For the last few weeks, Natalie Portman and Emma Stone have asserted themselves as the frontrunners in the Best Actress race after splashy debuts at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Though many people have been quick to make this a two way race, I’ve quietly maintained that the unseen contenders, Viola Davis (especially) and Annette Bening, were waiting in the wings. Today these two ladies have officially joined the conversation, and if I were Stone and Portman, I wouldn’t get too comfortable with being in the lead.
I’ve already talked at length at how both Davis’ and Bening’s status as “also rans” in previous races benefit their chances this year. That being said, both of their projects look like slam dunks and shouldn’t find difficulty finding awards consideration when its time to cast ballots.
Let’s take a look.
Viola Davis, Fences
This trailer is phenomenal. Though it is more focused on Denzel Washington, Davis comes in at the end and just about steals the show. Stage to screen adaptations can be tricky, especially something like Fences which focuses heavily on the performances between its two leads.
Washington, as the director, seems to have done a pretty good job at filling in the blanks in the transition, something that have been a problem for movies that originate as stage productions (most recently, The Last Five Years). I’m willing to bet right now that Washington and Davis are a screening away from being sure things in their respective categories; they already won Tony awards for their time on Broadway for the play after all. Paramount has been very silent on this one; unlike Jackie and La La Land, Fences has not really been seen by anyone (and if it has, there’s probably an embargo on discussing the film), which might be a smart strategy in the long run. Davis has proven her talents time and time again, and came so close to winning for The Help. Since then, she’s won a dozen awards, and made history, for her work on How To Get Away With Murder. The late release date might hinder her chances a bit, but once people start seeing Fences I really think we’re going to see a shift in this conversation. They owe her an Oscar, and with a star burning as brightly as Davis’ is right now, it’s crazy how she doesn’t have one yet.
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Annette Bening has been nominated for an Oscar several times, and lost. Whoopi Goldberg, Hillary Swank (two times) and Natalie Portman all swooped in at the last second and crashed the party that many feel Bening is owed after a very respected career.
20th Century Women looks like something we’ve never seen from Bening before. The roles that brought her the closest to winning (American Beauty, Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right) have seen Bening working in a much higher capacity than what this trailer suggests. Here, she seems much more subdued and naturalistic; director Mike Mills got a similar performance out of Christopher Plummer when he directed Beginners, which won Plummer the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
A24 is still very new to the Oscar game; last year was their first time having films nominated, and win, in the major categories. They’ve nabbed a high-profile slot at the prestigious New York Film Festival to unveil this film, though there is a lot of buzz concerning Bening’s work. Not to mention, Bening is essentially Hollywood royalty and knows a lot of people in the industry. That goes a long way in playing the game, and I definitely won’t be counting her out. She’ll be going head to head with Davis on Christmas Day when both Fences and 20th Century Women are released to the public, but with these veterans having such amazing résumés, it feels foolish to bet against them.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me what Best Actress is going to look like as of right now, I’d say Emma Stone is the undisputed frontrunner as of right now, with Natalie Portman’s recent win for Black Swan being the only thing putting her at a very close second place. After that, I’d say it’s Ruth Negga for Loving, followed by Bening and Davis. You could make a case for each of these women to walk away with the trophy at this point; Stone’s name is probably being engraved on the Best Actress: Musical or Comedy Golden Globe as I type this. Anyone of the others have a shot at the Drama award. I think this is going to be one of those categories that leaves people guessing right up until Oscar night.