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Smackdown '16: Nicole, Viola, Michelle, Naomie, Octavia

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '16. This year's slate of nominees features a selfless adoptive mother, a doting but suddenly resentful wife, a woman whose tragic past has suddenly resurfaced, a savvvy mother hen and supervisor struggling to gain respect, and an addict who makes her sensitive son's life a nightmare of instability.


One long-time-coming breakthrough for an exciting actress (Get it Naomie Harris), two Oscar winners elevating their films with warmth and precision (Kidman & Spencer), and two Oscar darlings who arguably should have won already attacking tragic material (Williams and Davis). Who will be triumphant in the smackdown?


Though we usually arrange for special guests including actors, writers, and film critics, for the first Smackdown of the new season, we opted to do it all 'in house' with only TFE crew just to get the series back up and running: Nathaniel, Abstew, Chris, and Murtada (you can read about the team here) are discussing the nominees. And now it's time for the main event... 


VIOLA DAVS as "Rose Maxson" in Fences
Synopsis: A 50s housewife, realizing her big-personality husband is having an affair, struggles to make peace with the compromises she made in life.
Stats: 51 yrs old, 35th film, 3rd nomination. 72 minutes of screen time (or 52% of running time). 

Abstew: Living in the shadow of her blustering husband, Rose has had to compromise a lot in her life. But Davis, the actress, compromises nothing. Working with head-on precision (properly explosive in her big confrontation scene, but equally diminutive when needed) and with a complete lack of vanity. (Her snot running down her face in emotional scenes is a trademark at this point.) But perhaps because this seems like the quintessential Viola Davis performance, there is very little that surprises here. Maybe she just makes it all look easy, but this doesn’t seem like much of a challenge for the actress♥♥♥

Chris Feil: When Tony’s deception breaks her back and their marriage, Davis is seismic in the sudden release of decades of resentment, but she’s equally compelling when hiding behind the guise of dutiful wife. Much as Fences focuses on Troy’s tragedy, Davis turns Rose’s personal limits and compulsive forgiveness into the most complicated emotional terrain even when the film tries to oversimplify it. But even the film thinks she’s a lead - just as fascinated by the cracks in her doting wife veneer from the beginning as her emotional fallout. ♥♥♥

Murtada: Viola Davis gives  us the highly emotional acting we've come to expect from her but also showing us new surprising shades. She’s earthy and sexy earlier on in her scenes with Denzel Washington. Then in the epilogue she shows subtle pathos as her Rose finally gets to tell us how she sees Troy’s story. I was ready to cheer her Oscar win after the big explosive confrontation with Washington, but with that ending I knew that I loved the performance. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel: The word "volcanic" is deployed often and for good reason with Viola. Her emotions are so big that it would have been a seismic loss to the world if they didn't have a big screen to gush from. But she's just as strong with the quieter before and after of Rose's suddenly rocky marriage than she is during the key "standing in the same place as you" freakout. Is it petty that I'm docking her a heart for this being a lead role? You can't judge what an actor can do with a sidebar part when they're working with the wide expanse of an enormous role. ♥♥

Reader Votes ♥♥♥♥¾ 

Actress earns  21¾ ❤s 

NAOMIE HARRIS as "Paula" in Moonlight
Synopsis: A crack addict struggles to understand and emotionally connect and support her meek effeminate son
Stats: 40 yrs old, 25th film, 1st nomination.  14 minutes of screen time (or 13% of running time). 

Abstew: Harris has said that she almost turned down this role as an addict, not wanting to portray another stereotype. But Harris is simply incapable of creating a stock character here. Without any judgment of this woman, Harris layers her with contradictions, able to swing wildly from manic highs to desperate lows. All while keeping her grounded in a place of love for her troubled son, even when Paula’s actions seem hurtful or dismissive. And as the only actor to appear in all three sections of the film, her third act catharsis is earned through the journey we’ve taken with the actress♥♥♥♥

Chris Feil: Before we even really know her, Harris reveals the woman she might normally be with how her addiction goggles provide mutated warmth, rage, and ever so fleeting charm. Her final scene’s humility is heartbreaking, filling in years' worth of unmentioned history with a hard-won quiet optimism. One of 2016’s many cinematic mothers that are both seen and unseeable thank’s to an adept and evolving performance - we know exactly who Paula is without knowing much about her. ♥♥♥♥

