Phoenix Best Actress First Place - Viola Davis

Performances that grab your attention, even when the actors aren’t on screen.

Who Should Win: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Viola Davis plays the titular “Mother of the Blues”, Ma Rainey. Though she barely even appears until a third of the way through the movie, Ma is a force of nature.

From the minute she arrives at the studio, Ma demands to have things her way. If she wants a Coke, she gets a Coke. If she wants her nephew to introduce a song on the record, he’s doing it, or there’s no record. And when someone in the band wants to change one of her songs, well it sounds like he’s not part of the band anymore.

Ma is obstinate, arrogant, and unwilling to engage on anyone’s level but her own. Despite Ma’s unpleasantness, Davis is a joy to watch in the role. She’s a woman of colour in 1920s Chicago who refuses to let anyone tell her what to do. While she’s frustrating to work with, it’s clear Ma got to where she is by doing things her way. But Ma also knows the value of her voice and that the men in the studio would abandon her immediately if they could.

Even while unseen, Ma is felt, her will influencing the other characters, like the will of God. When she finally enters the movie, her larger-than-life persona only grows, as she dominates every space she inhabits. In a film brimming with excellent performances, Davis’ is spectacularly imposing.

Phoenix Best Actress Second Place - Julia Garner

Who Got Snubbed: Julia Garner – The Assistant

Newly hired by a major Hollywood producer as a production assistant, Jane (Julia Garner) is already disillusioned with her job. She cleans up her boss’s messes, deals with his constantly angry wife, and manages his rotating door of clients and potential clients, who regularly leave dissatisfied after not catching him at the office.

As she goes about her day, Jane uncovers lost earrings, unmarked budget line items, and other out-of-place things that shake her faith in her boss. But when she tries to tell his other employees about his possibly creepy side, most of the office simply handwaves it away and keeps going.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” the Human Resource Officer tells her at the climax of the movie, “you’re not his type.”

As Jane, Garner’s performance is reserved. She’s a corporate peon with dreams who must keep her head down and mouth shut to achieve them. Garner perfectly conveys a character at the world’s mercy, barely able to properly react to her environment. Jane is defenseless against her boss and unable to move her coworkers. Instead, she’s reduced to an observer within her own life.

Though Jane’s work situation is worse than average, her role is also relatable to anyone who’s worked a desk job before. She’s an expendable employee who has reservations about her job but can’t address them because “there are 400 people in line” for her position alone. Instead, she’s first in in the morning, last out in the evening, and left to dream of a position the industry has no interest in helping her attain.

Other Notable Snubs:

Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Julia Vysotskaya – Dear Comrades!, Jasna Đuričić – Quo Vadis, Aida?