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Mother: The Next Big Short*

3 Apr

Family, friends, and fans of Darlene Cates suffered a tremendous loss last week when the Forney based actress passed away at the age of 69. Without any formal training, she rose to prominence with her role as housebound matriarch Bonnie Grape, fiercely protective mamma to then rising stars Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but, make no mistake, Ms. Cates more than held her own among her high-profile co-stars and went on to appear in a handful of movies and TV shows, always turning in riveting performances; however, as amazing as she was to watch onscreen, she was just as amazing in her off-screen life, effortlessly slipping into her roles as devoted wife (of more than 50 years), loving mother and grandmother, sister, role model, and dear friend. She shared her story, her warmth, and her talent with the world and inspired many, many of us in the process, and, now, the world will be a much different place without her though still a better place for those whose lives she touched with her affection, kindness, and laughter. As tribute, I am reposting this piece from 2014 and the occasion of her last film appearance. Rest in peace, dearest Darlene.

Confessions of a Movie Queen

I sometimes think that if a good movie gets made these days, it must be an accident. I mean, it must be a miracle. Of course, money is the biggest issue. Even the most low budget offering still costs thousands if not millions of dollars, and there are no guarantees that backers will ever see a return on their investments. Also, distribution–getting the finished film into theatres–is a racket unto itself. Of course, social media have made marketing more accessible than ever as evidenced by the whole Sharknado phenomenon. True independent filmmakers often take enormous risks to get their visions onscreen, and if/when that happens, well, yes, it’s a miracle. Miracles are good.

Mother poster designed by Jonas de Geer Poster for Franz Maria Quitt’s short film, Mother (2014), designed by Jonas De Geer. Clockwise from top: Darlene Cates, Ryan Jonze, Alexander Rolinksi, and Kaylyn Scardefield. I think Quitt’s movie is exquisite on its own terms though…

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The Best Best Supporting Actress and Actor Who Were Never Nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Actor, Part I

25 Mar

Hmmm, well the recent winners of Academy awards for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor offer startling contrasts. In Best Picture winner Moonlight, Mahershala Ali’s Juan is situated in only the first act of a three-act tale, yet he makes a vivid impression that lingers throughout the remainder of the film; moreover, Ali rises, impeccably, to the challenge of a scene that requires him to act more internally  than externally. In other words, Juan is almost at a loss when asked difficult, troubling, questions,  but he knows he must answer truthfully, so he suffers silently while delaying the inevitable, choosing his words carefully.  Masterful. Ali packs a wallop, silent film style, with minimal dialogue.

In contrast, Viola Davis offers a much more robust portrayal as Rose, the  put upon wife of Denzel Washington’s Troy in Fences. Cliches be damned, Rose’s trajectory provides Davis the opportunity to navigate, full-throttle, one hell of an emotional roller coaster. Rose, god love her, wears her heart on her sleeve, and Davis, among our most majestic–and gutsiest–actresses, brings her speeches to brilliant life in scene after vivid scene.  It’s a startlingly raw performance rife with Davis’s own sweat and tears.  Ali’s and Davis’s portrayals are considered award worthy by Academy standards though they could hardly be more unalike.

Of course, I’m not here to second guess the Academy’s choices. Mainly, I just feel the need to reaffirm that, like so many other things associated with the Academy (and with life itself), there is almost no rhyme or reason when it comes to the supporting categories. Of course, after launching in the late 1920, the Oscars had been ambling along for just under a decade before the Academy expanded its acting awards from two to four.  The move was designed to improve the Academy’s numbers by luring members of the newly formed Screen Actors Guild into the fold. Let’s back-up just a bit. Seems by the mid 1930s, many actors no longer believed the Academy served their interests regarding representation within the Hollywood hierarchy (Wiley and Bona 55). Keep in mind that the Academy was formed not with the intent of awards but with the purpose of mediating labor disputes between talent and studio brass. (The awards were an afterthought, albeit self-congratulatory, but I digress.) The idea was that such governance in the form of an “academy,” so to speak, would preclude the need for unions, but the perception, not without some merit, was that the Academy failed to serve all members’ interests, thus the creation of the SAG (Wiley and Bona 47). To counter, the Academy offered to spread the wealth and create space to honor the achievements of so-called character players, thereby increasing its memberships since, after all, one had to be a member in order to vote for the awards (Wiley and Bona 70).

From the Nate D. Sanders auction house, circa 2012, this is the second Academy award for Best Supporting Actor, per Joseph Schildkraut (The Life of Emile Zola, 1937), the second such winner in Academy history. I often refer to this Oscar-variation as a plaque, as do many of the history books, but it functions more like a paper weight. Btw, the Academy’s advice to winners (or their families) who might want to auction off their trophies: Don’t. Since 1951, the Academy reserves first right to buy back all trophies for the tidy sum of $10.00. According to Stephen Ceasar of the Los Angeles Times, the Academy has the legal muscle to protect the integrity of its world famous its copyrighted trademark.

The Academy’s welcoming move also provided a convenient way to relegate character actors/actresses in such a way that would not necessarily pull focus from established brand name stars when it came time for awards consideration. Keep in mind, for example, that in 1935, the year prior to the creation of the supporting categories, three actors from Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone, duked it out for Best Actor. Laughton and Gable, as Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian, respectively, were clearly co-leads in the famous tale, but Tone, in the lesser of the three roles, attracted attention based on one particularly showy speech toward the end of the picture (Wiley and Bona 60). Creating categories for secondary players would resolve such, er, uhm, inconsistencies. Oh, and keep in mind, as well, that the first few recipients of these newly created awards did not actually win traditional Oscar statuettes but plaques that featured a 3-D representation of the celebrated trophy. (Not to be confused, to clarify, with the “special” pint-sized versions of the trophy the Academy bestowed upon such juvenile stars as Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, or Judy Garland [See photo].) So, a year after Mutiny on the Bounty, and spurred by other factors, the Academy awarded its first ever supporting acting awards to Walter Brennan (Come and Get It) and Gale Sondergaard (Anthony Adverse). Btw, Gable, Laughton, and Tone lost to Victor McLaglen in The Informer.

Eventually, the Academy saw fit to award supporting players actual Oscars, beginning with the 43/44 edition (that is, the 1944 ceremony honoring 1943’s films). Those history making recipients were Charles Coburn (TheMore the Merrier) and Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bells Toll); however, confusion was still very much in play, per Barry Fitzgerald who, yes, earned nominations for BOTH Best Actor AND Best Supporting Actor for 1944’s Going My Way. Though unexpected, the rules allowed for Fitzgerald’s double whammy. Fitzgerald won the latter while top-billed co-star Bing Crosby took top honors, and the hit film took Best Picture as well.  The Academy responded by establishing a policy that left designations for leading and supporting to studio executives, responsible for submitting potential candidate rosters to the Academy in anticipation of first round voting.