Murtada: Watching Harris come at Mahershala Ali sing-songing “ You gonna tell him why the other boys kick his ass all the time”, I sat straight up. I knew this was something special. She amplifies the heightened scenes of her as a memory of Chiron’s with her lithe physicality. I can still clearly see her in that doorway screaming that awful word, though we never hear it. It’s a marvel of a performance. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel: It's thrilling to watch her disorienting stabs at being a good mother in the middle of being a terrible one and to feel the disruption every time she appear, throwing Chiron (and the film) off of its dreamiest moods and tilting them towards nightmare. Arguably she's playing an idea memory or concept (Chiron's?) rather reality but she's fearless. Favorite scene: spoiling for a fight of mutual self-loathing with Juan while utterly wasted. ♥♥

Reader Votes  ♥♥♥♥ 

Actress earns 20 ❤s 

NICOLE KIDMAN as "Sue Brierley" in Lion
Synopsis: A warm adoptive mother, struggling with one estranged son, realizes that her other darling boy wants to find his birth mother in India
Stats: 49 yrs old, 53rd film, 4th nomination (1 previous win).  18 minutes of screen time (or 15% of running time). 

Abstew: Often criticized for her chilly onscreen and public persona, Kidman radiates maternal affection and compassion in this personal role as an adoptive mother. Her rousing monologue about dreams of adoption, which she delivers with effortless conviction, might have secured her the nom. But it’s in the smaller moments, when she insists a table setting be kept for someone that will never come or quietly struggling with frustration late at night, that Kidman breathes life into the character. And she does it all believably in a Little Orphan Annie wig♥♥♥♥

Chris Feil: Kidman’s choices are more interesting than what’s on the page here. The pivotal “little brown boy” monologue is pretty tricky material to pull off without moment-sinking schmaltz or making it sound like hokey bullshit. But then that’s one of the best traits of the performance as a whole: her ability to avoid the trite by delivering genuine feeling, often understated and lived-in. It’s really saying something that those wigs never become a distraction.  ♥♥♥

Murtada: I rolled my eyes throughout her big scene. Not because of the performance but because of what the character was saying. The “vision of a brown child” is the epitome “white savior” syndrome. We are still doing that? But apart from the silly retrograde politics of the film, Kidman delivers. There’s a warmth we haven’t seen on screen from her in while, particularly in her scenes with the young Saroo. ♥♥

Nathaniel: Kidman serves as the bridge between Lion's childhood and adult dramas and invests it with so much specificity and purpose, not merely a mother but a guide to help it mature. Her turn grows more resonant with each viewing as she rafts a three dimensional woman with a full range of feeling from little annoyances to deep drive to pain that only rarely levels her. I've rarely seen parenting this infused with spiritual purpose on film. Even the way she first looks at little Saroo with wonderment and impatience is heart swelling.  ♥♥

Reader Votes♥♥♥¾ 

Actress earns  17¾ ❤s 

OCTAVIA SPENCER as "Dorothy Vaughn" in Hidden Figures
Synopsis: A supervisor of a group of female "computers" at NASA gets proactive when she realizes her job may soon be obsolete
Stats: 46 yrs old, 60 films, 2nd nomination (1 previous win). 29 minutes of screen time (or 23% of running time). 

Abstew: Dorothy Vaughan, the real-life mathematician and mother hen to her “girls” in ‘60s era NASA, is the kind of no-nonsense woman that evaluates a situation and gets the job done without any fuss. And there’s the same workman-like mentality that Spencer brings to the role. She knows this woman and, without drawing attention to herself, executes her performance with efficiency and effectiveness. But against scene-stealer Janelle Monáe in the same film, I could have used a little more piquancy for her to be a true standout. ♥♥♥

Chris Feil: This kind of crowd-pleasing impact isn’t nearly as easy to pull off as Spencer makes it look. Like the film itself, I wish there were more risks or opportunity for Spencer to play outside the exact boundaries we expect to be dealt. But you can’t blame them recognizing the warm center of a warm center movie. This nomination is much more satisfying to me as a representative of a pretty stellar ensemble, especially considering how Dorothy herself serves as something of a spokesperson for the women she supervises. ♥♥

Murtada: This is a  warm, funny and compassionate performance.The only one of the 5 nominated who had me cheering on her character throughout, that is a testament to Spencer’s presence. And of course the cheering got loudest for the great big fuck you and “truth telling” she gives to racists everywhere (personified by Kirsten Dunst). ♥♥♥

