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Viola Davis (#110 of 17)

Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

Paramount Pictures

Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

If for no other reason than managing to make blood, sweat, and tears no match for snot, the conspicuously overdue Viola Davis has this award locked down, and would in just about any year, even one when #AllLivesMatter emerged as the most virulent “alternative fact.” So we could easily cut this prognosticating short and give this race the Heath Ledger treatment and call it a day, which would be apropos given that Davis also emerged with her dignity intact playing opposite Ledger’s spiritual opposite in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. (Then again, anyone who had to endure the gift of a dead piglet from Jared Leto would’ve come out smelling like roses, at least in the good old days when chief executives didn’t regularly and metaphorically douse significant portions of their electorate in pig’s blood.)

2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

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2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

AMC

2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

The democratization of technology is a boon for globalization, but for anyone who ever felt an inkling of pleasure watching the Oscars, it’s become a blight to an institutional process that once made seemingly genuine attempts toward establishing even playing fields. Today, the Oscar season begins as soon as the curtain falls on the previous one. The full-time awards pundit predicts nominees, sometimes even winners, months before a film has even left the editing room (“Could it be two in a row for Eddie Redmayne?!”), the insta-reactionary-ness of Twitter trending films and people up or down like stocks. How good the work is matters less than how good one works a room, or how closely the work aligns with a cultural shift in imagination. Show up at a festival to promote your film, pretend to enjoy getting your picture snapped by a #blessed “industry expert,” thus securing their approval, and suddenly you’re a “lock.” At least that’s what said expert will report to their followers, who’ll slavishly lap up and spread the pundit’s hosannas for films sight unseen—a domino-like effect of readiness and willingness perpetuated by the studios with For Your Consideration campaigns.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

Dishonorable Mention

The Sessions: The flagship poster for The Sessions is just your latest example of a marketing brainfart: How does one sell a dramedy about a polio survivor looking to lose his virginity? The answer, sadly, is the old, square, film-still-collage standby, whose slanted positioning doesn’t make it any less banal. The ad may be preferable to its illustrated counterpart, which walks a dangerous line between the inspired and the vulgar, but it still fails to do the movie justice, its design appearing unfinished and its lone pullquote a cheap ploy for Oscar love. [Poster]

Save the Date: Never mind the whole bottom-heavy layout here, which opts to crush a pair of stills with a needless mountain of whitespace. The real problem is what’s conveyed in the stills themselves: an aesthetic defined by boring over-the-shoulder shots. Is it a metaphor for the male characters’ lack of emotional presence? Is it underscoring the prominence of the females of the film? Not really—it’s just bad design. And rather than providing quirky adornment as intended, the pencil-drawn faces merely appear tacked-on, somehow making this minimalistic-in-all-the-wrong-ways fiasco look busy.[Poster]

The Giant Mechanical Man: A wonderful gem that never quite found an audience, The Giant Mechanical Man deserved much better than this tossed-together one-sheet, which basically slaps a still on a blue background and scrawls in some text. None of the film’s infectious, magical-realist nature is expressed, only the fact that Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina go for coffee. The lone cloud and subtle heart might suggest that love is in the air for these drifters, but none of it succeeds in piquing interest. [Poster]

The Conversations: Bamboozled

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The Conversations: Bamboozled
The Conversations: Bamboozled

Ed Howard: Towards the end of Spike Lee’s viciously funny media parody Bamboozled, there’s a shootout between the police and a militant rap group in which all the black members of the group are quickly killed, leaving behind the one white guy (played by MC Serch of real-life hip-hop outfit 3rd Bass). As the cops put him in cuffs, this one survivor repeatedly cries out to them, “Why didn’t you shoot me?” It’s such a poignant moment because he seems to be pleading with them, begging them to treat him the way they’d treated the black members of the group, demanding that he not be spared because of the color of his skin. He’s so upset, not only because his friends are all dead, but because he’s realized an essential truth that Lee is getting at in this movie: no matter how well he’d fit in with his black peers, no matter how fully he’d been accepted by them and participated in their work, he was still separated from them, cut off from their experience of the world at a very basic level over which he could have no control.