That seemed to work, better than nothing, for awhile though egos had to be placated when studios wanted to hedge their bets during campaign season, meaning that some stars, reportedly, did not appreciate their star status being called into question for expediency’s sake. For example, look no further than Anne Baxter, the titular Eve in 1950’s smash All About Eve. She didn’t take too well to the suggestion of competing for Best Supporting Actress alongside Thelma Ritter and Celeste Holm from the same film (Miller n.p.). Sure, Eve manipulates much of the action, undeniably, but Baxter lacks the star power of Bette Davis, at her brilliant best as Margo Channing, the Broadway legend around whom most of the story–and ALL other characters–revolve. Clearly, Baxter fulfills the role of a second lead: the antagonist to Davis’s protagonist. Nonetheless, Baxter got what she wanted: a Best Actress nomination, and in so doing she may have very well split votes and cost both herself and her co-star the trophy. Judy Holliday, reprising her stage role in Born Yesterday, won Best Actress, and even Anne Baxter later expressed regret at her choice (Miller n.p.); however, that wasn’t the only hitch in the process.  Famously, the story goes that a typo cost Roddy McDowall consideration for his stand-out supporting performance in 1963’s lavish Cleopatra. Apparently, a memo from Fox, the studio that released the picture, to the Academy misidentified McDowall as a leading player, and that was that. The Academy wouldn’t budge, and Fox claimed its hands were tied in the matter (Wiley and Bona 358). So, the Academy changed rules yet again to give the ultimate say to the voters themselves, regardless of studio promotional campaigns (358).  Even with powers voters enjoy, studio heads and actors still attempt to exert control and sway outcome.

In the years since Cleopatra, controversies over such designations are commonplace because such designations are arbitrary, subject to whim. For example, juvenile performances that are for all practical purposes “leading” are often–not always– categorized as “supporting” out of concern that younger, relatively untested players (such as Timothy Hutton in 1980’s Ordinary People) cannot successfully compete against established veterans in starring roles. The strategy worked, btw, in Hutton’s case. The same studio that released Hutton’s Ordinary People, Paramount, marketed Susan Sarandon as a Best Supporting Actress candidate for 1981’s Atlantic City even though she was clearly the film’s leading lady and more than held her own against legendary Burt Lancaster in the same film (Wiley and Bona 606). Maybe Paramount execs felt that Sarandon, hardly an unknown at the time, needed a showier role in order to be a truly competitive Best Actress candidate. Maybe, on the other hand, studio brass felt that Paramount could not effectively support three Best Actress hopefuls among its stable, the others being Diane Keaton in Reds, who ultimately earned a slot on the final roster, and Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest), who did not–in spite of a genuinely buzzworthy performance that had actually made a showing in the award season derby. At any rate, even Sarandon expressed surprise that she was ultimately nominated for Best Actress (606), a move that showed Academy voters still have minds of their own in such matters, despite studio machinations.  Btw, no less than already legendary Katharine Hepburn made Oscar history that year, garnering an unprecedented 4th performance Oscar, per her leading performance in the hugely popular On Golden Pond. It would take Sarandon a decade for a second Oscar race (1991’s Thelma & Louise), and few more unsuccessful bids for her crowning achievement with 1995’s Dead Man Walking.

Other times, star players, even when playing subordinating roles–with limited screen time–scoff at the very notion of being promoted as a supporting candidate, feeling such a move is akin to begging for an easy win (per Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, among others) (Wiley and Bona 830). Still again, studios often see the Oscars as nothing more than a numbers game, such that performers who clearly function as an onscreen team, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, OR Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain, to name only two, have to be split for awards consideration in order to increase a film’s awards potential. For example, if Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both nominated for Best Actor, and the film as a whole is up for 8 awards, that means, at best, the film will only take home 7 awards, as one actor’s win assuredly equals the other’s defeat, provided, of course, that they don’t actually cancel out one another (and let’s not forget that ties almost never happen). In such a case, shaky distinctions are made that place Ledger and Travolta as leading while forcing Gyllenhaal and Jackson as supporting in order to improve the odds.

Then, of course, there’s the whole “supporting” thing. What does it mean to be a supporting actor? Keep in mind that the Tony award equivalent is “featured” rather than supporting and is based on barely more than, 99.9% of the time, whether a player is billed above or below the title. Simple. But when the word “support” is used, we expect to see one actor in service of another, and that isn’t always so apparent. That noted, I remain fairly convinced that Ed Harris lost at least one, possibly two, of his four Oscar races for playing roles that were not as “supporting” as they might seem at first glance. For example, he mostly acted in a vacuum in 1998’s The Truman Show. Sure, his performance, as the mastermind behind the whole Truman escapade, showed plenty of skill, but, really, how did his performance actually support that of lead actor Jim Carrey as Truman? Did the two actors ever occupy the same space, playing off one another? In a word, no. Carrey’s Truman goes about his life in a picturesque coastal community (real-life development Seaside, Florida), and Harris’s Cristof surveys his creation from the safety of a secluded control tower. Simply, the two actors never had to meet in order to film their scenes, thereby calling into question the nature of “support.”

On the other hand, consider controversial Vanessa Redgrave in 1977’s Julia. Yes, Redgrave is clearly billed above the title, and, more, the movie is named after her character; however, Redgrave’s “Julia” functions as barely more than a memory of playwright Lillian Hellman, played by Jane Fonda, the obvious protagonist who carries most of the picture. The relationship forged by the characters when they were still children (framed in flashbacks with teen actresses) is what drives most of the story, but, tellingly, the audience only ever sees Julia, that is, Redgrave, through Lillian/Fonda’s eyes, and their few shared sequences are like puzzle pieces as Lillian revisits her past in fleeting glimpses, trying to make sense of the wealthy enigmatic friend who leaves America in order to study in Europe and joins the Nazi resistance. The audience waits for the moment when the two friends are reunited, at last, and it’s a doozy, with each actress spurring the other to greatness in a scene fraught with love, tears, and, oh yes, plenty of tension. Redgrave’s is the very example of an outstanding supporting performance, no doubt. Her award was almost a foregone conclusion; likewise, 2015’s Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) portrayed the character whose actions set the story in motion, but, make no mistake, Tom Hanks’s real-life James B. Donovan dominates the picture though he and Rylance strike a compelling dynamic.

Back to the present. What I so admire about Mahershala Ali’s Oscar winning performance in Moonlight is that he makes the most of his limited screen time, and his character is supporting in the most literal sense as in the sequence in which he teaches young Chiron (protagonist) how to swim in the ocean.  Perfect.