Nathaniel: While this is the the least juicy and challenging of the key roles within Hidden Figures, she's still best in show. Hidden Figures opts for broad strokes characterizations, and Spencer is now such a relaxed and grounding screen presence that she knows to do very little to sell its most pointed bits; watch the way she understands not to lean into the dialogue as a "moment" when she calls Dunst's boss out on her racism. Contrary to popular belief with screen acting less can be more and if you ask me she's just right throughout. ♥♥♥

Reader Votes  ♥♥½ 

Actress earns  14½ ❤s 

MICHELLE WILLIAMS as "Randi Chandler" in Manchester by the Sea
Synopsis: A woman who has had to rebuild her life after an unspeakable tragedy must face her ex-husband again when his brother dies
Stats: 36 yrs old, 34th film, 4th nomination.  13 minutes of screen time (or 9% of running time). 

Abstew: As a grieving mother forced to confront a years-ago tragedy when her estranged ex-husband comes back to town, Williams is essentially reduced to that one fateful scene. And it’s not that Williams, an actress that projects a fragile vulnerability, easily able to access raw emotional damage, doesn’t convincingly portray this woman’s grief. But the film has very little interest in her to begin with and the big scene is over almost as soon as it begins, with Williams unable to fully color in the outline of the character she’s given♥♥

Chris Feil: The differences in Before and After versions of Randi are more immediately noticeable for the way she is costumed, but Williams makes confrontation different on both sides of the tragedy. Her grief has made her more timid, so that big scene is all the more feverish as she rediscovers how to appeal to Lee and the language of their relationship. I don't jive with the Beatrice Straight comparisons because the big scene doesn't pay off without those brief earlier glimpses. ♥♥♥

Murtada: She’s better in Certain Women in a more interesting part. Here she’s asked to play one note - broken hearted. It’s a devastating note that could easily veer into histrionics. Williams delivers big time in that scene, she owns it. I just wish there was more for her to play. Sometimes that’s not needed but this time I needed more from Randi. Is it the screenplay or the performance? ♥♥♥

Nathaniel: Curiously the least impressive of the nominees despite a still potent part. The problem could be that the film itself has no curiousity about her character. She isn't given much to work with beyond very impactful but short bursts of agonized emotion. Also curious: she's much stronger in the early scenes playing an ordinary harried mother with a fun but exhausting marriage than she is dealing with inarticulate shared tragedy. ♥♥♥

Reader Votes♥♥♥¾ 

Actress earns  14¾❤s 

in what proved to be a fairy tight race with Naomie Harris

And the Oscar Goes to... 
Well, that's for the Academy to decide on February 26th. 

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? The companion podcast is coming soon. 

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 19481952, 195419641968, 1973, 197719791980, 19841989, 1995 and 2003 (prior to those 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site)

NEXT UP? The Smackdown will return on March 31st, 2017 with the supporting actresses of 1963 from The VIPs, Tom Jones, and Lilies of the Field.

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Reader Comments (52)

Harris's work is the one that I keep coming back to. Just looking at the stills it almost feels like she creates several different characters in the same woman, yet all believably contributing to the same fractured individual.

Of course, not in a million years would I begrudge Viola her Oscar, even if I don't love every choice:

Agreed wholeheartedly with Murtada about the "brown child" moment in Lion (made all the worse with the recent exploitative campaign) --my response was also "oh no white savior!" Which was a through-line implicitly and became explicit in that moment. Although it was interesting to me that real Saroo liked that moment best (if I remember/read correctly from interviews) because he felt it revealed the most about his mother's love.

Admire Spencer's work generally even if it's a relatively unchallenging role for her. Did not like MBTS and thought Williams seemed a bit stilted. As many suggest I'm not sure if it was performance, writing or direction. I think also I had heard so much about "that scene" and it felt icky and forced when I finally saw it.

Glad to have the smackdown back!

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I really agree with most of the synopses. Nathaniel has a blinding love for Kidman I could name a dozen actresses that could do that role. She was way better than usual, but nothing special.
Whatever happened to the actress who was great in To Die For, The others, Rabbit Hole. Etc????

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Viola Davis does juicy material really well—it's a talent as well as a limitation. When the text isn't electric, she's not electric.

I point it out because that's not true for everyone: Naomie Harris has done extraordinary and surprising things with thankless, underwritten parts for a decade. She understands the camera so well. When you cast Viola Davis in a boring district attorney role, you get a boring district attorney performance with slightly more gravitas. But it's not surprising or compelling.

