennifer Tilly. Then you have to go all the way back to 1979 when Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her performance in Kramer vs. Kramer over Jane Alexander. That doesn’t bode that well for Octavia Spencer, who many believe is the favorite to win the category and gives an advantage to someone like Berenice Bejo, likely to get nominated for the Best Picture frontrunner The Artist.

If a movie has enough support among the Acting kBranch to get two supporting actress nominations, one has to figure that gives said movie an advantage when it comes to its potential to win Best Picture, right? Well, not exactly. Chicago received two nominations and it won Best Picture. So did Gone with the Wind. In between the two was Tom Jones in 1963 and Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979 and that’s about it. Two (or more) supporting actress nominations does show support for a movie among the Acting Branch, but doesn’t guarantee a Best Picture win when you have all the other branches weighing in. (Actors make up roughly 23 to 27% of the overall Academy)

On the other hand, both Chicago and Gosford Park won the Screen Actors Guild’s Ensemble Cast award (in consecutive years) and one can see The Help possibly besting The Artist this year among SAG actors. Again, this is under the assumption both Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain receive Oscar nominations for their roles in the movie, which we won’t know for sure for another few weeks. If both of them do get nominated and SAG does give The Help their Ensemble Cast award, and if Tate Taylor gets nominated for a DGA award (announcing next week Monday), then we can seriously start considering The Help as a potential Best Picture winner.

Otherwise, it’s still The Artist‘s to lose.