Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Reasons Why SAG Award Winner Viola Davis Can't Lose the Best Actress Oscar

There, I said it!

Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer have been virtual Oscar locks in their respective supporting categories for weeks now. I privately predicted a Jean Dujardin Best Actor win months ago, when The Artist was still a newbie in theaters, comparing him to Roberto Benigni, who triumphed for Life Is Beautiful in 1999, and my friend, a movie critic for a major national U.S. magazine, shot me down.

"The Artist is no Life Is Beautiful."

No, it's not, but it's beginning to look like something more, a Best Picture frontrunner. Life Is Beautiful may have had more zeitgeist momentum, but it never stood a chance against Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love, the eventual winner. Despite Dujardin's January 29 Screen Actors Guild win, I wouldn't be too quick to call it any more than a speed bump in Clooney's road to his second Oscar. But if there is an upset waiting to happen, it's here.

And what about Best Actress? Well, it's Viola Davis's world, and for now, Glenn Close, Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams only live in it. Sorry ladies! On February 26, Davis will not only make history as the second black woman to win the Best Actress Academy Award, but Oscar, after missing his chance with Precious and The Color Purple, will make history for honoring two black actresses -- both from the same film! -- in one year.

Here are five more reasons why Davis already has such a tight grip on the naked gold man.

1) Her colleagues adore her. Who said only legends get standing ovations? The crowd's reaction to Davis' SAG win was telling. Glenn Close deserves an Oscar more than anyone on the planet, and she never would have received such rapturous congratulations from her peers. Tilda Swinton, who didn't have a chance of winning anyway, clapped slowly and deliberately as if she didn't really mean it, and she still stood up. It took Michelle Williams a moment, but eventually, she got it. On your feet, girl!

2) A vote for her is a vote against racism in Hollywood. Boy, is Davis playing the race card. Not in a tacky way, but in a very obvious one. It makes sense that she would, since the film for which she is going to win the Oscar is about racism, but watching her accept award after award, walk red carpet after red carpet, and sit at roundtable after roundtable, I find myself wishing she'd table talk about racism in Hollywood and how it's prevented her from working more. The Help is her first leading film role. Even Halle Berry has trouble finding work. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a dozen times -- always coming straight from Davis's mouth. Okay, we get it. Now I'd like for her to move on to new business and let her great work in The Help speak for itself.

3) She knows her history, and she respects it. In her SAG acceptance speech, she gave props where they were due, and they are certainly due to Cicely Tyson, an icon among black actresses whom Berry didn't forget to include in her Oscar acceptance speech. And even though Meryl Streep will surely lose again (I think she'll finally win her third Oscar when she stops trying so hard to), we can be pretty certain that Davis won't forget to give a shout out to her friend and Doubt costar. So in a way, they both win.

4) It would continue Oscar's tradition of honoring beautiful women who aren't afraid to deglam on the job. What becomes an Oscar winner most? Telling the world that you are willing to suffer for your art, even if it means checking your vanity at the door. You'll always have the red carpet to say, "This is how I really look. Now do I get the award?"

5) She deserves it. Regardless of what you think about The Help and Davis's place in it (lead or supporting?), there is no denying the power of her performance. She made every gesture, every look, every moment of silence speak volumes. If Hally Berry's Best Actress-winning performance in Monster's Ball hasn't aged so well (Berry was good, but the effort showed), in 10 years, Viola Davis in The Help will still be a gold standard of acting at its finest. And maybe then SAG presenter Sir Ben Kingsley will be able to tell us whether it's Vee-OH-la or Vie-OH-la!
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