Davis’ performance more squarely follows the pattern of the “supportive spouse” that appeared with great frequency earlier this century, beginning with Dallas native Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock, 2000), Jim Broadbent (Iris, 2001), and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, 2001) up through Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, 2015). No doubt, cases could be made that any or all of the above might just as easily be recognized as secondary leads. Again, these are roles that provide actors and actresses sizable opportunities (and a lot of screen time) but fall short of being their respective projects’ true protagonists.

Wow. I certainly did not mean to write so much about this topic. I intended a few short paragraphs as a build-up to a piece on two extraordinary supporting performances–one female, one male–that the Academy somehow overlooked. Of course, context and timing are everything as we know that history is 20/20. So, I’ll stop for now, and save THAT post for the near future. In the meantime, what about you, dear reader? Dare you try to guess the two performances that I aim to spotlight next? My only hint is that they are included in the same film. Give it your best shot.

Thanks for your consideration….

Works Cited

Ceasar, Stephen.   “Winning an Oscar is priceless, but selling it gets you exactly $10.” Los Angeles Times, 25 February 2016.  Accessed  25 March 2017.

Miller, Frank.   “All About Eve (1950).”  Articles. TCM.  Accessed  25  March  2017.

Wiley, Mason, and Damien Bona.  Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy  Awards, 10th Anniversary Edition, edited by Gail MacColl. Ballantine Books, 1996.

Oscars 2016/2017: Fashion Gallery

12 Mar

I know, it’s been close to two weeks, but the Oscars never really end, especially debates about who wore what. I have three rules governing my approach. First, I don’t believe in plugging names of designers who ply actresses with expensive loaner gowns in exchange for free publicity. Tacky. That’s a game that gets plenty mileage elsewhere. Next, I refuse to dwell on the negative. I only spotlight my faves. If I like it, I feature it. If I don’t like it, I’ll skip it rather than demean it. That noted, sometimes a gown that looks fabulous on TV doesn’t translate as well to still photos, so I’ll take a pass. Anyway, please look somewhere else for cattiness. Finally, aside from the top pick, there is no particular reason preference unless specifically noted.

Fasten your seat belts…here we go…Oh, and I do not hold rights to any of these images.

Hidden Figures star Taraji P. Henson didn’t score an Oscar nod for her memorable performance, but she wins my vote for Best Dressed. (IMAGE: Life and Style)

 

Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar nominated flick, Hail Caesar! (from the Coens) went home without the gold in the Art Direction category, but Johansson is a stunner though, perhaps, not to everyone’s taste.

 

Best Actress nominee Natalie Portman (not pictured) missed the ceremony due to pregnancy related complications, but ever glamorous Isabelle Huppert, nominated for Elle, flew in from France on the heels of winning her country’s Cesar award. (IMAGE: Pintrest)

 

Best Actress nominee Ruth Negga (Loving) makes a vivid impression in red. Her bright blue ribbons shows support for the ACLU.

 

Jessica Biel, all golden loveliness, dazzled on the red carpet. Besides being a vision herself, she was on board to support hubby Justin Timberlake, who performed his Oscar nominated tune, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls. (IMAGE: Glamlog)

 

Kirsten Dunst. featured in Hidden Figures, makes a bold statement in basic black.

 

2001’s Best Actress honoree Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) is a perennial winner on the red carpet. (IMAGE: Seattle Times)

 

Actress Leslie Mann dazzles in a magnificent ball gown. (IMAGE: JustJared)

 

Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis (Fences) proves that the third time is truly the charm. (IMAGE: oscar.go.com)

 

Best Supporting Actor nominee Dev Patel (Lion) escorts his beaming mom Anita Patel. (IMAGE: IndianExpress)

 

In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali revealed that he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family only four days earlier. Congratulations!

 

To be perfectly frank, one of my favorite looks of the whole awards season was this fun frock singe-actress Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures AND Moonlight) wore to the Golden Globes in January.

Thanks for your consideration and, please, feel free to leave comments…

As the Gold Dust Settles, Moonlight is Stellar

5 Mar

So, this year’s Oscars included a hiccup or two, a couple of easy calls, and a few surprises. You know what surprised me the most? Not that Moonlight won Best Picture necessarily, but that its director (and Oscar winning co-screenwriter) Barry Jenkins DID NOT win in his category. As it goes, Damien Chazzell, at all of 32 years old, scores as the youngest ever Best Director winner for his original musical romance, La La Land. Well, good for him. I guess.

Barry Jenkins (l) and Tarell Alvin McCRaney (r) accept their Oscars for co-writing Moonlight, which Jenkins also directed. Their victory serves as hope to young people of color, and young people who do not necessarily conform to the gender binary, that their stories are not to be ignored any longer.

Barry Jenkins (l) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (r) accept their Oscars for co-writing Moonlight, which Jenkins also directed. Their victory serves as a message of hope to young people of color, and young people who do not necessarily conform to the gender binary, that their stories are not to be ignored any longer. Hopefully we’ll one day arrive at a point in which films such as Moonlight are no longer unique exceptions to the norm…but we’re not there yet; after all, no black person has won Best Director…yet, and we still only have one female Best Director winner–and no female nominees since Kathryn Bigelow won for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, only the fourth female so nominated.

As I wrote last week, Chazzell clearly had a vision and the fortitude to make that vision a reality; however, my previous thought was that the Academy would have likely surprised us all by honoring La La Land, the safe and easy crowd pleaser, with the top award while singling out Jenkins for his work in the less overtly commercial, and arguably more challenging, endeavor. After all, Jenkins was, reportedly, working with one of the lowest budgets ever recorded for a Best Picture winner, and he had the daunting task of directing three actors, two of whom are juveniles, portraying a single character at pivotal moments in his life. How is that possible? Not magic, that’s for sure, but beyond that Jenkins also, as previously noted, directed yet another trio of actors playing a secondary character who steps in and out of lead Chiron’s life over the course of the movie’s dozen-plus years; moreover, what about this? Moonlight’s Best Supporting Actress nominee Naomi Harris, as Chiron’s mother, shot all her scenes on a tight three-day schedule. Again, a remarkable feat considering her character’s huge arc , including the aging process AND the fact that the native Brit learned an American accent.

I think that’s pretty stellar, definitely worthy of Best Director AND Best Picture accolades.  That Moonlight even got made, let alone made well, while also landing distribution, registers as nothing less than a miracle.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-25-30-am

Now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, Best Picture winner Moonlight.

Moonlight‘s Best Picture Oscar signals a number of Academy milestones.

  • For example, this is the first LGBTQ entry on the Academy’s Best Picture roster–11 years AFTER the allegedly groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain. And good for Moonlight for its role in cinematic history!
  • Furthermore, Moonlight is the first Best Picture winner directed by an African-American. And good for Barry Jenkins! Also, what about Jenkins’ award winning screenplay collaborator, Tarell Alvin  McCraney? Good for Tarell too!

