Viola Davis

Back in the early days of Oscarwatch we had a rule: it wasn’t about advocating; it was about predicting.  It wasn’t about what SHOULD win; it was about what WILL win.  But all of that changed as the Oscar watching industry grew.  Now, just like internet dating, there is no stigma to it.  The best way to write about the Oscars, I figure, is to advocate – the reason is that there are simply too many voices out there predicting so that it has become very nearly a pointless echo chamber.  At any rate, most bloggers kind of sort of do advocate even when they’re trying hard to.  You can see a bias coming from a mile away.  But over at Indiewire’s Press Play they are doing a series on Should Wins – and they’re really wonderful. They make a good case here for Mr. Brad Pitt (the clips remind me of what a great, great movie Moneyball is):

Viola Davis for the win:

Part of me wants to post this just to agitate my already agitated readers.  Why, I don’t know.  Because it’s fun?  No, it isn’t fun. A friend of mine said he swung by the site and was afraid to leave a comment because of the harshness of some of the commenters.  Of course, it is easy to write from an angry place.  Low stakes, high results. At any rate, I was pleased to see one mainstream media outlet – and only one – has decided to write something about it.  I don’t know if Izreal is prepared for what’s coming but he’d better put on a hat.  He writes quite clearly and eloquently about this bizarre fascination  with holding minority players to an impossibly high standard (which then results only in less material, less roles entirely, and more projects about white men because they are the only demographic that is beyond reproach).  Here is Izreal:

The Popes of Blackness rarely agree on anything. One thing is certain — Davis takes on a difficult role and breathes life into a hero who is inspiring, enraging, familiar and extraordinary. It is odious that the nominating committee gravitates to black people playing into conventional stereotypes. Nevertheless, that is not Viola Davis’ fault. Given the state of the union, I think most any actor would be lucky to get work as a tree, forget about the layered role of a conflicted domestic in America’s civil rights-era South. It is an incredible part, and Davis nails it. Not everyone is happy about that.

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There is a school of thought where Oscar is concerned that goes like this:

You can win if you can give them rock hard erections.

This is why a potential Oscar winner will often show up during voting nearly naked and turning on the heat. Ms. Williams is always appearing with her short hair cut, looking demure. She, like Kate Winslet the year she won, hadn’t ever really turned on the heat with her sexuality. Until now.

JustJared has the GQ picks of Williams firing it up. Makes you wonder if Ms. Williams might pull of an upset after all. This is a hand Streep won’t play, but Davis (built for sexy) could play if she wanted to.

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Three of the year’s strongest female performances threaten convention, the one that says females are usually cast as supporting, loving, noble characters who give of themselves in the service of the male lead.  It’s not always the case, especially not so in the Best Actress race; what better way to get attention from Oscar voters than to go dark.

But in a year of such uplifting, feelgood films with admirable male leads, it’s interesting that when you look over at Best Actress, the reverse is true. With the exception of Viola Davis in The Help, the females are either not likable, or existing in their own ways on the fringes of the norm.  However, because women are a minority, they are always going to be held to the good role model/bad role model test.  Men, unless they’re Black or Hispanic, don’t really get held to this restriction.  But women – the dark always turns to whether women can be unlikable and still be strong Best Actress contenders.  Such was the case last year with Natalie Portman who played a prickly dancer in Black Swan.  Her ability to drive the story, to earn our pity and to fascinate us with every turn of her head inevitably won out — the warm fuzzies didn’t.

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Meryl Streep apparently won the New York Film Critics with no contest. Some rumblings that Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams were close, Viola Davis in the mix as well. Streep’s impressive performance as Margaret Thatcher earned her this award, and indeed, it’s a towering achievement. Streep is great in the old age segments, where her walk and way of regarding other people and situations feels so authentic.

The race still feels like it’s between Streep and The Help’s Viola Davis, as Dave Karger’s own recent Oscar predictions confirms. The Help seems on track to earn a Best Picture nomination, which helps Viola Davis, who would become only the second black woman in 84 years of Oscar history to win such an honor.

