Here’s our conundrum: Viola Davis entered herself into the 2017 Awards races as a supporting actress in “Fences,” a movie only critics have seen so far.
This is the consensus: Davis’s performance as Rose in Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the August Wilson play may be the best in any category this year. Davis won Best Actress playing Rose on Broadway. But then some argue that when “Fences” first came to Broadway, the exceptional Mary Alice won Best Featured Actress at the Tony Awards.
Every once in a while a situation like this arises. A few years ago, Kate Winslet was in two movies– “Revolutionary Road,” directed by her then husband Sam Mendes, and “The Reader,” from Stephen Frears. Because of her situation with Mendes, she asked that she go lead in “RR” and supporting in “The Reader.”
What happened? “RR” was released first. It’s a wonderful movie but it failed in theaters almost immediately. With Oscar nominations approaching, I asked around about moving Winslet to lead for “The Reader.” She was the lead, she was almost the whole movie. When I found out that the Academy allowed moving actors from their assigned categories I wrote a plea in my column– please move Kate Winslet to lead. To my surprise, that’s what happened. She was nominated in lead– maybe with a little help from my suggestion– and won Best Actress.
This year we have a surfeit of excellent actresses in great lead roles. Emma Stone is a joy in “La La Land.” Annette Bening is a breath of fresh air in “20th Century Women.” Natalie Portman has been wowing critics as “Jackie.” And so on.
But Viola Davis– she is equal to those women and maybe more so. The part of Rose is essential to “Fences.” Davis is not supporting anyone. In the “third act,” she carries the film to its conclusion.
Davis been nominated in supporting before, for “Doubt.” She’s been nominated for Lead in “The Help.” I shudder to think her fans only know her from TV’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” She has two Tony Awards. Viola Davis deserves to play in the lead category with her peers.
If you’ve seen “Fences,” you know what I mean. For the Critics Choice Awards, I’m typing her name into lead. Maybe it won’t work. For Globes and Oscars, Supporting may be her proper designation in the end. But she was one of three names that popped into my head when I saw the ballot. If it works, we can say we got away with “murder.”
PS Here’s a little bit of odd trivia: Mary Alice beat Annette Bening for the 1987 Tony for Featured Actress. It was Bening’s debut in “Coastal Disturbances.” Bening has now been denied the Oscar for performances in The Grifters, Being Julia, The Kids Are All Right, and American Beauty. She will definitely be nominated for “20th Century Women.” It’s maybe her best work yet.