Viola Davis, “Fences” The matriarch in Denzel Washington’s directorial debut film, Davis gives a phenomenal performance as the devoted wife and supportive mother, Rose. But her biggest role in “Fences” is to act as a buffer-zone between her children and Denzel’s hard-nosed, drinking character, Troy. And no one can check Troy’s poor behavior and snap him back to reality faster than Davis’ Rose. While I had higher hopes for the overall “Fences” storyline, Davis and Washington both shine bright on the big-screen–with Viola’s work arguably a notch better than director Denzel’s. Davis’ biggest competition for Best Actress in a Supporting Role will come from “Moonlight” star Naomie Harris.
Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women” As the punk redhead photographer, Gerwig grounds this helicopter mom (Annette Bening) story set in 1979 Santa Barbara, CA. Her artistic and compassionate understanding of Bening’s teenage son helps showcase and carry this parenting dramedy. Although still a longshot for Oscar gold, look for Gerwig’s 10-year film career to skyrocket from her dazzling work in “20th Century Women”.
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” As the drug addicted–often angry–single mother Paula, Harris’ performance matches co-star Mahershala Ali’s impeccable work along every step in the poor, crack-infested Miami neighborhood. As Hollywood throws an overabundance of love towards this socially charged film, look for Harris’ stock to rise in most end of year award nominations. But regardless of one’s appreciation for “Moonlight”, and its overall mediocre theater ride, no one can argue that Harris isn’t both convincing and spectacular! Harris faces stiff competition from Viola Davis (“Fences) and Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”) on Oscar Night.
Molly Shannon, “Other People” Released way back in September, “Other People” got overshadowed by a heroic water landing in the Hudson River (“Sully”) starring some guy named Tom Hanks. However, terrific acting carries this dark comedy about a mother (Shannon) dying from a rare form of cancer. The family dynamics and how each member copes with Shannon’s riveting, strong-willed acceptance of her circumstances is very watchable. Easily the former Saturday Night Live veteran’s best film work to date.
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” This incredible true NASA story from the 60’s examines a trio of brilliant brains working to overcome discrimination and space-capsule trajectory math problems inside the nation’s space program. These brainy black women inspire and educate, taking their lead from Spencer’s tedious, never-give-up character, Dorothy Vaughan. If Spencer’s co-star, Taraji P. Hanson, is considered in the Best Actress category, then Spencer’s second-best performance in “Hidden Figures” looks to get a Supporting Actress nomination.
Honorable Mentions: Janelle Monae, “Hidden Figures”, Helen Mirren, “Eye In The Sky”
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