Give Viola Davis a Damn Oscar Already

In the latest Oscars debate, The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon discuss the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories, including why Kathryn Hahn deserved more love.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

KEVIN: For Day Two of our Oscars debates, we dive into the two categories that are guaranteed to send me into a rage fit if the presumed frontrunners don’t take home their rightful trophies: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. But before I take out my purple Gen-Pen and handwrite my love letters to Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali XOXO <3, should we take a minute to talk about the contenders we loved that didn’t make it onto the shortlist?

MARLOW: As much as I’d pay to witness a Viola Davis-inspired KFal rage fit, I’m inclined to agree. And yes, there were many, many (sometimes more) deserving performances that didn’t make it in the supporting categories. The first I’d like to single out is Kathryn Hahn, who is a total riot as the raunchiest of the titular Bad Moms. The Academy has an embarrassing history of overlooking stellar comedic performances—especially by women—and Hahn, with her deft comedic timing and balls to the wall turn, deserved a Best Supporting Actress nod. She’s excellent in Captain Fantastic, as well.

KEVIN: When one day Kathryn Hahn finally wins the acting trophy she’s long deserved for being one of Hollywood’s ballsiest, busiest, most versatile actresses, I’ll retire. My work here will be done. I’ll have done good in this world. I’d say maybe she’d need a showcase like the one Molly Shannon gets in Other People to pull that off, but Shannon was confusingly shut out of major awards consideration for playing a mother dying of cancer while reconnecting with her beloved gay son. It’s a spirited, spark-filled performance with the kind of bitterness and dynamism to escape “Cancer Mom” clichés and make her Joanne seem breathtakingly real. My other major gripe is that Little Men’s Paulina García missed out in this category. Little Men is a little movie, but García’s prickly, subtle, complicated performance as an immigrant mother struggling against gentrification is spellbinding, and quietly devastating.

MARLOW: I found García’s besieged immigrant mother to be poignant as well: an ode to motherhood, shattering deconstruction of the American dream, and a timely turn given the Trump administration’s xenophobic platform. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Greta Gerwig, who is dynamite as a freewheeling thrill-seeker in Mike Mills’s overlooked 20th Century Women, and Laura Linney, who, with her razor-edged wit, higher-the-hair-closer-to-god ’do, and Southern theatricality, is the very best thing about Nocturnal Animals. She steals the show in one perfect scene. But let’s be real: This is all about Viola.

KEVIN: I can’t fathom anyone making an argument that she shouldn’t win. We talked about category fraud yesterday, and I’ve heard some foolishness that people want to vote for another nominee—which, in my mind is a vote against Queen Viola—because they feel they are more classically supporting, that Davis’s role feels like a lead one. Sure, Michelle Williams leaves a lasting impression in Manchester by the Sea in that one scene everyone won’t stop talking about (if you ask me, she dialed it up to 11 and deafened the performance with histrionics), but Davis gets roughly a half-dozen scenes that are as difficult and emotionally explosive. But she actually calibrates them—there’s a reason Viola Davis is the one and only Hollywood actor who can use the word “craft” and not sound completely insufferable—and gives each big moment a build-up and a grounded arc. Plus, at a time when I’m constantly batting away the mosquitoes with their aggravating arguments about how awards are silly and shouldn’t matter, a win for Davis, and for that role, does matter. It does mean something. My god, what if she doesn’t win?

MARLOW: If she doesn’t win, it will be an Oscar crime on a par with Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) losing to Martin Landau (Ed Wood), or Jack Nicholson (Chinatown) falling to Art Carney (Harry and Tonto)—in other words, a total disgrace. I’m with you on Michelle Williams’s hysterical offering in Manchestah by the Sea: I found it to be way over-the-top, perhaps even more so given Casey Affleck’s taciturn performance opposite her. Viola, on the other hand, is an absolute force of nature in Fences. It’s not easy to blow an acting titan like Denzel Washington off the screen, but she does it—just as she did in Doubt with Meryl Streep. Ask anyone in Hollywood who’s worked with her, from George Clooney to Streep, and they’ll tell you Davis is without question the best actress alive right now. It will also be justice served for the time she was cruelly passed over (The Help) in favor of Streep’s ridiculous turn in The Iron Lady. Let’s move to Best Supporting Actor. Who do you think was overlooked?

KEVIN: For me, the category should’ve been all Moonlight and Hell or High Water. Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders should join Mahershala Ali, and Ben Foster should be in there alongside Jeff Bridges. Since that would’ve never happened, I’d make a case that Hugh Grant and Ralph Fiennes give different versions of delightful movie star performances in Florence Foster Jenkins and A Bigger Splash, respectively, and either would’ve been a worthy shake-up to the seriousness of the category as it is. (Great acting performances can be fun to watch, too, Academy!) But that’s kind of it for me. I thought it was a pretty weak year in this category, right?

MARLOW: I am totally with you on Ralph Fiennes, who is a total hoot as the dancing, stripping, rail-snorting, insufferable rock star manager-gone-haywire in A Bigger Splash. He deserved to be nominated. I actually felt it was a rich year in this category, but the Academy overlooked many of the deserving candidates. In addition to Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders and Fiennes, the best Ryan Gosling performance this year was not in La La Land, but rather his bumbling private eye in The Nice Guys. It was great seeing Gosling really let loose. There was also Shia LaBeouf as the seductive vagabond in American Honey, Alden Ehrenreich’s dopey cowboy in Hail, Caesar!, and comedian Craig Robinson’s surprisingly resonant loving father in Morris from America, which earned him a special acting prize at Sundance. But Mahershala Ali, man. What a powerhouse.

KEVIN: Because Moonlight hasn’t had much support internationally—Lion’s Dev Patel won the BAFTA and Nocturnal Animal’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson took the Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press—I’m more nervous about Ali’s chances than I am Davis’s. Which is a shame, because his work in Moonlight is of the rarest kind: It changes your mind about people. Whatever perception you have of his drug dealer Juan is eradicated when he becomes a father figure and the most positive influence on Chiron’s life. He’s warm, and dignified, and tortured, and proof of why we need more works like Moonlight to set fire to outdated clichés and character tropes. Plus, the whole “body of work” or “their year” argument is used so damn often with these awards. Ali (like co-star Janelle Monáe) had key roles in two Best Picture nominees this year, thanks to Hidden Figures. It’s his year—and it’s not because he crawled into a horse skin or has been nominated half-a-dozen times. He deserves it.

MARLOW: Preach.