“THERE IS NO such thing as society,” Margaret Thatcher famously remarked. There is, however, such thing as the Oscar and soon, five leading ladies – Glenn Close, Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis and Meryl Streep – will get their chance to pick up the golden calf of the film-acting world. Having just caught Streep as British Prime Minister in “Irony Lady,” I have good reason to predict that her competition, Viola Davis (“The Help”), will pick up her first gold-guy next Sunday night. There are five reasons why, in fact, Davis will triumph one week from tonight:
- It’s the Movie, Stupid: By now you’ve likely heard or read that “Iron Lady” (directed by Phyllida Lloyd, from a script by Abi Morgan) is less than a perfect film. Actually, it’s a scrambled egg of a story and one that talks out of both sides of its mouth: heroizing its steely subject while also humiliating her. Ruling for eleven years, Mrs. Thatcher was a polarizing leader who became the first prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812-27 to win three successive elections. What “Irony Lady” does, cruelly so, is reduce her to a lady who irons (laundry) and talks to the spectre of her beloved husband. As Dennis Thatcher, Jim Broadbent keeps popping up like a cross between Marley’s Ghost and a jack-in-the-box. Even more confounding is that a biopic which features Maggie protesting, “I cannot die washing up a teacup,” actually ends with Maggie washing a teacup. The GOP would practically combust if a film ostensibly about Ronald Reagan condensed his achievements to sound-bites and portrayed him as the Madman of Simi Valley, wandering the hallways in his pajamas and crying out for Nancy.
- Been a While, But Streep’s Got Two Already: Streep is the Madonna of cinema. Yes, she’s nearly a decade older than the Material Girl but she’s a ruthless impersonator and proof that indeed women can command the stage and screen over the age of fifty. Yes, it’s been a while since she sealed the deal – her first Oscar Nomination, for “Deer Hunter” in 1978, is as old as I am, and her two wins followed in quick succession (for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979 and “Sophie’s Choice” in 1982) – but she’s the most-nominated living movie actress and may remain so, at least until the performance and the film are better matched.
- Aibileen as the Heart of “The Help”: Coincidentally, Davis earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for just eight minutes’ worth of screen time with Meryl Streep in “Doubt” (2008). Davis has a fascinating face – deep, protuberant eyes always on the verge of crying – and she’s the emotional core of “The Help” who provides our white heroine Skeeter with first-person accounts of her race-based humiliations. One of Skeeter’s questions, which we hear twice, is even sadder the second time: “How does it feel to raise white children while your own children are being raised by someone else?” Unsure, or perhaps afraid, to answer, Aibileen can only stare at the portrait of her dead son (the victim of a racial hate crime) on her kitchen wall. A movie is only as good as the memories it leaves you, and that singular scene stings the day after.
- Is Davis Drama’s Version of Melissa McCarthy?: The other estrogen-driven ensemble film of 2012 is “Bridesmaids” and the unforgettable supporting member of that cast, Melissa McCarthy (as the frisky Megan), has been repeatedly singled out, even for a Best Supporting Actress, as the stand-out of the ensemble. The Academy may want to honor the baby, though not the bathwater, by elevating Viola Davis above all others, honoring a perfect performance in a less than perfect film.
- Always Bet on Black (Unless You’re Oscar): It’s jaw-dropping to think that only one black woman has won movie-acting’s highest achievement: that’s Halle Berry in 2001’s “Monster Ball.” Yes, 2001, in a film in which the late Heath Ledger co-starred. Been a while, indeed. Last year’s “The Help” is only the third film in movie history to feature black nominees for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and made Davis, alongside Whoopi Goldberg, the most nominated black actress with just two nominations (Streep has an astounding 17 nominations, not to mention 26 Golden Globe nominations).
Note to Oscar: help yourself and give the gold to Viola (“The Help”) Davis!
Postscript: The 2011 Oscar for Best Actress went to Streep.