Trust me, I know we’re all still recovering from last year’s dreadful slate of Academy Award winners/nominees (I’m of course not talking about Mad Max Fury Road winning several trophies, but of course another crop of all white acting nominees and the inclusion of films like JOY and The Revenant). That being said, any news on the Best Actress category, in my opinion, is worth discussing. Especially when it concerns Viola Davis.
That’s right. The beloved actress could not only score her third career nomination (and the second in this particular category) but maybe even her first win.
I know it’s only May 2, and I know that the Cannes Film Festival hasn’t even started. Hell, the film only just started filming last week. But we’ve seen films like American Hustle and even the aforementioned JOY kept in the editing room until the very last second, only to go on and succeed (to various degrees) in their hopes for awards. The film, based on the Tony award winning play of the same name, doesn’t have a terribly complex premise; it focuses on a former baseball player (Denzel Washington) in the 1950s who failed in his dreams to go on to the major leagues and ends up working as a garbageman. He and his wife (Davis) struggle with his inability to provide for his family and with his feelings of bitterness.
Both Washington and Davis starred in the original production, and won leading Tony awards for their performances. Washington also serves as the director and producer, with Oscar nominee Tony Kushner and the play’s writer, August Wilson, penning the screenplay. The film explores themes of racism, the complications of marriage and the inner struggle to provide for your family while staying true to your dreams. It’s some heavy stuff, but both actors totally deserved those Tony awards; just the thought of a big screen adaptation of this has me envisioning what Davis’ acceptance speech would be like.
Davis just became the first black woman in history to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for How To Get Away With Murder this past fall. The show’s popularity, and her success with awards (she’s also won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for the same role) only bolster her chances; she gives the best acceptance speeches. Washington has won two Oscars and been nominated six times. Though he’s never been recognized for any of his directorial work, it’s safe to say he’s an Academy favorite. A lot will come down to how good the film is (stage to screen adaptations are always very tricky) but Fences seems to be in good hands, and though this doesn’t always turn out to be a good thing, Davis has a lot of heat behind her very early in the game.
There’s also previous Best Actress nominee Rosamund Pike, who is starring in A United Kingdom. I’ve mentioned this film before, and for good reason. Yes, there’s Pike’s involvement; she’s playing a real life person, and as a previous nominee this is catnip to Academy voters. There’s also co-star David Oyelowo, who was previously ignored for his staggering performance as Martin Luther King Jr. in the criminally under-awarded Selma. The plot focuses on the romance between Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams Khama (Pike), which sparked outrage amongst many during the late 1940s, leading Khama to be banned from his home country by Great Britain several years later.
There’s also Ruth Negga from Jeff Nichols’ Loving, based on the Loving v. Virginia case that ended race based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. The film has been selected to compete for the Palm d’Or at Cannes this month, and the buzz is strong. Negga, who stars on Marvel’s Angents of S.H.I.E.L.D is automatically in the mix for Cannes’ Best Actress award, but could also find success later down the line if the film is a hit. Nichols’ profile is growing with each new project he releases, and the film’s awards friendly release date (November 4) puts it in a sweet spot.
I suppose we should also talk Emily Blunt in Girl On The Train. For context, Blunt is an actress who has delivered several worthy performances (The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods, Sicario) and has been building momentum for awhile. This big screen adaptation of the popular novel of the same name could potentially be her ticket to her first career nomination in the same way as Pike did with Gone Girl. It’s a thriller, being released on October 7. If it can capture the zeitgeist in the same way Gone Girl did, Blunt stands a good chance at being considered. Plus, it just looks like a great showcase for her talents.
Of course, anything Meryl Streep does has to be considered in some way. Her terrible opera singer biopic Florence Foster Jenkins looks to capture the same magic that Julie & Julia did, while Sally Field’s modest hit Hello My Name Is Doris puts her on the map for at least a Golden Globe Musical or Comedy nomination. Alicia Vikander stars alongside real life boyfriend Michael Fassbender in The Light Between Oceans and Marion Cotillard plays the wife of Brad Pitt’s character in the WWII drama (the Academy’s favorite) Allied who may of may not be a Nazi spy. Jessica Chastain is also starring in a WWII film, The Zookeeper’s Wife, which is about a couple who saved many people (and animals) during the war. Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers is a huge question mark, but like Streep she has become an Academy favorite and must be at least an afterthought in the discussion. Other possibilities, but far from sure things, are Amy Adams (Story of Your Life), Emma Stone (La La Land) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Beat Up Little Seagull).
But, it’s still early. Anything is possible.