Wait a second. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, wait a second, what about 12 Years a Slave? Didn’t that win in 2013?” Well, yes, but even though 12 Years was indeed directed by a black man, Steve McQueen, he hails from England. Not the same thing. But good for him, anyway. Even so, McQueen lost that year to Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity).

  • the-men-of-moonlight

    The leading men of Moonlight (l-r): Former Texas resident Trevante Rhodes, Alex R. Hibbert, and Ashton Sanders.

    Moreover, Moonlight is not only the first Best Picture winner to be directed by an African-American, it is also the first Best Picture winner to star a an all-black cast unlike, say, 12 Years a Slave or even Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures, which, yes, spotlights high profile black actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) as groundbreaking real-life NASA “computers” but still features the likes of white cast members Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Kirsten Dunst in secondary roles.  Not so, Moonlight. And good for Moonlight and its wow of a cast for breaking the Academy’s color barrier!

  • Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali is also the first Muslim actor to win an Academy award. And good for him!
In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight's Mahershala Ali revealed that he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family only four days earlier. Congratulations!

In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali revealed that he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family only four days earlier. Congratulations!

I’m as happy as I’ve ever been following an Oscar ceremony. And good for me. Of course, this year’s landmark victories do not necessarily mean that the Academy or the Hollywood moviemaking machine is suddenly colorblind, meaning parity and/or equal opportunities for one and all; after all, 15 years after Halle Berry made history as the first ever African-American to earn the Academy’s Best Actress statuette (for Monster’s Ball), her triumph seems…isolated, for lack of a better term. In other words, not only has Berry struggled to find another role of equal award worthy caliber, the number of African-American Best Actress nominees in her wake is paltry, a walloping three, to be precise (Gabourey Sidibe, Precious, 2009; Viola Davis, The Help, 2011, and Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012). Of course, this year also saw the nomination of Ruth Nega, born in Ethopia and raised in Ireland, as African-American Mildred in Loving, based on the historic Supreme Court case that paved the way for interracial marriage in the United States…but I digress…

And, of course, blacks are not the only people of color who still fight for better representation in white-dominated mainstream media; moreover, even though the first decade of the 21st century saw a trio of African American Best Actor winners, beginning with Denzel Washington (Training Day, 2001), followed by Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, 2006), well, those victories are starting to look…somewhat distant; after all, Whitaker’s victory was 10 years ago. And he was so very good in 2013’s The Butler (rather, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), for which he earned a SAG nod, but nada from the Academy.

Of course, speaking of Denzel Washington, many of us thought he was bound for his second Best Actor Oscar for Best Picture nominee Fences, which he also directed. My thought was that Washington’s work both in front of and behind the camera warranted the Academy’s full consideration as the more significant achievement among his fellow nominees; however, I guess I under-estimated the difficulty of convincing the Academy that third Oscars are a good thing; after all, Washington already has,  as noted, a Best Actor Oscar, but he also won Best Supporting Actor for his supporting turn in 1989’s Glory.  Maybe the Academy doesn’t want to appear too hasty? Look how long it took Meryl Streep to finally earn a third Oscar after winning two in something akin to rapid succession early in her career–and snatching up more than a dozen nominations in the decades long interim (that is, between Sophie’s Choice in 1982 and The Iron Lady in 2011). Furthermore, look how Tom Hanks, a back-to-back Best Actor winner for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), has had difficulty scoring a nomination in recent years in spite of Academy-friendly fare such as Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies (both Best Picture nominees) and 2016’s Sully, for which he seemed an early shoo-in, at least for a nomination. Third Oscars are a rarity unless one is Daniel Day-Lewis who won his second and third statuettes in something like five years (and I’m not complaining), but I digress*. So, no third Oscar for Washington, but I think he still has additional nominations, additional chances, in his future.

So, even without the hurdle of a third Oscar for Washington, I’m still surprised that the Academy rallied in favor of Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea),  considering well-documented allegations of sexual assault leveled against the actor. Obviously, members of the Academy were moved by his performance in the widely hailed if downbeat offering. Indeed, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan netted his own statuette for his screenplay. Even so, I half-expected either Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) or Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) to emerge victorious in the absence of a Washington triumph. Meanwhile, I’m sure nobody missed the frosty reception last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson accorded Affleck as he accepted his award. I would say good for her for sticking to her principles in light of Affleck’s rap, but maybe he knows something the rest of us do not. Larson, if you’ll recall, played a survivor of such assault in her award winner, 2015’s Room.

After the hullabaloo over Moonlight, my next favorite win has to be the Best Animated Feature Film award for Zootopia. Even after basking in the greatness of both Moonlight and Hidden Figures, and a few others, including La La Land, Zootopia still rates very high on my non-existent list of favorite movies from 2016. I don’t actually, physically, make a list, but I know what I like, and I keep a running list in my head. Even so, I would have loved for Zootopia‘s “Try Everything,” performed on the soundtrack by Shakira, to have been recognized as a Best Song nominee. No matter. Best Animated Feature is the biggie. I actually enjoyed “City of Stars,” the Best Song winner from La La Land though I’m a bit surprised that the Academy didn’t take the bait and cap Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historic year (winning the Pulitzer and multiple Tonys, among others, for Broadway blockbuster Hamilton) for his contribution to the Moana score. When the gold dust settled, btw, La La Land claimed victories, including Best Cinematography and Best Production Design, and Best Original Score, among its record-tying 14 nominations. And Good for La La Land.

Also, what an amazing evening for sound mixer Kevin O’Connell!  After earning 21 nominations over more than three decades, he finally won an Oscar–for Best Picture nominee Hacksaw Ridge;  to clarify, he was one of four recipients on the winning team, but, clearly, his hard earned victory captured viewers’ imagination. His first nod, btw, was for 1983’s Best Picture winner Terms of Endearment, and his other nominated efforts include Top Gun (1986), Twister (1996, starring the late Texas native Bill Paxton, who died last weekend shortly before the Oscar telecast), and the first Spiderman reboot.

Per the Wikipedia, btw, O’Connell’s mother worked in the sound department of 20th Century Fox once upon a time and helped him secure a job as a projectionist when he was a mere 18 years old. He holds an Emmy for his work on Lonesome Dove.

