Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

Fences Screens; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis Soar Up Oscar Charts

Fences Screens; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis Soar Up Oscar Charts
Fences Screens; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis Soar Up Oscar Charts

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The response to this weekend’s first official screening of Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (and directed by Washington), was one of great anticipation. As one of the very few films left to be seen by critics, pundits and/or guild and Academy members, it’s been a source of conversation within the Oscar pundit community since it’s announcement earlier this year. Then after production wrapped this summer there was the ‘Will Viola Davis go Lead or Supporting?’ pieces and conversations that were finally quelled with the reveal that Davis would indeed go Supporting (as submitted for the Screen Actors Guild, at least) despite winning the Tony in Lead for the same role. Based on the film, pundits differed slightly on where they felt Davis could have or should have been submitted. Variety’s Jenelle Riley, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, and Awards Campaign’s Gregory Ellwood all believe she is supporting. AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone and IndieWire’s Anne Thompson think she could have gone either way but made the right call. Variety’s Kris Tapley makes the argument that she could have won either (but less a lead than Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl last year). Only Movie City News’s David Poland believes she is a true lead.

Immediately after the screening, which was attended by Oscar bloggers, Academy members and Screen Actors Guild members in this year’s nominating committee, the wave of praise wafted over Twitter. “100% lock for the Supporting Actress Oscar” talk for Viola Davis and “best of his career” talk of Denzel Washington’s performance, vaulting them both to the top of winner predictions.  This won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone following AwardsWatch’s Oscar predictions; Washington has been at the top of the Best Actor picks for the last three months (and top three in the months before that) and Viola Davis started November as #1 in Supporting Actress after her official move there but spent the majority of the year’s predictions (March-September) at the top spot in Best Actress. When the rumors began of her possible category switch and the inclusion of Natalie Portman (Jackie) in the race, Davis fell to #3 in October. We’ve been on the Fences train since the film was announced, it’s just always been one of those ‘good on paper’ predictions that looks to be coming true. And it’s not just Washington and Davis that drew Oscar talk this weekend; the wealth of supporting actors in the film did too – Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who was Tony-nominated in 2010 for the revival that earned wins for Washington and Davis.

Even Washington’s directing, which has never been that well received in the past, heralded huge kudos. Tapley and Thompson say he’s a Best Director possibility. That brings me to actors who have directed themselves to acting Oscar wins. Only twice in Oscar’s 88-year history has it happened; Sir Laurence Olivier for 1948’s Hamlet (although he did direct himself to a nomination two other times) and Robert Benigni for 1998’s Life is Beautiful. Let’s add another layer, why not? Only three black or African-American director have ever been nominated for Best Director; John Singleton for 1991’s Boyz in the Hood (the first and, at 24, still the youngest nominee in this category’s history), Lee Daniels for 2009’s Precious and Steve McQueen for 2013’s Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave. Only one film has ever earned two or more acting wins without a Best Director nomination; 1997’s As Good as it Gets, which won Best Actor and Actress. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Writing, and Score. This might be the example that fits closer to what I’m aiming for with this combination of statistics and history. Since Washington is the director of his film that adds yet another layer of difficulty to this equation.  At the moment, the Gold Rush Gang is not predicting Washington to earn a Best Director nomination.

Now let’s talk about Best Picture for a second. As often happens when a new film screens, the press coos and goes gaga for it instantly (if it’s good or ‘plays well’) and it bursts onto predictions charts or moves up exponentially. A great deal of the talk from the first screening from pundits was the real possibility that both Washington and Davis would win Oscars for it. But some felt the film’s chances at a Best Picture nomination were less likely. Some compare it to another very high-profile, multi-nominated film from a stage play, 2008’s Doubt. That Tony-winning play, when turned into a film, earned four acting Oscar nominations – Meryl Streep in Best Actress, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Best Supporting Actor and two nominations in Best Supporting Actress – Amy Adams and, yep, Viola Davis (her first nod). The film also got an Adapted Screenplay nomination but failed to earn a Best Picture or Director nomination. This was the year before the expansion of the Best Picture category by the Academy but it’s probably a safe bet that had the film come out in an expanded year it would have gotten nominated. Still, it’s surprising that a film with such clear support from the acting branch (the largest in the Academy) couldn’t boost it into the top 5 that year. But, there were also no Oscar acting wins from that film. Streep got close with her Screen Actors Guild win that year but then that was due in large part to the eventual Best Actress Oscar winner, Kate Winslet (The Reader), being placed in Supporting at SAG.

