Viola Davis Just Changed the Oscar Race. Here’s How.

After seeing the new film Fences, actress Viola Davis has insisted Paramount Pictures submit her as supporting actress, not lead, believing her work to be more supporting than lead. It is ironic because she won a Tony Award for Best Actress for the same role on Broadway, and was expected to be a major contender for the Oscar in lead.

Davis going supporting opens the race up, even more than it already was, with Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’ and Natalie Portman in ‘Jackie’ the frontrunners, though Stone has the absolute edge. Considering the staggering achievement that is Portman’s work in Jackie it is shocking that Stone is the frontrunner, she gave a superb movie star “performance” and proved to be an actress of remarkable talent, but did she go as deep as Portman? Is Stone’s work, as likable and wonderful as it is, as great a performance as Portman? I do not think so. But here is that nagging issue that Portman has won recently, in 2010 for Black Swan, and it might be to soon for her again (according to whom??).

Ruth Negga seems a likely nominee for ‘Loving’, Amy Adams could get there for ‘Arrival’, and Meryl Streep will likely nail her 20th nomination for ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’.  The great Jessica Chastain is a contender for Miss Sloane, Taraji P. Henson could get there for ‘Hidden Figures’, and Isabelle Huppert has made noise with her fierce performance in ‘Elle’.

So with Annette Bening, long overdue for an Oscar, and beloved by the Academy, a likely nominee, who will she bump from the race? Bening has been nominated four times, but has not yet won, but with her performance in 20th Century Woman has a shot…again. What makes it doubly interesting is that her husband Warren Beatty seems a likely nominee for supporting actress for ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, and if nominated I suspect he would win, having not yet won an Oscar for acting (he won for Best Director for Reds in 1981). Pretty great photo op if they were to win together right?

Bening has won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for her work in The Kids are Alright (2010) and may felt she should have collected Oscars for The Grifters (1990) and even American Beauty (1999) for which she won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. Respected as an actress by her peers, beloved within the industry for her intelligence and heart, this could with the right campaign be her years.

With Davis going supporting, her chances increase dramatically, though Michelle Williams in Manchester By the Sea remains a serious threat. There is a feeling within the business that Davis was robbed of an Oscar for The Help (2011), which went to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011), herself long overdue not having won in 28 years. It speaks to a problem of honoring the wrong people at the wrong time and then having ti ignore a great performance to make up for it years later.

That is precisely what might happen this year in both actress categories. Though Portman has given one of the great screen performances, one of the great performances captured on film, she likely will not win (though she should) given the love in happening for the lovely Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’. Then there is the chance both actresses, Portman and Stone, could lose to Bening! As for supporting, Michelle Williams is breathtaking in ‘Manchester By the Sea’, the best in this category I have seen, but might lose to Davis, who they might feel is owed.

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