Now that Viola Davis, as reported by Greg Ellwood, is campaigning in the supporting category for Fences, that opens up a major slot in the Best Actress category. Why? Because Viola Davis is a veteran who is way, way overdue for an Oscar win. On the one hand, it frees up the Academy to do what its heart will likely want it to do, and award Emma Stone for La La Land. On the other hand, there might now be a push for Annette Bening to finally win an Oscar — also way, way overdue.
And then there is Natalie Portman for Jackie. And there is Amy Adams for Arrival. And there is Jessica Chastain for Miss Sloane. And there is Ruth Negga for Loving. And there is Rebecca Hall for Christine.
I really see the Best Actress race as a showdown between the one whose performance is the kind you fall hard for because it carries the entire movie, the “it” girl, if you will and the industry veteran, Annette Bening. I do not see it as a race between Stone and Portman, though it could shift to being between Bening and Portman, depending on how things shake out. The point here is that Annette Bening will be a strong candidate to beat because she’s never won an Oscar. It’s really as simple as that. Emma Stone hasn’t won one either but she’s so young, she has endless opportunities ahead of her. When an overdue vet makes a major play for the win, as Bening will be doing, that will be a hard thing to fight.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I see Emma Stone everywhere. She’s gone to every film festival. Was even in Telluride. She won Best Actress in Venice. I think she is going to be a tough one to beat. Natalie Portman, had she not won an Oscar recently, would be the one to beat, no doubt. And if Jackie is a formidable Best Picture/Best Director player? That’s is the thing to watch for: just how much will the industry like these two films, La La Land and Jackie. Remember, if you’re inclined to see La La Land as a “light comedy,” it most certainly is not. It’s bittersweet, bordering on tragedy.
Meanwhile, what this also does is suddenly make it seem much more likely that Viola Davis will go home with an Oscar this year. The Supporting Actress category is not nearly as competitive at the moment as the lead actress category, and in fact, is wide open for a clear frontrunner. Right now, the only performance that I’ve seen that could shake the tree would be Nicole Kidman in Lion. But there are other performances coming that haven’t been seen — like Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures.
Viola Davis in Supporting and Denzel Washington in Lead could provide a perfect storm for a double win for Fences on Oscar night in the acting categories. For Davis, the smaller part in Fences, had she been put in lead, might have had trouble against the other powerhouse performances. This is, by the way, the only problem for Annette Bening. Her part is only marginally bigger than the other two actresses in 20th Century Women — Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. By contrast, both Natalie Portman and Emma Stone hold down their movies. Those are, without a doubt, leading performances.
Meanwhile, with Viola Davis out of the leading actress category, that also leaves room for Loving’s Ruth Negga. We could see a year in which there are black actors represented in all four acting categories — Fences’ Denzel Washington, Loving’s Ruth Negga, Fences’ Viola Davis, and Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali.
If we then add Moonlight for Best Picture, perhaps Barry Jenkins for Best Director, then that is going to be one for the record books and will certainly more than satisfy the angst over Oscarssowhite.
Jessica Chastain, it’s worth noting, gives a powerhouse performance in Miss Sloane. She, along with Amy Adams in Arrival, are really the only two women in the entire lineup who play characters that exist beyond the man they’re involved with — as mother, wife, girlfriend, etc. Chastain in Miss Sloane plays a lobbyist for an underdog gun control campaign — in Zero Dark Thirty territory in terms of the type of role it is. Meanwhile, Amy Adams plays a scientists who interprets the language of the aliens in Arrival. You could actually add in Rebecca Hall as Christine, a news reporter who commits suicide as another great role for a female character. All in all, it’s quite nice to see such strong portrayals by women all around, just as it is refreshing to see so many films and performances from people of color this year.
Probably Best Actress will look something like:
Emma Stone, La La Land
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Two of these three: Amy Adams Arrival, Ruth Negga, Loving or Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane