The critics awards gave their biggest push to young Shailene Woodley, honouring her turn in The Descendants with twelve nominations and five wins. Close on her heels, though, are Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids & Octavia Spencer for The Help, each with ten nominations and three wins. Spencer's role is cut straight from the Oscar template (funny, fiery, heartwarming), while Melissa McCarthy is far left of center (the endearing, but borderline mental, "wild card" in an already extreme - but extremely funny - bunch of women). If it wasn't for the precedent of Robert Downey Jr's nomination for Tropic Thunder, I'd say it's just not an Oscar performance, but as the standout performer in a film with significant box office, cultural impact and critical respect, she's definitely a very real contender.
By far the most nominated supporting performer of the year, however, is Jessica Chastain. The problem is that the attention is divided between three of her films - Tree of Life, The Help & Take Shelter. Added up, she has a total of twenty-one nominations and eight wins. But her campaigners will have to settle on a single film to push her through to the Oscars. The most logical strategy is to push her for The Help, with its massive box office, a very likely Best Picture nomination & a very likely win for fellow supporting nominee Octavia Spencer, although, personally, it is the weakest of the three performances (and the only one for which she didn't actually win any awards). But being that it is funny and moving & that she shares most of her scenes with the dynamic Octavia Spencer, The Help seems like a good bet for Chastain to break the Oscar ice with.
Other big hitters with the critics are Carey Mulligan for Shame, with eight nominations, Berenice Bejo with six nominations for The Artist and Janet McTeer with five nominations for Albert Nobbs. Berenice Bejo seems unable to miss with all the heat around The Artist, Carey Mulligan somehow seems doomed to fall by the way-side, despite the love for Michael Fassbender (one nomination seems to be as much as they're willing to give to Steve McQueen's challenging, X-Rated film), and it is unclear whether Janet McTeer can get in if her leading ladyman, Glenn Close, doesn't. Early favourite Vanessa Redgrave creeps in with three critics nominations for Coriolanus, but at this point it doesn't seem enough.
Spencer, Chastain & Bejo have been fairly consistent contenders, and all star in very popular Best Picture contenders, but Woodley, McCarthy, McTeer & Mulligan have all had some significant misses: McCarthy replaced Woodley in the Screen Actors Guild & BAFTA nominations, while McCarthy missed out at the very comedy-friendly Golden Globes. With all the love for The Descendants - & the Oscars' love for nominating pretty young things - it's hard to imagine Woodley missing her nomination, but whether McTeer or McCarthy take the fifth spot is up in the air (Mulligan missed the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs confused things by nominating her for Drive instead of Shame, so at this point, I'd consider her the year's unsung critics' darling, which is a different kind of prestige).
McTeer has been a regular nominee with mainstream awards, but missed at the BAFTAs. Most of her nominations have been together with Glenn Close, although she has picked up some nominations where Close missed. On Oscar-level, I'd say that her performance only has as much heat as Close's does. If Close's campaign is unsuccessful, and I am betting that it is, it seems likely that McTeer's acclaim will also get lost in the underwhelmingness.
Octavia Spencer - The Help
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Shailene Woodley - The Descendants
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs