There are a whopping nine films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. And between your work, family, and constant USA marathons of Law & Order: SVU (when will those ever stop being addictive?!), you simply do not have time to catch all nine in the theaters or on DVD. But never fear, dear PopWatchers — that’s why we’re here! Each day leading up to the Academy Awards Feb. 26, we’ll be providing you with a deep dive into one of the nine Best Picture nominees. Fear showing up to your Oscars party unprepared to discuss the year’s most notable films? We’ve got you covered. (Just beware: Spoilers ahead!) And if you’ve already seen all nine films, even better — our inside look at each nominee will serve as a handy guide to remind you of the best and worst moments from every Best Picture candidate this year. Today, we get a dose of southern hospitality in The Help. (Be sure click here for more deep dives into this year’s Best Picture nominees!)
Name: The Help
Release date: August 10, 2011
DVD release date: Available now
Run time: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Box Office: Opening weekend: $26 million; total domestic: $169 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76 percent
The Help’s movie math: [(Maid in Manhattan – Manhattan) + (The Color Purple x Driving Miss Daisy) + (The Stepford Wives x Mean Girls)] / Mad Men
Tweetable description of The Help: College grad interviews black maids about hardships, realizes there are deeply-seated racial tensions in the South. #whitegirlproblems
What EW’s Owen Gleiberman said: “The Help, an emotionally enveloping, sharply alive big-canvas adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s powerful 2009 novel, is rooted in truth more deeply than just about any Hollywood movie I can name… The movie isn’t perfect; it sometimes shows its stitching. But mostly it’s a stirring salute to subjugated women who hold their heads high… A-.”
Number of Oscar nominations: Four. Despite being neglected in all technical categories, The Help managed to score nods for the Academy’s top acting honors: Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), and two for Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain).
Cast/Director’s Oscar history: Director Tate Taylor and most of the principal cast have never been honored by Oscar; two notable exceptions are leading maid-y Viola Davis, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for her role in Doubt, and Sissy Spacek, who was nominated for Best Actress six times, winning once in 1981 for Coal Miner’s Daughter.
What The Help has won thus far: Does “our hearts” count? In terms of things that actually matter, The Help has racked up numerous acting awards for its stellar cast: Octavia Spencer won the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice, and Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Supporting Actress, as well as a number of other trophies; Viola Davis took home the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice awards for Best Actress; Jessica Chastain picked up Supporting Actress awards from the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics; and the entire cast took home the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild awards for ensemble performance.
Why The Help should win Best Picture: It was a smash at the box office, and among all of this year’s nine nominated films, it’s probably the one that most average moviegoers have seen. It’s a much-discussed question: Why shouldn’t the most commercially successful film be given the crown? Moreover, the film boasts some truly brilliant performances by three of the most remarkable actresses of the year. If The Help wins, it will largely be due to awe-inspiring turns by its heavenly leading duo, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, and a marvelous supporting turn by Jessica Chastain.
Why The Help should not win Best Picture: Naysayers have called out the film for being manipulative, and it’s true – the film is masterfully programmed to tug at the heartstrings with its sensitive, racially charged story. It’s a guilt trip for some viewers, an insult to others, and ultimately, it takes a touchy subject and beats it into you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Vegas odds: 12/1, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting
EW’s Dave Karger’s odds: Our resident Oscar expert puts The Help in the third slot to win Best Picture, but he also notes that “without nominations in the directing, writing, or editing categories, it’s got basically no chance at Best Picture.”
Moment most worthy of an Oscar: Davis, Spencer, and Chastain each had moments in which they proved why they could win individually, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the truth about Skeeter’s maid Constantine was revealed; the exchange between Emma Stone and Allison Janney, intercut with a heartbreaking flashback showing Constantine’s painful termination from the Phelan household, was devastating to watch.
Best line from The Help: “Eat… my… sh–!”
Worst line from The Help: Anytime Allison Janney says, “Skeetah!”
MVP (Most Valuable Prop): Minny’s pie takes the proverbial cake, arguably not just for this film but for all of the Best Picture nominees. In fact, no other baked good made quite as much of a – shall we say stink? – at the cineplex this year.
Best fashion moment: Celia Foote’s fashion faux pas at the charity benefit may not have won favor among the stiff housewives, but it certainly wasn’t painful to look at. In fact, nothing she wears in the film is painful to look at.
Worst fashion moment: Hate to say it, but those maids uniforms certainly weren’t flattering.
Best music moment: Mary J. Blige’s “The Living Proof” is the film’s signature original song, but I’m particularly enchanted by our introduction to the story’s setting with “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter playing as Skeeter drives through town.
Like the movie? Learn about the book: Before the tear-jerking movie, there was an equally tear-jerking novel by Kathryn Stockett. Released in 2009, the book was a sleeper hit (EW gave it an A-) and quickly became a staple of summer book clubs and reading lists. Remarkably, it took exactly two and a half years from the book’s publication date to the movie’s release, which is a notably fast turnaround considering how quickly The Help got the Hollywood treatment.
Speak, Minny, speak!: Long before the movie release, Spencer voiced the character of Minny in the novel’s 17-hour audio book. We love it if only because we can hear her talk about the “Terrible Awful.” Twice.
Mississippi green: The 1996 film A Time to Kill was previously the highest grossing film to be shot in Mississippi, grossing $152 million worldwide – but The Help raked in $169 million domestically, breaking the record and receiving the oddly alliterative title of ‘most money made from a made-in-Mississippi movie.’
Five Oscar Party talking points:
1) “Director Tate Taylor was childhood friends with Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the book – specifically modeling the character of Minny after their friend Octavia Spencer, who played the role in the movie. You didn’t know?”
2) “Meryl Streep and Viola Davis are each other’s closest competition, but they actually co-starred together and were nominated in separate categories for Doubt in 2008. Pass the ladyfingers, Desmond.”
3) “You might not believe me, Cornelia, but Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard both played Gwen Stacy in a Spider-Man movie. Is the world not the smallest?”
4) ”I found Taylor’s employment of the hoary Mammy archetype to be an efficacious albeit precarious adjudicature, but Octavia Spencer’s neoteric victories should demonstrate the critics’ accession.”
5) “The book was rejected 60 times before it was finally published. So yes, Sebastian, by all means, finish your manuscript.”
EW Special Coverage: Oscars 2012