I guess that's why Viola is so at home on stage.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Great to have another Smackdown!

Re Kidman
@Murtada - It's unfair to dismiss Kidman's speech about a 'brown child' as 'white savior syndrome' or LION's 'silly retrograde politics'. It's an adaptation of a memoir - and that's how Kidman's character expressed herself at the time. Also, is a white person adopting a child of colour to be dismissed now as just acting out 'white savior syndrome'?!

Re Williams
@Murtada - Michelle Williams is NOT asked to play 'one note - broken hearted' in MANCHESTER. One of the big surprises of the film to was her early scenes in which she is sharp and funny, resisting Lee's sexual advances while she's in bed with a cold. She was very different to what I expected of the character or am used to seeing from Michelle Williams. And I loved her for it. She makes a big impression with limited screen time; the very definition of a fine supporting performance.

One of the best things about the smackdowns is that they usually review the whole performance. Please don't reduce the work of these actresses to their one 'big' scene - or you're ignoring the 'actressing on the edges' of the frame!

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Your stats say that Viola was in 52% of Fences. That's a lead, in my opinion. Also, since my last comment in your post about ranking the supporting actresses, I have been fortunate to see Hidden Figures so have now seen all 5 nominated supporting actress performances. I would now rate the 5 in the following order: Harris, Williams, Spencer, Davis, Kidman. And I can name several others who should be ahead of Kidman, notably Monae and Arianda. Pleased to see someone else mention Viola`s snot becoming a boring trademark. It was good in Doubt but I doubt if it will continue to be a vote-getter. I say again that she gave a great stage performance in a movie. You don`t have to reach the back rows of a theatre when it`s being filmed. I like Viola but find it sad that she will be rewarded for a performance which won't stand the test of time.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRJL

I've only seen 3 of 5: Davis, Harris, and Williams.

Of those three I'd give it to Davis, but wouldn't harbor any bad feelings if Harris won (we know she won't, but hypothetically speaking, I'm fine with it). I guess I agree that Davis makes it look easy, but that doesn't negate the emotional impact of the performance. I sat straight up in my seat, completely enraptured, during her big moment in Fences.

Harris has grown even more on me. Upon first viewing I liked her, but she felt like she was in a different movie at times. It wasn't until watching Moonlight a second time that I came to see the incongruity of the performance as a strength. Given the character's situation and, um, "heightened" state, it makes sense for her to bring a disruptive element to the film. I still have issues with her accent, the cadence of which feels a little off to me, but it's a minor quibble, especially given the time she had to prepare.

Williams' just doesn't have enough to work with and her least impressive moment to me is the one that seems to have got her a nomination, it just seemed forced when compared to the restraint Affleck was exercising.

Go Viola!

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

If nothing else, this site with many of its readers generally worships these actresses: Julianne Moore,Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman. In fact, they are mostly beyond reproach, give and take on the whole. Nothing wrong with that, we all have our favorites! At the other end of the spectrum, there are actresses who have remained divisive or provoked antipathy namely Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. If you have been on this site long enough, you would have noticed the same.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMnis

It's so nice to be with the consensus! Davis is a wizard, but lord I had no idea Harris had so little screen time! It makes me appreciate her performance even more - what an impact! And I'll say this - all these women give full characterizations to their parts, even if Williams can't get around how limited it is.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

I was disappointed with Kidman. I didn't see the acclaim around the big monologue and I completely agree with Murtada. That scene to me just doesn't work and even Kidman couldn't sell it all the way, try as she might. Easily her weakest of her 4 nominations.

Williams is my winner here because Davis doesn't belong in this category. She was nuclear in the scene with Affleck but that scene wouldn't work without the groundwork in her earlier scenes. It's continued to haunt me and she etched such a specific pain with so little screen time that I don't think most actresses her generation could do that. I think because normally her screen persona is somewhat closed off that it's especially shocking to see her so open.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Rech

Please let's not go down the white saviour discussion route - it's a thing that happened. A real story, regardless of the cliche - if it's the best moment of the movie for the person it actually happened to, let's leave it at that and not wade into stereotypes, racism and eye-rolling. There's more than enough of that going on in the world at the moment without looking at memoirs and true stories through those lens.

That being said, Kidman kicked ass (to the point where the comments section of the film experience has turned against her - Something j never thought I'd say!) Viola should be best actress, Monae should be here along with Molly Shannon and I haven't caught Harris or Williams but I'm super glad that Harris is getting the recognition she so deserves at last! Awesome work team experience.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMorganb

I definitely cringed at the "brown child" line, but I didn't fault them because--as others are saying--it's nonfiction. It's true to character/real life.