No doubt, Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis (Fences) gave the acceptance speech of the evening. Davis endears herself to audiences because she is seemingly incapable of being anything less than her genuine authentic self. Her performance in Fences is also no less than a master class in acting, in storytelling. She is an inspiration to anyone who has had to fight, to work hard, to make a name for herself, coming from a background steeped in poverty and oppression. Now, she has steered the heights to glorious success. And good for her.  She is also now the first African-American actress to win an Oscar,  an Emmy, and a Tony in performance categories. Make that two Tony awards. One for the revival of Fences and another for Best Featured Actress in King Hedley, written by the late August Wilson who also penned Fences. That’s huge. Good for Viola. (To clarify, Whoopi Goldberg has also won an Oscar, an Emmy, and Tony, but she won her Tony not for performance but as one of the producers of  Best Musical winner, Throughly Modern Millie–and Good for Whoopi!)

In addition to her Oscar, Emmy, and two Tonys, Viola Davis has earned an incredible 5 Screen Actors Guild awards. And good for her!

In addition to her Oscar, Emmy, and two Tonys, Viola Davis has earned an incredible 5 Screen Actors Guild awards. And good for her!

Yes, Davis’s Oscar victory is the stuff that dreams and legends are made of, but I still think, Halle Berry’s Best Actress award would be less lonely at the top, today, if Davis and the powers that be had pushed harder to have the actress’ performance recognized in the Best Actress rather than Best Supporting Actress category. Maybe I shouldn’t be so puzzled, all things considered, and maybe I should just let it go….and maybe Emma Stone should have REALLY THANKED Davis in her Best Actress acceptance speech because I think Davis had as much to do with Stone’s victory as anyone involved in the making of La La Land, and I DON’T mean because Stone and Davis once shared the screen in The Help. Think about it.

Thanks for your consideration…

The fashion gallery will follow shortly. Thanks for your patience.

Enough said.

Enough said.

*Besides Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis, the only other three-time performance winners are Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, and Katherine Hepburn, the latter of whom actually won four times. Brennan snared a trio of Best Supporting Actor awards in a five year period in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including, to clarify, the very first Best Supporting Actor award (for 1936’s Come and Get It, starring Edward Arnold and Frances Farmer). Incredibly, Brennan’s record is 3-1, losing only in his fourth bid for 1941’s Sergeant York.  Next, Bergman’s first Oscar was for 1944’s costume melodrama Gaslight. After a tumultuous period in which her love life became scandalous news, she made a comeback with 1956’s Anastasia, and the Academy responded in kind. Her third Oscar, almost 20 years later, was for a supporting turn in the deluxe adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Jack Nicholson’s second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment, 1983) came 8 years after winning Best Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His Best Actor trophy (As Good as It Gets) followed in 1997. Finally, Hepburn’s second and third Best Actress Oscars arrived back to back in light of such triumphs as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Lion in Winter (1968) though, technically she tied for the latter with the one and only Barbra Streisand in her film debut, Funny Girl. Just over a dozen years later, Hepburn reigned once again for 1981’s On Golden Pond, opposite Best Actor winner Henry Fonda. Whew!

 

For Your Consideration: Best Actor, Best Picture, and More…

25 Feb

Okay, here we go…

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With his Screen Actors Guild award signalling the way, Denzel Washington in Fences (pictured with Supporting Actress front runner, Viola Davis) looms the obvious frontrunner in the Best Actor category, and good for him. He’s a national treasure, as much a true-blue actor as he is a bona fide movie star.  His Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Glory, 1989) and Best Actor (Training Day, 2001) already make him the most honored African-American actor in Academy history (that is, excluding Sidney Poitier who counts 1 competitive and 1 honorary Oscar among his victories) ; moreover, his total of 8 Oscar nods, 7 for acting and 1 for producing Fences (a Best Picture nominee) puts him in the same league as such luminaries as Marlon Brando. Peter O’Toole, Jack Lemmon, Richard Burton, and Dustin Hoffman, among a slight few others.  He’s already in such rarified company as  the aforementioned Lemmon, Robert De Niro, and Kevin Spacey as supporting winners who further earned trophies in the leading actor category unlike, say, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman who won their first Oscars for starring roles before picking up second statuettes as supporting candidates.  As with Nicholson, if Washington wins, he’ll be one of a select few actors with three golden boys: Walter Brennan, Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis; moreover, if Washington wins, and it’s a  mighty powerful performance to be sure, he’ll take his place alongside Sir Laurence Olivier (Hamlet) and Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful, 1998) as the only performers to direct their own Oscar winning performance. Not a bad way to be remembered in the history books. Once upon a time, this prize seemed destined for Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), but Washington’s effort as, again, his film’s leading actor, director, and co-producer registers as the more significant achievement.

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I haven’t actually seen Viggo Mortensen (right) in Captain Fantastic, one of the few 2016 releases that I somehow missed during its first run; nonetheless, I have only heard wonderful things about it. I’m glad to see Mortensen back in the Oscar race. Can you believe it’s been a walloping 9 years since his first (and until recently only) nomination for the riotous  Eastern Promises? I hope to catch up with this one soon.

Regarding Best Actress, meh. With Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) out of the running and Viola Davis (Fences) relegated to supporting actress status, I’m at a bit of a loss. My sincere belief is that Davis would have won in this category, and handily, if Paramount (with the actress’ consent) had chosen a different campaign strategy. Early enthusiasm for Natalie Portman’s mannered, if effective, portrayal of widowed First Lady Jackie Kennedy seems to have evaporated. Maybe it’s because she already won an Oscar (Black Swan, 2010) and her career in the interim as, till now, been…nothing special.  Personally, I’m still kicking myself that I missed seeing Ruth Negga in Loving in what seemed to be an abbreviated theatrical run in the DFW area. I know many people who still hold high hopes that she’ll win. We’ll be watching it in our household soon. I also wish I’d seen Isabelle Huppert in Elle, directed by always provocative Paul Verhoeven. Huppert is always worth watching. She and her film, btw, just won top honors at France’s Oscar equivalent, the César awards. I don’t consider myself a true Meryl Streep devotee. Instead, I take her on a case by case basis, but it’s hard to knock a track record that includes 20 Oscar nominations. I actually think her turn as Florence Foster Jenkins ranks as one of her best, and I’m thrilled that the Academy saw fit to recognize such an unlikely vehicle (a summer release based on the life of an amateur opera singer of minute talent and deep pockets), but this isn’t the film that will earn Streep a fourth Oscar. Barring an upset by Negga, La La Land looks to be Oscar gold for Emma Stone, her first Best Actress race (after being nominated as a supporting player for 2014’s Birdman). Stone is a refreshing talent, and she brings such tremendous enthusiasm to La La Land that it’s hard not to like her in it, but I don’t think it represents her best work, either.  Meanwhile, what about Amy Adams (Arrival), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), and Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train)? Not to mention, again, Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis?

