For the first time in Academy Awards history, the Emmy Awards might have given a hint to a serious Oscar nominee.
At face value, Melissa McCarthy’s stunning win for best actress in a comedy series just looks like one of those surprise upsets that happen every once and awhile on most awards shows. Perhaps presumed favorites Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Laura Linney or Eddie Falco just cancelled each other out to allow McCarthy to sneak in (nothing against Martha Plimpton, but she didn’t have a chance). Granted, that may be part of the reason McCarthy won, but it clearly isn’t because of her sitcom “Mike & Molly.” The CBS show is hardly a critic’s darling and its “Molly” recognition was the show’s only major nomination. What was more apparent, is that the Groundlings veteran got a big boost from her supporting role in the monster hit “Bridesmaids” this summer. In an ensemble of very funny women including Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose “Who knew?” Byrne, McCarthy’s butch and man-hungry Megan was an audience favorite.
There are clearly other reasons why McCarthy surprised Sunday night. She’s been in the TV biz a long time with notable roles on “Gilmore Girls” and “Samantha Who?” so she clearly has friends in the industry who were rooting for her. But “Bridesmaids” was her cinematic coming out party. Coupled with the fact “Mike & Molly” turned into a modest hit for CBS, McCarthy has reached a level of notoriety she’s never had before. And that goodwill could easily be segued into a supporting actress nomination for “Bridesmaids.”
Sure, it may sound far-fetched. Sure, the Academy may be too stuck up to ever consider nominating McCarthy for her comedic chops, but it’s not unheard of. In the ’90s there were a string of best supporting actress winners for comedic roles: Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost,” Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny,” Diane Weist in “Bullets Over Broadway” and Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love.” More recently, Penelope Cruz won her first Oscar for “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” On the men’s side it’s much rarer for a comedic performance to be recognized, but Robert Downey Jr. found himself with a nod for “Tropic Thunder” just three years ago. Moreover, best supporting actress is wide open this season. There is clearly no frontrunner and who will make the final five is way up in the air (although Octavio Spencer for “The Help” is one solid bet).
As HitFix’s own Daniel Fienberg remarked to me this evening, there is a huge amount of goodwill in the industry for McCarthy right now. SAG voters are Emmy voters and they are Oscar voters too. If Universal makes a concentrated push for “Bridesmaids” with the acting branch they may find an unexpected avenue to recognize their big summer hit outside of the original screenplay category (which is a bit of a stretch) in McCarthy. So, if on Oscar nomination morning McCarthy is announced as a best supporting actress nominee don’t be surprised. The, cough, Emmys were the first sign her amazing year was far from over.
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For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.