I go back and forth on whether I thought Naomie Harris was all over the place/awful, or great.

And the more time I spend away from Hidden Figures, the more I appreciate Octavia's performance. She really does make it look easy, and has learned how to be subtle and precise.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

My ranking

1. Davis (I SO wish she was winning for The Help though)
2. Harris
3. Kidman
4. Williams
5. Spencer

What a great crop of nominees! (If only Gerwig could've slipped in there somehow, she'd be my win.)

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

So TFE sa smackdown gives the award to a lead actress?? Thats a change of heart huh? Disappointing.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSameDifference

The Smackdown is way more interesting when it's out of season, don't you think?

I'm not a fan of Kidman, but she really pulled off an impossible monologue (and wig).

Lonergan knows how to write complex characters. If he doesn't tell us more is because he doesn't want to. Besides, I like filling the blanks. For me Michelle is the belle of the ball, who wasn't even ready to become a mother in the first place, facing an unspeakable tragedy. The movie is so rich in the details. Look at her replacement husband for instance.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Of all the nominees, i only saw Harris, Spencer and Williams performances. Lion and Fences come out this wednesday, right before the Big Night, so i just can't wait. But from what i read, i'm affraid Davis performance will feel "déjà-vu", but i hope i'll be proven wrong. I'm also afraid Kidman's performance will revolve arount one big scene that will be hit or miss.
From what i saw, Harris' performance was the most diappointing not because of her but because of the writing that didn't give her enough to build a three dimensional character. Then there is Spencer who could do her part in her sleep.
The only outstanding performance in my opinion, and i feel i'm in the minority on this site, is Williams', because the actress does a great job infusing her character with humanity throughout the film (the funeral scene was devastating to me, and she nailed the flashbacks, proving her character wasn't just a resentful woman all her life), making her big emotional moment working despite the paradoxal weakness of the scene.
I'm sorry but Williams walking away with the oscar on Sunday would be the best surprise to me (and a great way for the academy to make up for the Adams snub...). But then again, i didn't see Fences yet...

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

Great to have a Smackdown on the current crop. I've only seen Harris and Williams so far. I thought Harris was quite shaky in her accent and in some of her line readings in the first section of the film, but much better in the second and third parts.

I thought Williams was excellent. I don't usually like her hugely, but I felt that, in Manchester by the Sea, she very effectively conveyed her character's loss and pain after the earlier more untroubled character we see in the flashbacks. I agree with everything Andrew Rech said about her. Re: her 'big scene', for me that scene shows, strangely, how well her character is dealing with the loss compared to Affleck. She is at least able to try to reach out and express her feelings and do something positive to aid the healing process. His line about how he can't beat it (the pain) is truly tragic, and if the scene is over almost before it has begun, that, for me, served very effectively to show how her attempt at reconciliation is abruptly cut off. So, the scene is more about his character than hers, but then she is a supporting character, and her work supports Affleck's superbly.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Kidman's role is not about the monologue but ever small gesture of love,frustration,surprise,confusion etc to me it is the warmth she gives off that can be missing in most of her work..

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

Now having seen them all?

Viola Davis: 5 hearts/1 heart. (This is absolutely glorious, volcanic, leading work. The first score is the quality of the performance, the second reflects what I think of it being here.)
Naomie Harris: 5 hearts. (Yeah. Also really good, and of the actual supporting performances, this should and would win if voters focused on voting ethically.)
Nicole Kidman: 3.5 hearts. (She did the absolute best she could within a very thin character, but it IS still a thin character.)
Octavia Spencer: 3 hearts (Spencer's routine is getting kind of wearying, even if she's still good at it. See also: Me not being able to get the hype with Sicario. Michael Pena doing that would at least be a surprise.)
Michelle Williams: 3 hearts. (Her big scene is great, I just wish the moment of tragedy wasn't tied up in her being a nag and nearly dying of smoke inhalation (which can be read as vaguely sexist symbolism, when taken with her characterization before that moment) and the surprise factor is the only good thing about it. A warmer actress would be more able to fight against the worst moment of this role, like Williams doesn't.)

My, probable, supporting fields?

Supporting Actress:

Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women
Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Imogen Poots, Green Room
Riley Keough, American Honey

Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
Alden Eherenrich, Hail Caesar!
Tom Holland, Captain America: Civil War
Patrick Stewart, Green Room (It's Picard as a backwoods Neo-Nazi! And he's amazing!)

