She is Kind. She is Smart. She is Important.
Wait…An oscar buzzed heist thriller??? Tomorrow marks the release of another highly regarded TIFF debut, “Widows”, and if not for the fact that it was directed by Steve McQueen, who won an Academy Award for Best Picture with his 2013 film “12 Years a Slave“, Viola Davis’ “Oscar-caliber” performance is surely the reason for this film’s success. The film, set in modern-day Chicago, is based on a British TV series of the same name from the mid-1980s and examines the lives of four women, who in an attempt to find independent stability after their thieving husbands are killed, take criminal matters into their own hands. The star-studded cast also includes Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Colin Farrell, and Michelle Rodriguez, but we’re here to talk about Viola Davis. For this list, we’re looking at Viola Davis’ 5 best performances across film and television, which proved rather difficult to narrow down. The focus is on quality and not quantity, so Davis might not have a particularly huge role in some of these entries, but she left a mark that definitely merits some attention.
#5: Eva May – “Antwone Fisher” (2002)
Despite amounting to barely five minutes of screen-time, Davis’ first standout performance arguably occurred during Denzel Washington’s hard-hitting 2002 biopic. Based on the life of “Antwone Fisher,” the film goes through the director’s entire life, launching with Davis giving birth while in prison, resulting in the boy being put into a foster home. While the actress does not appear again until the end of the film, “Antwone Fisher’s” emotional crux hinges on the protagonist’s reunion with his mother. Largely silent, Davis pens an entire novel with just her facial expressions!
#4: Aibileen Clark – “The Help” (2011)
Earning Davis an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, 2011’s good-intentioned period drama is set during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, Mississippi. Portraying an experienced but somewhat jaded maid, Davis turned in a performance that strayed away from some of the clichés and stereotypes that crop up during the rest of the film. Even if “The Help” garnered some criticism for its handling of the subject matter, Davis’ performance received nearly universal acclaim, and the story’s best moments belong to the exceptional actress.
#3: Rose Lee Maxson – “Fences” (2016)
Premiering in 1985, August Wilson’s Pulitzer winning play earned a 2010 Broadway revival starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis as a married couple. Earning both performers a Tony Award, “Fences” reunited the cast for the film adaptation and, unsurprisingly, the duo created magic once again. A powerful drama that deals with race relations, regret, and alcoholism, Davis and Washington brought to life Wilson’s visceral dialogue, and few scenes in cinema compare to the couple’s final blowout. An emotionally draining experience, Davis is more than capable of standing toe-to-toe and even outshining Denzel Washington.
#2: Annalise Keating – “How to Get Away with Murder” (2014-)
When not stealing the show on the big screen, the talented actress has been raking in the accolades for her performance as Annalise Keating, a law professor who ends up entangled in an array of highly entertaining murder mysteries. As the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, “How to Get Away with Murder” and Davis herself have barely set a foot wrong since debuting in 2014. A multi-faceted character that requires an actress capable of encompassing the entire gamut of human emotion, Davis’ magnetic performance is impossible to ignore.
#1: Mrs. Miller – “Doubt” (2008)
In a film renowned for phenomenal acting, Viola Davis’ single scene is the stuff of legend. Focusing on two nuns who are investigating rumors that the parish priest is abusing a child, “Doubt” refuses to provide any comfortable answers, and this mentality extends to the boy’s mother. Sharing the screen with Meryl Streep, Davis initially comes across as almost flippant about the situation, but gradually the parent’s love for her child becomes apparent. Unforgettable enough to warrant the actress’ first Oscar nomination, this seven-minute scene contains more depth than most movies.
Are you going to see “Widows” tomorrow???
To find out the FULL list of incredible Viola Davis performances, including some bonus honourable mentions, check out MsMojo’s Top 10 Best Viola Davis Performances video right here!