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The Best Performances of the Year: Will the Screen Actors Guild Influence the Oscars?

January 30, 2012

By John C.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer

Last night, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards seemed to be indicative of what we might end up seeing come Oscar night on February 26th.  Christopher Plummer was once again confirmed as the frontrunner when he took home Best Supporting Actor for Beginners.  Jean Dujardin shot to the front of the race when he was awarded Best Actor for The Artist, beating out George Clooney for The Descendants.

But perhaps the most telling in terms of Oscar predictions was the love given to The Help.  Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for the film, and Viola Davis beat out Meryl Streep’s performance in The Iron Lady to triumph in the Best Actress category.  At the end of the night, The Help also deservingly took home the award for Best Ensemble Cast.  With another awards show behind us, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at the twenty performances honoured with nominations at the Oscars.

Especially considering that the nominations for the SAG Awards perfectly mirrored the acting noms at the Academy Awards in all but three places.  Tilda Swinton was honoured for her leading work in We Need to Talk About Kevin, where the Academy favoured the equally unsettling work of Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Leonardo DiCaprio was honoured with a Best Actor nomination for his surprisingly uninspired work in the lackluster J. Edgar, where the Academy made the better choice by switching him out for Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Also nominated at the Screen Actors Guild was the laughable supporting performance of Armie Hammer in J. Edgar, where the Academy made the more inspired choice of nominating Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Other than that, the conversation is the same.

Among the biggest surprises of last week’s Oscar nominations was the inclusion of Damián Bichir in the Best Actor race for A Better Life.  It’s a powerfully moving performance in a field of great actors, and hopefully the nomination will encourage more people to see the film.  Gary Oldman also received his first Oscar nomination for his excellent and carefully controlled work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but the race is really down to three people.  Brad Pitt was nothing short of brilliant in Moneyball, and has never won an Oscar, but I don’t think this is the year that he will finally take home the gold.  Jean Dujardin seems to be the favourite for his excellent and perfectly realized silent performance in The Artist, but I would still love to see George Clooney win for his moving and unforgettable work in The Descendants.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The only weak spot in the Best Supporting Actress category is the embarrassing fact that the Academy nominated Janet McTeer for her work in Albert Nobbs, over Shailene Woodley’s brilliant performance in The Descendants.  Other than that, the category offers a perfect list of great performances.  Melissa McCarthy isn’t going to take home the gold for her hilarious work in Bridesmaids, so for her the nomination is the award.  The same goes for Bérénice Bejo’s wonderful performance in The Artist, because the race is down to the ladies of The Help.  Jessica Chastain had an amazing year and gave one of my favourite performances in The Help, but the very deserving winner here is going to be Octavia Spencer for her equally excellent work in the film.

Equally strong is the line up for Best Supporting Actor.  Whether he’s quoting Shakespeare or letting loose with a string of swearing, Kenneth Branagh perfectly embodied Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn, but the nomination really is the award.  The same can be said about Jonah Hill for his excellent and nicely understated work in Moneyball.  I’m thrilled that Max von Sydow was honoured with a nomination for his heartbreaking and entirely silent performance in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Equally deserved is Nick Nolte’s nomination for his powerful performance as a recovering alcoholic in Warrior.  But the winner here is going to be Christopher Plummer.  The iconic Canadian is good in Beginners as a man coming out of the closet in his old age, but his performance is the classic example of one that is better than the overrated actual film.

But the Best Actress race is where things get a little more unpredictable.  At one point in time, Michelle Williams seemed like the frontrunner for her mesmerizing portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the excellent My Week with Marilyn, but she unfortunately seems to be out of the conversation.  The nomination Glenn Glose got for the dry period drama Albert Nobbs seems more like career recognition than it does love for the film.  Rooney Mara’s was effective and unsettling in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s not the sort of performance that actually wins the Oscar.  The race is down to Meryl Streep and Viola Davis.  Meryl Streep is good in the mediocre biopic The Iron Lady and could take home the gold, but hopefully she will win her third Oscar for a better movie.  My favourite to win the award is Viola Davis for her deeply moving performance in The Help, and after the Screen Actors Guild Awards this Oscar dream seems like a very real possibility.

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