‘SHOULD WIN’ VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: Best Actress Viola Davis, THE HELP

'SHOULD WIN' VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: Best Actress Viola Davis, THE HELP

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play presents "Should Win," a series of video essays advocating winners in seven Academy Awards categories: supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture. These are consensus choices hashed out by a pool of Press Play contributors. We'll roll out the rest of the series between now and Friday. Follow along HERE as Press Play picks the rest of the categories including Best PictureBest Director, Best ActorBest Supporting ActressBest Supporting Actor and Best Documentary. Important notice: Press Play is aware that our videos can not be played on Apple mobile devices. We are, therefore, making this and every video in this series available on Vimeo for these Press Play readers. If you own an Apple mobile device, click here.]

Narration:

Four out the five performances nominated for Best Actress are in part based on fulfilling audiences’ preconceived notions of what they should be. Both Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams do impersonations on the level of genius. Streep dares to make Margaret Thatcher seem all too human; Williams lets us look beyond Marilyn Monroe’s wiggle and teasing smile and see the insecurity, sadness and natural born talent that is required to be a star. Rooney Mara becomes a star by bringing to life one of popular literature’s most revered heroines in recent history. She allows us to feel the heat of Lisbeth Salander’s rage and burgeoning soul. Glenn Close pulls off a stunt that some actors believe is the ultimate test of their talent, be it Dustin Hoffman, Linda Hunt or Hilary Swank.

But it’s Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark in The Help who creates a character from scratch. She makes us feel the anger and unbearable sadness that comes from raising and caring for 17 white kids over the years only to have some of them grow up and see their affection turn to indifference and casual cruelty, all the while enduring the pain of burying her only son.

The power of the performance is in Davis’ eyes. They take in everything – tossed-off racist remarks, a child’s need to be comforted. And her voice, which never rises above a formal submissiveness, quivers with a boiling anger that stands for generations of women whose hard work goes unnoticed. It’s a voice that needs to be heard.

The character could be seen as an example of Hollywood condescension: the quietly suffering noble black domestic. But Davis makes Aibileen unforgettable by cueing us into her quiet defiance. She knows a change is coming but worries if it’s too late. Aibileen may not possess the recklessness of youth, but in her own way she takes a stand. Davis may not raise her voice but we hear her loud and clear.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of Press Play. He is also a film critic and award-winning filmmaker. San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host of “Back at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.

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Comments

coult44

If Mara Rooney doesn't win, they need to stop giving out the award. There has NEVER been a role acted better!!!EVER!!!!

Gaspar Marino

Brava Viola….Hand Down Winner!

spanishfan

This is getting odd and rare. We all know that Meryl Streep should win this year… but we also know that is precisely Viola Davis who is going to win :-(

Genius GARBAGE

On what PLANET would anyone consider Michelle Williams Marilyn Monroe FAILURE to be that of a genius nature? Not this planet thank you. I have found many credible sources that convinced me to stay away from My Week With Marilyn however the trailer clips are enough to do that because she is just plain awful trying to be Marilyn. She can't even master the slightest hint of Marilyn's personality and glamour. I felt as if some little guy dressed up as Marilyn in this movie. There is nothing feminine about the character except for makeup and hairstyle and really the hair is just as awful as the acting. This movie is a TRUE DISAPPOINTMENT.

The Letters Project

I am a huge fan of Viola Davis, but I don't think she gave the best performance of the year. I didn't see "Albert Nobbs" or "My Week with Marilyn," but based on what I did see, I think Meryl Streep gave the best performance of the year. I didn't care for "The Help" or "Iron Lady," but I thought Meryl Streep rose above the material and gave the kind of performance that only she could give. http://www.thelettersproject.org

Tess

Nik Grape, if you believe Ms. Davis is somebody who followed character descriptors from the original source material (in this case Kathryn Stockett's book, The Help) on how to infuse a character with heartbreaking vulnerability, quiet nobility and an authentic glimpse into a women we've all come to care about, you know very little about how talented actors bring life to a character. And you certainly know very little about Viola Davis' incredible ability. As much as I admire and support Ms. Streep's talent, this time around she did no more than transform, and failed to transcend. Viola Davis should win the Oscar.

Nik Grape

"But it’s Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark in The Help who creates a character from scratch." … you mean from the book right?

What Meryl Streep does with Margaret Thatcher, no other actress could do. She not only acts with her eyes and voice as well, but with her whole body/demeanor/gestures etc. And does it at various stages of a woman's life. The fact that "this was expected" from such a talent should not impede her chances. On performance alone, Streep deserves it without a shadow of a doubt. Looking at the way the characters resonate with the audience, Davis should win. But that's script and/or book, not acting.

Meryl Streep should win the Oscar.

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