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

My ranking:
1. Viola Davis
2. Naomie Harris
3. Octavia Spencer
4. Michelle Williams
5, Nicole Kidman

I don't get Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea and I think there are other performances that are way, way better than Nicole Kidman's. Elle Fanning or Greta Gerwig should have taken Kidman's slot.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterheikoS

Ugh, that 72 minutes stat sure stands out like an ugly thumb. So it's not petty to dock her one heart - in fact, dock her three hearts and give the honor Naomie!

What I love about, for instance, the Kidman and Williams performances, is how much character-building they're able to do in a small amount of time when the focus isn't on them. I understand those women completely, and credit the actresses. What's impressive about Harris's work is how much her performance is colored by the POV of whoever she's acting with, as well as the consistency of the character-building when she only has a out five minutes per time period, and has clearly gone through her own changes each time.

That's the language of a supporting performance - Davis doesn't have those tools, so the performance can't be evaluated against them. She has an hour to build a character, and when she gets her big moments, they're all about her. By the end of the film, she might as well be singing Rose's Turn. She's great, but her performance is literally in a different category than the other women - and her Oscar will be a sham.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Love the Smackdown always. I'm pleased to see Viola take the crown, but I'm surprised to see Michelle rated so low. I agree the movie seems curiously uninterested in her, but that makes it all the more impressive to me that she can blast through the melancholia so sharply whenever she shows up.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian S-G

What is Naomie Harris screaming in the doorway in that scene? I've seen the movie twice but can't hear it...

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Nick - Little asks Juan what the word means in the kitchen table scene.

February 19, 2017 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

Nick -- if i recall correctly it's "don't you fucking look at me!"

February 19, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My favorite scene for Kidman is the bathtub scene. It's short and sweet but she glows with maternal warmth. This category is pretty strong. It's my favorite of the four acting categories.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

So nice to see the smackdown back, and the real range in the responses. My ratings, based soley on the actual nominees:

1. Davis
2. Kidman
3. Harris
4. Williams
5. Spencer

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Glad to see the Smackdown back though I can't fully play along this time since I haven't seen all the films yet. But I can't say I'm sorry Viola emerged victorious.

VERY excited that we will at last get to the 1963 Smackdown. That's one I can join with full vigor! Will March be the month of '63 in preparation for the Smackdown at the end?

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I would be interested in the outcome had the panelists graded purely on the actresses' performances and not on the roles (writing, size etc.) or the actresses' past/other work. Judging from the capsule reviews, it seems like it would have been a much closer race.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Awww wish I could have participated! Anyway my thoughts

5 hearts - Viola Davis, Fences.
Honestly, I've never had a problem with the supporting designation for Davis because I don't think Rose Maxson is that great of a role, especially compared to Troy. But Queen Viola, as is her trademark, as she did on THE HELP, adds all the bells and whistles and nuance that free this character from the limitations of her screenplay. So many grace notes: the sexy, easy chemistry between Viola and Denzel in the early scenes: Troy has a fantasy to him that Rose desperately longs for. Contrasted with that miniscule scene where Troy questions Rose where she's going on the porch: a lifetime of spousal tension and lurking fear. And when Viola's monologues hit, it feels like we've arrived at her altar to worship. We are lucky to have her, and lucky to be in her presence.

4 hearts - Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.
Seems I have to come to her defense here! 'Manchester' does a great job keeping most of Randi's fire entirely off-screen- the ways she's apparently turned an entire town against her ex-husband out of grief- and yet entirely palpable. When Williams does appear all too briefly in the current day of the film's narrative, she emerges as a fidgety, awkward specter of heart-break, but one that has embraced a kind of cosmic forgiveness that still eludes Affleck's Lee. Williams sorts through a minefield in that monologue: trying to put into words her immense never-ending brokenness while coping with her residual guilt over her role in creating the walking corpse that is Casey Affleck (....on and off screen ;)). Randi doesn't know no one in the audience faults her for this, and her intervention disguised as an apology becomes the most beautiful melodramatic ray of sunshine breaking apart a very dour, depressing film. Impeccably delicate craftsmanship from a woman who still holds the claim to 'best actress of her generation.' The emotional release of the film.