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For Best Picture, La La Land‘s 14 nominations, a three way tie with All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) as Oscar’s most nominated pics (both Best Picture winners, as well), will be hard to beat in the final stretch. Michael and I saw La La Land on Christmas Day, and we both enjoyed it tremendously. Believe me when I say there wasn’t a single frame in which I was anything less than entertained. I truly believe it is one of the best movies of the year, and I applaud the efforts of all involved getting an original live-action musical through the development phase and on to the big screen, a no doubt heroic feat–though not necessarily more heroic than the effort it must have taken to see either Hidden Fences (headlined by three African-American actresses, two of whom are over 40) or Moonlight (a movie about life on the streets and the effect of drugs, minus stereotypical gang warfare, that is, excessive gun violence ) to fruition, but I digress.   That a dicey proposition such as La La Land should catch on like gangbusters has to be quite a thrill. But I don’t think it’s THE best film of the year, and that’s my prerogative. It’s my opinion. Do I think a certain amount of La La Land backlash has set in? Yep. But I also think that is to be expected, and I don’t really think it will matter so much. After all, Titanic faced similar last minute harrumphing to no avail.

If I were voting, I’d be torn, and I do mean torn, between Hidden Figures (above) and Moonlight (below). I love, love, love the former because it tells a never before told true story, a story that needed to be told, and has proven to be monstrously popular. It also features a host of lively performances, giving such reputable performers as Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress nominee), Janelle Monáe, and Mahershala Ali, a chance to shine. That’s quite an accomplishment, one that registered strongly enough with members of the Screen Actors Guild to warrant its top prize. Of course, in 2011 the SAG accorded similar honors to The Help though it could not get around the Academy’s love for French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’s cheeky Hollywood send-up, The Artist.

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As much as I love Hidden Figures, and applaud its massive success, I think the greater artistic achievement lies with Moonlight, tied with Arrival as the year’s second most nominated movie with a total of 8 nods, including two for director and co-screenwriter Barry Jenkins.  He shares writing credit with Tarell Alvin McCraney upon whose semi-autobiographical play the film is based. Whatever its strengths, Moonlight runs short on the crowd pleasing pizzaz that marks both Hidden Figures and La La Land, making it tougher sell; however, in its depiction of a young back male living in poverty, from elementary school through the teen years and beyond, Moonlight exudes rare insight into the world that shapes who we are, and almost no film in recent memory demonstrates greater clarity  of what it feels like to grow up queer in a world of heteronormative expectations.  What it really asks from audiences is understanding. Understanding.  A win for Moonlight, over shiny, candy-coated La La Land, won’t necessarily rate as a stunning upset, but it will be startling. Kudos, by the way, to Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, all of whom play the main character over the course of Moonlight‘s three acts. What an amazing achievement for these actors and director Jenkins, especially as three performances meld into a seamless whole, with middle (Sanders) and concluding (Rhodes) portrayals echoing the first (Hibbert).  Actually, a similar effect is achieved through the clever casting of Jaden Piner, Jharrell Jerome, and Andre Holland who all share the role of lead Chiron’s lifelong bf Kevin.

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The delightful Zootopia (l) wherein a rabbit from the countryside (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin)  tries to score big as a police officer in the big bad city (with unlikely assist from a fox voiced by Jason Bateman) sat unchallenged as my favorite 2016 flick for most of the year. Its message is one of hope and positivity, but it’s not heavy-handed. Mainly, it’s just fun.  Though not as widely hyped as its Disney sister Moana.  Zootopia is turning out to be the toon to beat in the Best Animated Feature film category. It all but swept the Annie awards (specifically honoring the work of artists and technicians in the animation field), capturing top honors along with a Golden Globe, a Producers’ Guild Award, and accolades from, among others, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association.  Almost nothing will please me more than for this one to win in its only category though I keep hearing rumblings about Kubo and the Two Strings.

My vote for the movie most inexplicably ignored by the Academy is the lush melodrama The Light Between Oceans, adapted by writer-director Derek Cianfrance from the best selling novel by M.L. Stedman. The movie was hardly a box-office hit, likely because today’s moviegoers aren’t receptive to its melodramatic (there’s that word again) flourishes, so it’s not surprising that it was glossed over, say, for Best Picture or Best Director. Okay, sure. On the other hand, the performances by Michael Fassbender (in the running last year for Steve Jobs), Alicia Vikander (last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner for The Danish Girl), and Rachel Weisz (2005’s Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener) were on-point; however, the biggest omission, by far, is that of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw who wasn’t singled out for any year-end honors, not even among members of the American Society of Cinematographers. La La Land, all colorful, sunny, and sparkling, might have the lead here,  but Arrival and Lion have admirers as well.

All right, now, fasten your seat belts….and thanks for your consideration.

 

For Your Consideration: Best Supporting Actor

18 Feb

This year’s race for Best Supporting Actor includes a previous winner–with a total of 7 nominations–an additional previous nominee, and three Oscar newcomers–but one such exciting newcomer, at least to the Academy,  will give the previous champ a run for his money.

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Prior to his whiz-bang 2016 breakout performances in Moonlight (above) and Hidden Figures, Mahershala Ali racked up impressive credits in the likes of Crossing Jordan, The Curious Cage of Benjamin Button, House of Cards, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Luke Cage, proof that overnight success rarely occurs overnight.

Drumroll please…and the likely victor…more drumroll…is…Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Officially, Ali is in the running for his performance as a shady if well-meaning mentor to the main character, a boy named Chiron being raised by a single mom. Chiron is the film’s central character, and the movie charts his life over a period of more than 10 years, from elementary school to several years after his teens, with three mostly well-matched actors playing the character as he grows from boy to man.

Ali’s Juan functions as an unlikely father figure who takes to the shy boy and wants to teach him about life,  how to stand up for himself against the bullies on the playground. But Juan really isn’t the right man for the job. He’s a bit of a thug himself, a criminal, and his hands aren’t exactly clean as Chiron comes to realize in one of the film’s tense, awkward scenes, the moment when Juan has to “be a man” and answer Chiron’s tough questions. It’s an incredibly well-played, understated  moment. Ali only appears in the first third of the film, but he makes a lasting impression in a true supporting role.

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In addition to a host of awards he has claimed during the current awards season, Mahershala Ali earned two trophies at the recent Screen Actors Guild awards: one for his specific supporting performance in Moonlight and another as part of the Hidden Figures ensemble cast.

I think what propels Ali to frontrunner status, besides his obvious, complex talent, is the added bonus of his recent Screen Actors Guild award. That has to be a plus considering the voting body overlaps with that of the Academy; moreover, Ali has dominated the competition for most of the awards season, laying claim to prizes from the likes of the New York Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics, the Broadcast Film Critics, the National Society of Film Critics, and the DFW Film Critics. I would definitely call that a streak. Add to all that, the bonus of appearing in not one but two Best Picture nominees: both Moonlight and Hidden Figures. In the latter, he portrays real-life army officer Jim Johnson who courts widowed Katherine Johnson, memorably played by Taraji P. Henson. He makes a dashing romantic lead, to be sure, and when taken together, both performances showcase good ole fashioned versatility. No doubt.

