For Daniel Montgomery‘s rebuttal in favor of Viola Davis, click HERE.
1. She plays a real-life person
-INSERTS:30-This can’t be overstated. Since the earliest days of Oscar, when George Arliss won for “Disraeli,” Charles Laughton won for “The Private Life of Henry VIII” and Paul Muni won for “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” the Academy has shown a tendency to reward actors for playing historical figures.
In the past 12 years, an astounding 14 of the 24 lead acting awards have gone to actors who played real people: Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech,” Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side,” Sean Penn in “Milk,” Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose,” Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland,” Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” Reese Withersoon in “Walk the Line,” Jamie Foxx in “Ray,” Charlize Theron in “Monster,” Adrien Brody in “The Pianist,” Nicole Kidman in “The Hours,” Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” and Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Streep has the added benefit in that she plays a widely known figure, and that we see the character age significantly onscreen.
2. Hers is the most dramatic performance in the category
I’ve always argued that Oscar voters go for the showy over the subtle, most recently when I insisted that Marion Cotillard’s flashy work in “La Vie en Rose” would prevail over Julie Christie’s quieter turn in “Away From Her.”
Other recent examples include Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” over Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote” over Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line” over Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” Sean Penn in “Mystic River” over Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” and Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” over Sissy Spacek in “In the Bedroom.”
Viola Davis is superb in “The Help,” but the performance has relatively few of the classic “Oscar scenes” which make for a win. Meanwhile, virtually every line from Streep in “The Iron Lady” seems custom-made for the Best Actress montage.
3. She’s due for her third Oscar
We’ll never see the numbers, but most pundits would probably guess that Streep came extremely close to winning for both 2009’s “Julie and Julia” and 2008’s “Doubt.” While Helen Mirren likely won by a landslide for 2006’s “The Queen,” Streep might have finished second for “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Sentiment would finally appear to be on her side this year, after almost 30 years of consistent Oscar losses. This is only the second nomination for Davis and her first leading role, and “The Help” is not a starring vehicle for her the way that “The Iron Lady” is for Streep. Davis is 16 years younger and many voters will feel that she’ll have plenty of chances for the Oscar in the future.
4. She won the Golden Globe
I never thought that I would say this but could the Globe actually be the best indicator of success in the Best Actress race? Believe it or not, the last time an actress won the lead Oscar without having taken a Golden Globe first was 10 years ago, when Sissy Spacek won for “In the Bedroom” over eventual Oscar winner Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball.” (Much of that can be explained by Spacek winning both the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics awards for her big comeback.)
I suspect that some are reading too much into the SAG win by Davis; “The Help” had simply been seen by far more Guild members than “The Iron Lady.” Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Nicole Kidman in “The Hours” and Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” all stumbled at SAG after winning Globes, but still rebounded on Oscar night. Streep can do the same.
5. She isn’t hurt by “The Help”
It’s true that being in a Best Picture contender improves an acting nominee’s chances. It’s probably made the difference in several close races, like Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side” over Streep in “Julie in Julia,” Sean Penn in “Milk” over Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler,” Kate Winslet in “The Reader” over Streep in “Doubt,” Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” over both Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” and Ed Harris in “Pollock,” and Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty” over Denzel Washington in “The Hurricane.”
But keep in mind that “The Help” earned just four nominations, and zero outside of the picture and acting categories. Even “The Iron Lady” scored for Best Makeup. That suggests that “The Help” doesn’t have the type of broad support in the Academy which might sweep Davis to victory. And as I explained earlier, Davis doesn’t carry the film the way that a traditional starring role does. With Octavia Spencer looking like a sure thing for Best Supporting Actress, voters may think that’s enough help for “The Help.” One out of four isn’t bad.