3 hearts - Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures.
Spencer always looks effortless because that's how perfect her work truly is: her guarded interaction with the cop, her hushed conversation with her children on the bus, her laughter in the car with Taraji and Janelle, the rightly lauded bathroom confrontation with Kirsten Dunst. Spencer's characteristic warmth is here, and just as lovely as it always is, but tempered more than it ever has been before with a kind of workmanly patience and endurance that epitomized the lives of these hidden women of color in the 1960s. One of the strongest women on screen this year, and with the most subtle, almost mundane, means to achieve that end.

2 hearts - Naomie Harris, Moonlight.
I wish I loved this performance more. I appreciate everything about Harris' ethical considerations of the implications of her role, and I'm astonished it was all done in three days! But the hectic pace of the shoot may be what creates a certain staginess in the performance, a reliance on broad "LOOK! ACTING!" physicalities that reminded me of an Oscar nominee from last year, Christian Bale in The Big Short (which, if you're not aware, is a GRAVE insult in my book). In a film that so sensuously and emotionally connects us to three Chirons un-connected by one actor's body unity, part of me couldn't help but wish the film chose the same approach for Paula. Her scene in part 3 is a doozy, but more often than not, Paula feels off by herself, a showy shouty tangent that doesn't avoid stereotype despite the clear impetus to do so. MOONLIGHT is the best film of this year and gave us some legendary male characters, the best on-screen of all time. But I think Harris' work shows how under-served the women are.

1 heart - Nicole Kidman, Lion.
It's maybe unfair to weigh how these performances came to be nominated, but I find it hard to ignore here: Kidman is here because AMPAS likes their stories of people of color complete with a white savior guiding them along the way, affirming and easing any potential guilt felt by the mostly white audience. As legendary an actress as Kidman is, her work here is mostly routine earth mother idolatry, the most "stock" of the stock roles gathered here. She does slay the hell out of that monologue, but a monologue that frankly didn't deserve it. We don't really learn too much about Sue besides her clear symbolic role; a little humanity could have gone a long way.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSean D

Davis has more screen time in Fences than she does in The Help.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

All these posts about "supporting actress" made me remember last year, when a leading actress won the supporting statue for a performance nobody remembers in a movie nobody remembers, when she had a real, great (arguably) supporting role in a better film.... That's depressing, and i'd love a real supporting win this year.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

Yes, there's no question that Alicia Vikander should've won her Oscar for Ex Machina. Considering that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, I don't think it would've been that far-fetched either.

But back to this year's Best Supporting Actress race, Viola Davis is so clearly a lead that I can't even comment on her (other than to say she's excellent as usual). Naomie Harris is my pick, followed by Nicole Kidman, Octavia Spencer, and Michelle Williams.

Like Nathaniel said, she was much more vivid and believable in her earlier scenes, while her "big scene" felt awkward and did nothing for me.

Unlike Murtada, I didn't read Lion's so-called "silly retrograde politics" as the epitome of the "white savior" syndrome at all, chiefly's a true story! Told from the point of view of the adopted child who experienced it! This isn't Matt Damon in The Great Wall, a work of nonfiction that does no favors for anyone involved. I personally loved the push-pull of the Sue-Saroo relationship, which read far more typical adoptive parent-child dynamics than tone-deaf racial politics. It's important not to conflate the two.

Still so sad that none of the 20th Century Women actresses made it into the lineups!

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Paul -- i dont see a real difference here in the way the panelists are grading than they do in any smackdown. not sure i follow. It's always a challenge -- but one that's exciting to do -- to parse out what's performance, what's writing, and so on and to see who rises, who does more than what they've been given, etcetera.

Mareko -- agreed. I'm distressed that people are damning the movie for 'retrograde politics'... shoudl selfless white parents with means stop adopting children of color who are orphaned for fear of being 'white saviors'? I think that's so reductive. I think any parent of means of any color that adopts any child in need of any color should be admired for their commitment to making the world a better place.

in other words bring on the saviors of any color who are good enough people to save little children in need. The world has so many orphans! especially now with the refugee crisis.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's unfortunate we can't have English language films about Indian people unless there's white people in them and while Nicole's monologue felt White Saviour-ish, I don't think it's fair to call Lion a White Savior film overall. The whole second half is basically about Saroo realizing his white parents aren't enough for him.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterY

Y -- that plus it's not from their perspective at all. So it's an unfair label for the film.

Sean D -- this is the best defense of Michelle Williams performance i've ever read. Well done!

