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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 17, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Oscar countdown: “The Help”

Continuing our alphabetical countdown of the Best Picture nominees, today we have “The Help,” one of the year’s surprise box-office hits. (I say “surprise” because it always seems to come as a surprise to Hollywood and the media that people will attend a movie that’s primarily about women.) Based on the popular novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is a story of race relations in the early 1960s South, focusing on two maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both nominated for Oscars) and a young white woman (Emma Stone) who wants to write about their lives and the racism they face. Directed by Tate Taylor, “The Help” is handsomely filmed and beautifully acted — if, to me, a bit off-balance. (Stone’s character is remarkably less interesting than Davis’s or Spencer’s — so why does she get so much screen time?) A hit with audiences — “The Help,” in a virtual tie with “Bridesmaids,” was the year’s highest-grossing film that was neither a sequel or a comic-book movie — the film got people talking, and gave Davis the leading role she so long has deserved. Bravo.
Total U.S. box office: $169.6 million (the highest of all of the Best Picture nominees)
Total Oscar nominations: Four — best picture, actress (Davis), supporting actress (Spencer and Jessica Chastain)
Best chance for a win: Spencer, at this point, is a slam-dunk; she’s terrific in the movie (though I still maintain she’s a co-lead, with Davis and Stone, rather than supporting), and she’s been scooping up all the pre-Oscar awards, including the SAG and the BAFTA. Sorry, Chastain. Davis is currently in a two-woman race with Meryl Streep for best actress, and it’s too close to call — will voters give Davis her first Oscar, or Streep her first in 30 years? Dare we hope for a tie? For best picture, “The Help” isn’t likely, but it’s just the kind of movie that could quietly build up some support; we shall see.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Well, if Streep and Davis could pull off a tie, and came up on stage and recreated their (fabulous) scene from “Doubt” in formal gowns, how much fun would that be? I’m dreaming, I know.
Where I’d rank this movie among the nine Best Picture nominees: 5 or 6
nwthehelp06.jpg
Davis and Spencer, out of uniform, in “The Help” (photo courtesy of DreamWorks).

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