What this did was make me look at Oscar history at every film that has earned two or more acting wins and see that correlation with Best Picture, whether it be a nomination or a win. Since the beginning of the Academy Awards, there have been 37 years (of 88) with multiple acting wins from the same films. Of those 37 instances, only twice did they come from a film that was not the Best Picture winner or at least a nominee. The first was 1962’s The Miracle Worker. The Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller biopic won Best Actress for Anne Bancroft and Best Supporting Actress for Patty Duke. It also earned nominations for Director, Writing, and Costumes. The second was, amazingly, the very next year when Hud won Best Actress for Patricia Neal and Best Supporting Actor for Melvyn Douglas. It also earned nominations for Director, Actor (Paul Newman), Writing and Art Direction (as well as a win in Cinematography). They remain the only films in Oscar history to do reap multiple acting wins without a Best Picture nomination.

Digging a bit deeper, there are only two films that have ever earned three acting wins yet amazingly, didn’t win Best Picture; 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire (Best Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress wins) which lost to crowdpleasing musical An American in Paris and 1976’s Network (Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress wins) which lost to crowdpleaser Rocky.

Fences currently sits at #6 on the Gold Rush Gang’s Best Picture predictions, which came out before the screening.

Here are all of the films that have earned two or more acting wins in Oscar history and whether they had a Best Picture win or nomination. It’s interesting to see how much less it happens now compared to previous decades. The 1950s and 1970s saw huge runs of multiple acting wins from the same film earning Best Picture nominations and wins but so far this decade it’s only happened twice and in the 2000s it only happened twice the entire decade.

2013 – Dallas Buyers Club (Best Actor, Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture nomination)

2010 – The Fighter (Best Supporting Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

2004 – Million Dollar Baby (Best Actress and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture winner)

2003 – Mystic River (Best Actor and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture nomination)

1998 – Shakespeare in Love (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1997 – As Good as It Gets (Best Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1993 – The Piano (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1991 – Silence of the Lambs (Best Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1989 – My Left Foot (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1987 – Moonstruck (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1986 – Hannah and Her Sisters (Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1983 – Terms of Endearment (Best Actress and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture winner)

1981 – On Golden Pond (Best Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1979 – Kramer vs. Kramer (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1978 – Coming Home (Best Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1977 – Julia (Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1976 – Network (Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1975 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Best Actor, Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1972 – Cabaret (Best Actress, Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture nomination)

1971 – The Last Picture Show (Best Supporting Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1966 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1963 – Hud (Best Actress and Supporting Actor wins; no Best Picture nomination but Best Director, Writing, Art Direction nominations)

1962 – The Miracle Worker (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; No Best Picture nomination but Best Director, Writing, Costume Design nominations)

1961 – West Side Story (Best Supporting Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1960 – Elmer Gantry (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nominee)

1959 – Ben-Hur (Best Actor and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture winner)

1958 – Separate Tables (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1957 – Sayonara (Best Supporting Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1954 – On the Waterfront (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1953 – From Here to Eternity (Best Supporting Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1951 – A Streetcar Named Desire (Best Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1949 – All the King’s Men (Best Actor and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives (Best Actor and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture winner)

1944 – Going My Way (Best Actor and Supporting Actor wins; Best Picture winner)

1942 – Mrs. Miniver (Best Actres and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1939 – Gone with the Wind (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture winner)

1938 – Jezebel (Best Actress and Supporting Actress wins; Best Picture nomination)

1934 – It Happened One Night (Best Actor and Actress wins; Best Picture/Outstanding Production winner)

 

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