February 19, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat - there just seems to be more dissing and low scoring of the roles than usual to my mind, e.g. Chris on Spencer, Abstew on Williams, Murtada on Kidman etc. Or maybe I'm just particularly sensitive to it today. In any case, I would have no problem giving five hearts to a performance even if I had issues with the writing, directing the role itself, whatever (like Mo'Nique).

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Nathaniel - Yeah that's true too. The first half of the film is set in India and isn't even in English! I was quite surprised by that and the fact we don't even see his white parents that much.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterY

I should have written "dissing the role and low-scoring the performance."

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Love the SMACKDOWN but definitely prefer it done with aged performances. We've been talking about these all season!

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBD

Yeah, hardcore white saviour oriented narratives kind of need to die, but I don't buy that Lion is one. It has a white saviour IN IT, but it's not an Avatar/Blind Side situation.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

BD -- i do too but people complained we weren't doing current years when the series restarted which just goes to show you can't please everyone. ever ;)

February 19, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Just looking at the percentages of screen time and actual minutes on screen just makes me furious. Viola is awesome, but no wonder she is the front runner. She's in more than half the movie, while the rest of these women are in no more than 30 minutes of screen time. So they are going in to this competition with a HUGE disadvantage.

This category fraud seriously has to be stopped, and I think it will eventually have to come down to actors speaking out (those who are simply not just "happy to be nominated") and saying it is severely unfair and illogical to have a leading player in this category.

Two years running with a leading actress winning supporting (Vikander and Davis) is just way too much. Not to even mention Rooney Mara and Julia Roberts who frauded themselves into these categories the past few years. It just drives me batty, and it makes me even more thankful for roles like Michelle Williams's this year and Rachel McAdams's from last year (Williams for having such a brief role and McAdams for doing what an actual supporting character does - SUPPORT and not distracting from the narrative), because these nominations are becoming increasingly rarer and rarer.

Ok, rant over. LOL

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I get what people are saying about Harris' performance seeming overacty, but there were parts where her character (before the drugs had taken hold) was a lot more subdued. I respectfully think that people are confusing playing a histrionic character with actual histrionics.

February 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I'm not complaining about white parents adopting children of color. But to have a "vision of a brown child" is definitely cringeworthy, whether it's well-intentioned or not, with fair reasoning. No one is saying white people are consciously being white saviors, but even that subconscious idea that a brown child needs your saving is gross. And I'm white. it's just so tired at this point. But as I said, I gave it a pass because it was nonfiction, and other than that one line, I didn't feel like the movie was pandering to white savior-ism at all.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Y'all criticising the LION "brown child" vision element as that of typical, racist white saviour narrative must have missed the part where the entire film is about the actual brown child she's talking about. This isn't THE BLIND SIDE where it's all about deifying the Bullock character. The film is not about her in the slightest.

And as an aside, if a white person choosing to not have her own children and instead adopting from an Indian orphanage makes the story not worth of being told (or even racist, which I think some are implying) then I just don't really know what to say. She saw a greater purpose in adopting.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Davis has two minutes less screen time than all of her competitors combined.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterldiggitydawg

What Philip H. said......

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

Davis is in a tough spot. Yes, compared to the other nominees her role is much more of a lead. Yet solely in the context of the film, Troy is the true lead and everyone else in the film is supporting. She only got placed in Lead at the Tonys because her name shared top billing with Washington, right? Originally that role was placed in Featured Actress (aka Supporting).

Personally I would side with the smaller roles out of fairness, but Davis does that Good Work here, flat out. So I won't begrudge her this win.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

My order would be:

1. Davis
2. Harris
3/4 (tie?). Spencer/Williams
5. Kidman

If I had my way, Kidman wouldn't even be there. There's a major time jump in her film and she hardly changes, even though there's dialogue specifically about how much she's changed.

I liked Monae in HF but that was not a challenging role by any measure. I'd probably throw in Shannon or DIckey. I haven't seen Little Men yet so I don't know if Garcia should also be in there.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I just love black actors. One of my favorites is Alfre Woodard. It's a pity she's not very active in films any more. She's done a lot of TV (she's an Emmy perennial with 17 nominations and 4 awards). She was Oscar nominated for Cross Creek but was not considered for her spectacular performance in Passion Fish (1992 was a VERY competitive year, with 4 representatives of British and Australian film royalty and Marisa Tomei, the winner). I now look forward to a new, independent film called "Juanita," based on the popular novel by Sheila Williams: Dacing on the Edge of the Roof.

February 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

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