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Glenn Close, Charlize Theron, Carey Mulligan, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.

(from THR. thanks phantom!)

Jeff Wells has gone to bat for Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady:

You can dribble the Viola Davis basketball all over the court and shoot swish shots to your heart’s content, but that won’t change the fact that Meryl Streep’s freakishly dead-on performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (Weinstein, 12.30) seems like a much more likely winner of the Best Actress Oscar right now. As far as I’m concerned it’s a Streep vs. Michelle Williams (i.e., as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn) contest with Davis half-elbowed aside.

There is no doubt that Streep turns in yet another brilliant impersonation with The Iron Lady. At some point while watching her in the film you forget completely that you’re watching Meryl Streep doing Margaret Thatcher and you feel like you are really watching Margaret Thatcher — and all of the good and bad that goes along with that. It’s sort of the same quandary Leonardo DiCaprio finds himself in in J. Edgar. We believe he’s J. Edgar. But then we have to deal with our feelings about J. Edgar.

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“I always say that I want to be Meryl Streep. And I believe and I really hope that we have the imagination, that we have the courage to bring those stories to life. Because I want to do for other young women of color what Cicely Tyson did to me in that apartment with the slats showing through the plaster and no plumbing and no phone and hardly any food and rats–she allowed me to have  the visual of what it means to dream.  I saw her in the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and that she threw me a rope.  That’s what we do as performers, as actors, as icons, we throw other people the rope.  And that’s what keeps me in it.”

The Weinstein Co screened The Iron Lady this morning for an elite group of bloggers apparently.  I didn’t see it so I have no idea how good it is and have to rely on what they’re saying, which is basically what everyone else is saying — good/great performance, not so good/great of a movie.

Either way, it’s the Oscar race and it’s all about strategy, well placed journalists and bloggers, timing and swaying Academy opinion.  With so much chatter out there it’s hard to know how things will land.

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This is an important speech to watch. What she says, how she says it. It’s rare for an actress to be so articulate and insightful not just about acting, but about life. The thing about the awards race, or maybe just in general, when someone puts you in front of a microphone have something interesting to say, whether it’s written down or rumbling around in your head. Davis has plenty to say. Her speech gets better as it goes along.

Thanks to JustJared

Nice to hear the cast members dig into the themes in The Help.

It is always a good thing when the best writers are attracted to, or forced to write about, the Oscar race.  It automatically elevates the material.  When the New  York Times’ David Carr tripped into the Oscar race it changed everything.  For a minute.  But then it was back to business as usual – who can you trust, is anyone level-headed? Well, now Mark Harris is on the beat and, as most legit journos do when thrust into our clusterfuck, he takes a bit of a bemused tone to it all.  Perhaps, to the outside world, our crowded little conclave of Oscar watching does sound weird and confusing, with premature calls being hurled right and left — but the trick to writing about the Oscars is to write about them as if you care about them because otherwise no one is going to want to read what you write.  I think Harris walks a healthy line between bemusement (Manohla Dargis, for instance, who gives no attention to the race unless pressured to do so) and genuine interest; I happen to know he does have a real interest in the race and that is, perhaps, what makes him an engaging read.

Why am I writing about the 2012 Academy Awards race a full 181 days before the ceremony? If you have to ask, it means you’ve missed the news that when it comes to the Oscars, obsessive overkill is part of the fun. Also, because this post-Labor Day moment is the last opportunity to weigh in before things get complicated, and because in the minds of the people and companies that are spending money on it, the race has not only begun, it has already descended into tragicomedy. (Exhibit A: The mailed invitation that some Academy members have already received to attend a screening and mull the question of whether this year’s pantheon of Best Picture nominees should include Transformers: Dark of the Moon.)