Throughout the film, Lee has multiple characters try to take on the attributes of a race other than the one indicated by the color of their skin: black people trying to sound white, white people trying to sound black, and of course many people of various races donning blackface as a TV-inspired fad. For the most part, Lee has nothing but contempt for these characters; MC Serch’s character is the one arguable exception, and in the end he can no more escape the color of his skin and what it means than anyone else in the film. I’m starting at the end, to some degree, because this sequence is so suggestive of the film’s themes, and also because we should probably admit up front that we’re two white guys about to discuss a film that has a very provocative and challenging view of race and racism. It’s a film that’s at least in part about how it’s all but impossible for one race to understand the experience of another—especially whites thinking they understand what it means to be black.

Bamboozled follows the black TV executive Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) as he develops a blackface minstrel show that he thinks will expose the racist attitudes of the media but only winds up feeding into and inflaming that racism. I didn’t entirely know what to make of this movie when it came out in 2000, but I’ve come to believe that it’s one of Lee’s best, right up there with Do the Right Thing. A bold satire that doesn’t pull any punches, Bamboozled is a deeply discomfiting film that’s purposefully exaggerated and outlandish and yet is packed with real-world references that ground its satire—even that shootout with the white survivor is based on real events. Lee is exploring the history of racist entertainment in the US, and as the closing montage makes clear, he’s suggesting that the same forces that made Birth of a Nation and the vaudeville caricatures of comics like Mantan Moreland so popular are still very much present, in a more covert way, in the modern American entertainment industry. As a result, Bamboozled does what great satire always does: it takes a scenario that should seem ridiculous—it’s hard to imagine an actual blackface variety show being aired on American TV today—and uses it to explore the submerged but very real racial attitudes that underpin all sorts of entertainment that only seems less racist than Delacroix’s Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress

At this point, being a Meryl Streep diehard who also cares about Oscar hoopla is a kind of brutal self-flagellation. Year after year, be it a silver fox in a royalty role, a can’t-miss Brit in a Holocaust film, or a rom-com sweetheart awarded for years of box-office gajillions, there’s always someone younger, fresher, or less-anointed to make voters feel better about passing on Streep, their near-perennial Oscar queen. This year, of course, the guilt-free alternative is Viola Davis, whose movie-carrying brilliance in The Help is fortified by the unavoidable race discussion, which, whether you pray at the church of Tate Taylor or Tavis Smiley, is all but certain to catapult her to victory. Up to now, Streep and Davis have more or less split the precursor trophies, and Streep has a fresh Kennedy Center Honor and Berlinale career kudo in her corner, but it’s next to impossible to imagine Davis’s snowballing awards narrative being derailed in the place where it would wring the most tears. Yes, a 2012 Best Actress win for a black woman in a maid role sends all kinds of regressive messages, but stronger yet is the voter urge to self-congratulate by coloring Oscar history, however sad the truth of the matter. Indeed, Streep had better hope she stays in her seat, for a win might make her look as monstrous as the shrew she so embodies in The Iron Lady.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress

If you want a good cross-section of Oscar habits, look no further than this year’s top five candidates for Best Actress. In Michelle Williams, you have the eternally baity case of star playing star, and this time the star being played just might be history’s brightest. In Tilda Swinton, you have a classic case of Academy catch-up, wherein voters nominate a brilliant talent for minor work as a means to remedy past snubs. Category fraud is exemplified by Viola Davis, whose push as a leading star is, admittedly, a falsity of the filmmakers and not of any voting body, but who should nevertheless be considered as supporting. In Glenn Close, there’s you’re wholly undeserving knee-jerk nominee, armed with a shameless checklist of Oscar-y draws like gender-bending, homosexuality, uglification, makeup effects, period details, decades-long commitment, and “past-due” desperation. And as for Meryl Streep, well, she’s an Oscar habit in and of herself, isn’t she?