Oscars 2012: Nods for 'The Help's' Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain
Also nominated in the category were Berenice Bejo for "The Artist," Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids" and Janet McTeer for "Albert Nobbs."
The nomination is the first for Spencer, the 39-year-old character actress who was recognized for her scene-stealing turn as the sassy Southern domestic Minny Jackson in the box office hit set in the early '60s.
Spencer already has won the Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Movie Award for her performance, as well as the National Board of Review honor as a member of the ensemble of the film. She's also in contention for BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild awards.
The golden girl of 2011, Chastain -- who appeared not only in "The Help" but in "The Debt," "The Tree of Life," "Texas Killing Fields," "Take Shelter" and "Coriolanus" -- also picks up her first Oscar nomination for her role as Celia Foote, a garish Southern woman. Chastain, 30, has won several awards for her work on screen last year: The Chicago Film Critics honored her for "The Tree of Life," the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics recognized her for "Take Shelter," "The Help" and "The Tree of Life," and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. honored her for all of her 2011 films. She was nominated for a Golden Globe, the Critics' Choice Movie Award and a SAG award for "The Help."
The category, in fact, is one filled with fresh faces. The Argentina-born Bejo, 35, garners a nomination for her performance as the exuberant song-and-dance gal Peppy Miller in the black-and-white tribute to the dawn of Hollywood's Golden Age. Bejo won the supporting actress prize from the San Diego Film Critics Society and has been nominated for a Critics' Choice Movie Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG award. She is also nominated for a BAFTA in the lead actress category.
McCarthy, the 41-year-old farmer's daughter from Illinois who began her career as a stand-up comedian, received her first nomination for her comedic turn as the outrageous man-crazy Megan in the R-rated box-office sensation. The nomination caps a stellar year for McCarthy, who won the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series for CBS' "Mike & Molly." She also won the Boston Society of Film Critics honor for "Bridesmaids" and earned nominations at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and from SAG and BAFTA for her work in the film.
There is one returning nominee, though. Twelve years after earning a lead actress nomination for "Tumbleweeds," 50-year-old British actress McTeer returns to the Academy Award circle with a supporting nomination for her turn as Hubert Page, a lesbian disguising herself as a man in 19th century Ireland. McTeer was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the Glenn Close-led period drama and is also in contention for an Independent Spirit Award and a SAG award.
-- Susan King
Photo: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in "The Help." Credit: Dale Robinette / DreamWorks