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There probably isn’t a better actress working in Hollywood who hasn’t yet won an Oscar than Glenn Close.  Charlize Theron, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Hudson, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Bullock have all collected their Oscars.  So to say that Close’s Oscar worthy role in Albert Nobbs is a long time overdue is to spotlight the obvious.  Oscar voters like to think that they vote for the most deserving in a given year with little regard to whether they’ve won before or not.  However, their voting history, upon closer inspection, reveals their preferences year in and year out.  What does winning an Oscar really mean? It means that, in any given year, the Academy “liked” the actress, the character she plays or in some cases their actual performance itself enough to vote for them.  It is an anonymous vote with no consequences attached.  No one is ever accountable for their choices because it is THEIR club.  But few actresses have done more to earn a place in that club than Glenn Close, which is why it seems odd that so far an Oscar win has eluded her.   It’s hard to not cry foul when you look at the performances she’s turned in – one brilliant, expressive performance after the next.

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It hardly seems fathomable that only one black actress, Whoopi Goldberg, has been twice nominated for an Oscar.  I suppose we’re supposed to be happy that black actresses are nominated at all.  With Viola Davis leading the charge on the unexpected popularity of The Help, it’s time once again to turn our attention to this, what many of you call, the Affirmative Action Oscars.

We can go around and around about it but the simple fact remains: there are even fewer roles of strong black actresses than there are for strong white actresses and Oscar, though wins have been given out to women of color, like Mo’Nique and Jennifer Hudson, and Halle Berry, there aren’t the same kind of elevated star vehicles that their counterparts seem to get.

The stats — according to Wikipedia, here is the history:

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Probably those who greenlit The Help never imagined it would be birthed into a racially contentious time in our history.  It’s 2011 and we have our nation’s first black president – the shit has mostly hit the fan, but let’s face it – race relations have never entirely cooled down, not when Rodney King was beaten up, not when OJ was set free, not during Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, not now, when Obama and his very black family live in the very White House.  We can all pretend like it isn’t still a controversial topic,  and that we’ve moved beyond racism and all of that – but we haven’t.  The only thing, in fact, that keeps it from stirring up is the contrived political correctness we all try to adhere to.

The other thing that can sometimes help is talking about it in a realistic way.  One important voice missing in this whole debate around The Help is Oprah Winfrey.  Oprah would use her show, perhaps, to address some of these issues — her show was kind of like a town hall meeting for women (the main audience for the film) and the African American community.  But there is no Oprah so now people are taking sides. But I wondered, though, how this ends up helping or hurting people like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, two strong black performances in an atmosphere that discourages them. Will they get flushed down the toilet with the rest of the shitstorm? Hm.

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There is much to complain about in The Help.  For one thing, the black folk cluck around like uniformly “good” hens in a hen house.  This makes us sympathize with them, of course, but it tells the story from Whitey’s perspective, which means that it’s impossible to get a more realistic impression of what it was like to be a maid in Jackson, Mississippi on the eve of the civil rights movement.   The black and white in The Help is literally black and white – so much so that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for placing film in 2011, when we already have a black President.  However, having said all of that — and it needs to be said — The Help is full of what will undoubtedly be the year’s best ensemble and supporting acting for women.  And for that, it gets a major pass.

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Help 3

First stills from The Help, Dreamworks promising adaptation of one of last year’s most significant literary events. Kathryn Stockett’s novel chronicling small town America in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement rose to top bestseller charts and capped off its popular success with appearances on many year-end best lists. Observing the turbulent ’60’s alternately through the eyes of naive Southern ingenues and the maids who cooked and cleaned for them, the book navigated touchy territory with impressive finesse and generous sensitivity.

