The tribute announcements for the upcoming Santa Barbara International Film Festival have started coming in, and the first is a shot across the bow for anyone thinking Viola Davis's performance in "The Help" is waning as a contender int he face of recently revealed, excellent portrayals by Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron and Michelle Williams.

Davis will be honored with the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award on Friday, January 27, right at the start of the festival. The tribute will celebrate her performance in Tate Taylor's film and will be an opportunity to celebrate the career of an actress who has been on the verge of exploding onto the scene as a leading lady for some time.

"It's hard to imagine another performance this year that pierces your heart the way Viola does as Abileen," SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said via press release.

Davis joins former winners including James Franco ("127 Hours"), Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Angelina Jolie ("A Mighty Heart"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen"), Heath Ledger ("Brokeback Mountain"), Kate Winslet ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and Charlize Theron ("Monster").

The Santa Barbara fest competes with the Palm Springs festival for some of these fetes in some way. The latter will be honoring Michelle Williams's "My Week with Marilyn" performance, for instance.

The 27th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs January 26 - February 5, 2012. Once again, I'll be on hand covering the fetes and tributes on what has become a crucial step on the march to the Academy Awards.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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