I say Ali is the man to beat because, besides all of the above, Moonlight is an amazing film, one of the most incredibly insightful films I have ever seen. No, it’s not a crowd pleaser on the order of La La Land or Hidden Figures,  but its impact is hard to shake, and Academy members are likely to respond.

One of the few awards that somehow bypassed Ali is the Golden Globe. Instead, the Hollywood Foreign Press opted for Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), grizzled and ornery as ever, as a Texas Ranger in determined pursuit of a pair of bank robbers, siblings, portrayed by Chris Pine (exceptionally strong) and Ben Foster. A decade ago, Bridges was a four time nominee with 0 wins. Then, came 2009’s Crazy Heart, in which he played a broken-down country & western singer trying to pull himself back together. Suddenly, on his fifth try, Bridges was everywhere, winning awards all over the place, and the Academy followed suit. Then, Bridges scored his 6th nomination the very next year when he more or less stepped into John Wayner’s Oscar winning shoes as “Rooster Cogburn” in the Coens’ reboot of True Grit. Now, in Hell or High Water, Bridges plays a character not unlike Cogburn, and that’s why I think he won’t win. The Academy has already seen this portrayal in a different film, and Bridges is no longer the hard working vet who has yet to be honored with a statuette of his own. That noted, Bridges has one truly sublime scene, a confrontation with Pine that is just as powerfully underplayed as the scene between Ali’s Juan and Chiron in Moonlight. So, maybe it’s not over…yet. Btw, Bridges’ six previous nominations stack up as follows: Best Supporting Actor for The Last Picture Show (1971), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), and as the President of the United States in The Contender (2000), along with Best Actor nods for Starman (1984), Crazy Heart (2009), and True Grit. Whew!

Meanwhile, sitting in the wings as a possible spoiler is no less than Dev Patel for the highly promoted, fact-based,  Lion. Moviegoers have enjoyed this exciting young actor for almost a decade, beginning with 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire and up through The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and TV’s Newsroom. He’s a stunner, but he’s also young and will likely have better opportunities. Technically, he plays the lead character–but only as an adult. Apparently, the bulk of the story is told through flashbacks with a much younger actor essaying the role. Speaking of young, Lucas Hedge, of Manchester by the Sea, is only 20, about the same age as Timothy Hutton when he triumphed for 1980’s Ordinary People. But remember this: Hutton’s film was a major contender, plus he was second generation Hollywood; plus, it was just, again, obvious that Hutton had the showiest role in his respective film. Hedge fights an uphill battle. Despite reams of critical acclaim that greeted Manchester by the Sea, interest in it seems to have waned compared to, say, La La Land, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight. Did you know, btw, that the Academy members have historically been less responsive to juvenile actors than, say, juvenile actresses? Okay, so, technically Hedge is not necessarily a juvenile actor, but the role is that of a juvenile. Will that make a difference?

Finally, the wild card: Michael Shannon, back in the race almost 10 years after his first nod for 2008’s Revolutionary Road. Now, he is in the running for his turn as a detective in Nocturnal Animals‘ film within a film, that is, the dramatization of one the main character’s novels. Sounds quirky? That’s what Michael Shannon does. Quirky. Nocturnal Animals is the second feature film from designer-turned-director Tom Ford, who previously guided no less than Colin Firth to his first Oscar nomination–for 2009’s A Single Man, but I digress. Since Revolutionary Road, Shannon has garnered attention for the likes of Mud, Take Shelter, 99 Homes, and TV’s Boardwalk Empire. He even played Elvis Presley opposite no less than Kevin Spacey in Elvis & Nixon, as in Richard Nixon. See? Quirky, right? No doubt, Shannon is a hard worker, and he excels, kind of like Josh Brolin, in roles that might intimidate other actors. Plus, he’s been around for years, with credits going back as far as 1993’s Groundhog Day. The question is, whether the Academy believes Nocturnal Animals is a significant enough achievement to push Shannon to the head of the pack. I don’t see it. After all, look how long Bridges had to wait. FYI: Did you know that Shannon and Ali are about the same age, with the IMDb showing both of them born in 1974?

Did the  Academy overlook any worthwhile contenders? Well, yeah, maybe. Oh, I’m all about Mahershala Ali, the first and best choice, but I was also rooting for Alden Ehrenreich as the young (dare I say, “dim”) singing cowboy in the Coens’ salute to 1950s’ Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! This exciting actor created a little buzz during the current awards season, but not enough. Enjoying a slightly higher profile is Simon Helberg, Golden Globe nominee for playing Florence Foster Jenkins‘ put upon pianist.  Both actors turned in crowd pleasing performances, no doubt, but not enough to sway Academy members. Maybe their high profile efforts in 2016 will net better opportunities in the future.  

Right now, hopefully, it’s Mahershala Ali’s moment to shine.

Thanks for your consideration…

 

For Your Consideration: Best Supporting Actress

1 Feb

Well, here we are: Oscar season is in full-swing, and to the surprise of no one, La La Land grabbed the lion’s share of nominations, tying for the most nominations with the likes of All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997), both of which went on to win Best Picture honors. Even knowing past history, I’m still not convinced that La La Land can sail to an easy victory, and my guess is that Moonlight, with 8 nominations (including an all important bid for director Barry Jenkins) and Hidden Figures will attract voters who aren’t as easily swayed by La La Land’s razzle-dazzle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even though Theodore Melfi, the director and co-writer of Hidden Figures, was snubbed for his directorial efforts, the fact that Hidden Figures just claimed “Best Ensemble” honors from the Screen Actors Guild shows strong support for the film, overall–and, please note, La La Land wasn’t even nominated for Best Ensemble by SAG voters. Fancy that.

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Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington (r) and Best Supporting Actress nominee Viola Davis (l) won Tony awards, as Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, for their portrayals in the 2010 revival of playwright August Wilson’s 1987 Tony and Pulitzer winner. Davis is clearly the actress to beat in this category. She and Washington just won SAG awards for their stellar performances.

Elsewhere, setting a new Academy record is Viola Davis, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Fences (up for 4 awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, Denzel Washington). Davis has made history by being the first African-American actress to earn a total of three Oscar nods. She was first in the running for her supporting role as a hurt, confused, and protective mother trying to push through an unforgivable tresspass  in 2008’s Doubt, starring Meryl Streep. Three years later, she competed against Streep for Best Actress honors: Davis for The Help and Streep, the victor, for The Iron Lady.  Curiously, Davis is now competing in a race that includes Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), who actually won an Oscar for her supporting turn in The Help. That means that Spencer is now tied with Whoopi Goldberg as the second most nominated African American actress in Academy history, having been nominated for Best Actress (The Color Purple) in 1985/86. and winning Best Supporting Actress (Ghost) in 1990/91. To compare, Davis’s Fences co-star Denzel Washington (already a two-time winner) is in his 7th and 8th Oscar races as he is credited, besides his acting nomination, as one of the Best Picture candidate’s producers..