(EW) What women Stockett has conjured up. In a shrewd move, one of her characters is like the author’s ’60s-era doppelg√§nger. Skeeter, a white Ole Miss graduate whose mother frets over her daughter’s frizzy hair and ringless wedding finger, wants to write something with more substance than her piddly housecleaning-advice column ‚Ä®at the Jackson Journal. Buoyed by a chance conversation with a steely New York book editor, she decides to ‚Ä®anonymously record the experiences of black maids, paid to raise and nurture other people’s children while ‚Ä®their employers insist they use a separate bathroom ‚Äî preferably one outside the house. ”Everyone knows ‚Ä® how we white people feel [about] the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family,” Skeeter tells her editor. ”But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”

If Skeeter is one to root for, the muscle and heart of the book belong to the maids Aibileen and Minny, tough, funny, vulnerable, conflicted women who know they are risking everything by sharing their stories with a skinny, naive white woman. Stockett jumps effortlessly between her women’s voices. She has created a world ‚Ä®of memorable supporting characters ‚Äî from the bitch ‚Ä®in the Junior League to Skeeter’s oilman suitor ‚Äî to‚Ä® surround them.

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Dave Karger has found a potential showdown between Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. and Miramax in two very tight races. Viola Davis versus Penelope Cruz and Meryl Streep versus Kate Winslet. I don’t know why I never thought of this before. As you all know, Harvey and Bob Weinstein were forced to give up their baby Miramax (named after their parents even). Now, it could be payback time. Or not:

For the sake of equality, I’m hoping Weinstein and Miramax each take home one female-acting prize next Sunday. But my hunch is that Harvey might just turn out to be a double winner.

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It occurs to me that Supporting Actress is still wide open. With Kate Winslet out in that category, the favorite becomes Penelope Cruz. And she has the advantage of being hot as well as talented. She also is in a Woody Allen movie and those voters love them some supporting actresses in Woody movies. On the other hand, the other four could swoop in and steal it. The NY Times has posted some clips from Doubt, one of them is the great scene with Viola Davis. I found it on Youtube but you should see it on the Times’ site because it’s prettier and better that way.


Of the three in Doubt, Viola Davis seems to be capturing the hearts of critics. NPR’s Bob Mondello says:

The film’s most wrenching performance, in fact, comes from Viola Davis, who plays the boy’s worried mother as a woman who is in no position to raise her voice, even when articulating a startlingly unexpected parental position on what may have transpired between the priest and her son.

The others argue strenuously and occasionally even eloquently, to ever-diminishing effect; Davis speaks plainly and quietly, and leaves not a shadow of a doubt that the moral high ground is a treacherous spot to occupy in the real world.

And the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday writes:

Just when you begin to think you know who the cat and mouse really are, in steps Viola Davis to steal not just her scene but the entire movie from Streep. As the mother of the student in question, Davis presents “Doubt” with its most sobering and finally haunting philosophical quandaries, which give even the implacable Sister Aloysius a glimpse of life beyond her own unassailable ideals.


A brief waver on the threshold of its premiere has steadied onto more confident footing, and Doubt is suddenly looking like a major player again. Building strength and acclaim over the past few days, it continues to earn strong reviews while collecting a clutch of prestigious critics awards. Not the least of these is yesterday’s grand slam of 4 acting nominations from the Chicago Film Critics Association (with this cast, was there ever any doubt?), so it seems appropriate to kick off a collection of top-rated review links with the dean of Chicago’s — and America’s — movie reviewers.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

After the assassination of Kennedy and the beginnings of Vietnam, doubt had undermined American certainty in general. What could you be sure of? What were the circumstances? The motives? The conflict between Aloysius and Flynn is the conflict between old and new, between status and change, between infallibility and uncertainty. And Shanley leaves us doubting.

James Berardinelli, ReelViews

Doubt is an intellectually and emotionally exhausting and engrossing experience. It is drama of the highest caliber, shaped by words and characters and directed with a simplicity that stands in stark contrast to the complexity of the people and issues on screen.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Streep is riveting. She shows that Aloysius, however monolithic her exterior, is alive on the inside. The eyes dart about, and the musings under her breath—sighs, asides, exclamations—suggest an openness to the notion of human imperfectibility. Her interrogations of Hoffman’s Flynn are seesaws of power.

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