21. The Help (2011)
Awards won: Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
Take the white savior out of The Help and you’ve got a fine film about black housekeepers in 1960s Mississippi, struggling for acceptance and fair treatment. But then you’d also have a movie that barely tops 40-50 minutes, since director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the 2009 best-selling novel by author Kathryn Stockett is mostly concerned with the pursuits of its main character, a young wannabe writer named Skeeter (Emma Stone).
As the film’s two central maids, Aibileen and Minny, actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give remarkable performances, but, in Hollywood’s typically limiting way, they’d both only be eligible for Best Supporting Actress. Given a handful of powerful monologues, Davis and Spencer are only allowed to emote in Stone’s presence, dictating their true stories to Skeeter for her non-fiction book.
In theory, that’s not a bad approach. But given the material, the film's decision to white-wash its narrative through the ever-dreaded “savior” character and her own uninteresting subplots (the worst of which involves the dullest of love interests), instead of using Skeeter as a framing device to delve into Aibileen’s and Minny’s pasts, becomes a cowardly failure.