Based on her recent wins at the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and  SAG awards, Davis looks to be an Oscar shoon-in. Certainly, hers is a towering talent and she masterfully–masterfully–portrays the put-upon wife of Washington’s character. Oh, he’s a slippery SOB, a surly drunk who abuses the trust of his loved ones, especially Davis’  character. Most of the time, she works at being good-natured. Then, she reaches the point at which the betrayal simply hurts too much, consumes her, and she lashes back. But good. In a performance that spans the full emotional gamut, Davis is fierce, ferocious, formidable, and unforgettable, but the Academy has gotten it wrong. The fault is not Davis but the category in which she has been nominated.

Simply, this is Best Actress material as evidenced by the Best Actress Tony award Davis won for the 2010 revival of the play upon which the film is based–also opposite Denzel Washington. To be fair, the great Mary Alice, who originated the role in the 1987 Pulitzer winner, won her award in the Featured (or supporting) rather than Leading category. The Tony committee has concrete guidelines for these distinctions. Typically, performers billed above the title are “leading” while cast members billed below the title are “featured.” Simple enough…unless an appeal by a producer warrants renewed consideration. Obviously, backing up to Mary Alice, it would seem that she had been billed below the title in deference to star-billed James Earl Jones, the marquee draw. At this point, Viola Davis has earned over the title status, so the point should be moot; after all, no less than legendary Bette Davis once famously harrumphed that she would NEVER agree to Best Supporting Actress consideration for any award, regardless of role size, because she was a star and always earned over the title billing. Also, the late Peter Finch railed at the suggestion that his character in Network, famously deranged news anchor Howard Beale, could EVER be considered supporting. The whole story hinged on Beale’s nervous breakdown; however, as the story goes, another take was that if Finch were to be nominated for Best Actor, he would likely split votes with Best Actor hopeful William Holden from the same film. Ultimately, Finch won both the argument and the Oscar, posthumously, of course, but the nomination was already in the bag. Likewise, Anthony Hopkins also bristled at the notion of being listed as supporting player for Silence of the Lambs even though, to this moviegoer’s mind, that would have been the better fit due to the character’s limited screen time, but Hopkins emerged victorious anyway. I still think Nick Nolte should have won that year for The Prince of Tides, but it’s hard to ignore the cultural impact of Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

These controversies and inconsistencies go way, way back by the way. Luise Rainer won her first Best Actress Oscar for 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld in what was essentially a supporting role powered by one well played tearjerking scene; Barry Fitzgerald was actually nominated for Best Actor AND Best Supporting Actor for 1944’s Going My Way, winning the latter and watching top-billed Bing Crosby from the same film carry the former…and then, of course, the dreaded Louise Fletcher being promoted to “Best Actress” status for her role in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to take advantage of what producers saw as an especially weak field of Best Actress possibilities. A strategy that worked, btw. That’s a short list.

Let’s back up just a bit. In contrast to the Tony awards, movie producers and studio marketing personnel may position a performer as either leading or supporting when they launch their awards seasons campaigns, for whatever reasons, but the final call is left to the discretion of voters. This option is how Susan Sarandon garnered her first Best Actress nod, for 1981’s Atlantic City, after Paramount promoted her as a supporting player. Interestingly, Atlantic City and Fences are both Paramount releases, thirty+ years and several studio turnovers apart. I’m surprised Academy members took the “Best Supporting” bait this year, but I shouldn’t be; after all, last year’s winner in the same category (Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl) benefitted from a similar strategy. I guess an Oscar is an Oscar is an Oscar. Winning is winning. Reportedly, the thought is that this year’s Best Actress race is so incredibly competitive, led by Emma Stone in La La Land and Natalie Portman in Jackie, that the powers that be determined Davis would be fare better in the secondary category, and, by all accounts, Davis is fully on board with the idea.If she’s balked, we might be witnessing a different scenario…though I can’t imagine what it’s like being told that one’s work, when one is already a Tony and an Emmy winner, might not be competitive enough for Best Actress, so Best Supporting Actress will have to do. Really?

Again, I was sure that Academy members would reject Paramount’s ploy and nominate Davis in the other category. My thought is that IF Davis had been nominated for Best Actress, she would have won in that category–and handily–and I certainly would have cheered her victory. Davis seizes the roles, seizes the screen, and seizes the audience in the process. She won’t just win this category because she is unquestionably great, she will win because no one else stands a chance because no one else in this lineup has as a role that compares; after all, besides the huge range of emotions involved, Davis has notably more screen time than her competitors, meaning more opportunities to connect with viewers, that is, voters.

Of course, this year’s lineup is interesting in that it features a quartet of Oscar vets, including two previous winners, the aforementioned Spencer and Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for 2002’s The Hours and is back in the race for Lion. This is Kidman’s fourth Oscar race, with additional Best Actress nominations for Moulin Rouge (2001) and Rabbit Hole (2010). Another four time nominee is Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea). Her first nod was in this category for 1995’s Brokeback Mountain, but she has also been up for Best Actress twice: Blue Valentine (2010) and My Week with Marilyn (2011).  I can’t imagine that Kidman has much of a chance here though, clearly, her nomination signals healthy support. On the other hand, Williams stands as tough competition. Full confession: I have yet to see her nominated flick, but it’s a major contender, and by all accounts Williams delivers the goods in only a few scenes, and that might be what it takes to steal some of Davis’s thunder.

Here’s something else. Besides Davis’ historic third nod, this is also the first time in Academy history that one performance category celebrates three black nominees. Besides Davis and Spencer, the ballot also includes Naomie Harris as the abusive mother in Moonlight. I think English born Harris, whose character ages more than a decade over the course of the film, has a chance here because her performance so sharply differs from her previous portrayals of Miss Moneypenny in the two most recent 007 entries, in which the character has a lot more oomph than in previous incarnations. This is also a world apart from her role as Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013). Harris might invite compassion for the woman she plays in Moonlight, but awarding an Oscar to a woman, a black woman, for playing a crack addict might not seem, well, progressive. This brings us back to Spencer. Hers is true supporting role in major crowd pleaser. I don’t think a second Oscar is in the cards, but I’m still considering that SAG award for the entire Hidden Figures cast, and I wonder if voters might jump at the chance to honor Spencer as a way of honoring the film as a whole. Of course, jumping at that chance involves  a huge leap past Viola Davis in Fences.