“The Help” looking like a serious Best Picture contender – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Another film played its way into the Best Picture race this weekend, exceeding expectations as it solidified its standing at the box office which, like it or not, is a key component in any film’s awards campaign.

I’m referring to Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” which managed to top Rupert Wyatt’s prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in its second weekend and claim the top spot at the box office Top 10. Now that estimates have been turned into actuals, we can tell you that Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel earned an additional $20 million, pushing its cumulative gross domestically to $71.3 million.

If and when “The Help” crosses the $100 million mark, it will solidify its standing as a bona fide contender for a Best Picture nominee. “The Help” is exactly the type of picture the Academy considered when it loosened the restrictions on Best Picture nominees. If the category still had been locked into 10 nominees, I would have said “The Help” was guaranteed a nom. Now that the category is fluid, with an indeterminate number of movies getting in to the race, I’d say Disney has an excellent shot, but still has to work to campaign on behalf of the film.

The solid box office only helps the studio’s cause (pun intended). When “The Help” first opened, fellow Oscar analysts pointed at Sandra Bullock’s “The Blind Side” in comparison, saying, “If that crowd pleaser can get in, and win Bullock a trophy, why can’t ‘The Help’ follow a similar path?”

Sasha Stone at Awards Daily is starting to see the picture clearly.

“I see ‘The Help’ clocking in as 2011′s second truly strong and formidable Oscar contender (plus, when you get a load of the publicity team behind it you will see it can’t be beat),” she writes.

The second film she references is Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris,” which also makes the case for strong box office by becoming Woody Allen’s highest-grossing film of all time. Positive reviews help that film, as well.

So, do you believe we’ve seen two of a possible 8 or 10 Best Picture nominees? Can a number of movies rise up to push both “The Help” and “Paris” off of our radars? Or will we still be talking about these two significant films at year’s end, wondering why nothing has surpassed them in the marathon that is the awards season?

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