90th Academy Awards Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

As is always the case, Best Supporting Actor is the hardest category to predict. Last year, I went a whopping zero for five in July. Why? Well, Hollywood has always been a male-oriented industry, and the meatier roles tend to go towards male characters. Furthermore, you never know which performances will connect and which won’t. Still, I stand by the breakdown I provided a year ago, because while my predictions were incorrect, the math I provided turned out to be right on the money. Therefore, adding in small facts to the prediction equation, I will now predict the nominees for Best Supporting Actor this January.

Ed Harris

The last three winners of Best Supporting Actor were highly respected character actors who had accumulated cred for a long series of great roles in the industry. There are several candidates who meet this requirement, including Michael Sthulbarg for Call Me By Your Name, Steve Buscemi for The Death of Stalin, Steve Carell for Last Flag Flying (one to keep your eyes on, for sure), and Christoph Waltz in Downsizing. However, there are two contenders that I think are the most likely to fall under this category. As always, we’ll start with Ed Harris. Harris should really have an Oscar by now. He continues to change the game with every performance, including The Right Stuff, Glengarry Glen Ross, Nixon, and Pollock, and was absolutely wronged for not winning in Apollo 13, The Truman Show, or The Hours. This year, he will be playing the creepy tenant in Darren Aronofsky’s mother! As I mentioned yesterday, Aronofsky can be hit-and-miss with his actors, but when he’s on, he’s on. What’s more, if this film is in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, as the trailers seem to indicate, then Harris has a clear advantage: the villains in these types of psychological horrors tend to get nominated. Look at Ruth Gordon or Anthony Hopkins. It’s quite possible the role doesn’t have enough to it to create a strong enough impact for an awards campaign, but with his pedigree, I’m willing to bet on it for now.

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

The second contender I want to talk about, and the far-and-away given at this point in the race, is Willem Dafoe. While most people in the current generation know Dafoe from the Spider-Man Trilogy, Dafoe made his start as an acclaimed independent actor. He gave two Academy Award-nominated performances (both of which were worthy of a win) in Platoon and Shadow of the Vampire, and was also incredible in The Last Temptation of Christ, Mississippi Burning, Wild at Heart, Finding Nemo, and Antichrist. I didn’t have Dafoe on this list a week ago. Hell, I didn’t have him on this list on Monday. I had heard some acclaim building after Cannes for The Florida Project, but I brushed it off. Then I saw the quote “Willem Dafoe’s best performance.” And then I saw the trailer. If we learned anything from Mahershala Ali last year, it’s that if a beloved actor plays a surrogate father in an acclaimed indie movie, he will receive an Oscar nomination. And he will probably win. Hell, I want to give him the Oscar based on that trailer alone. Make no mistake, Dafoe is a serious contender for Best Supporting Actor, and while I’m not ready to give him the #1 spot just yet, I have already started preparing myself mentally to hear the phrase “And the Academy Award goes to Willem Dafoe.”

Jason Mitchell in Mudbound, right

So, who am I going with as #1, if not Dafoe? Well, the second thing you have to look at is the breakout star. This is usually a younger actor who is either on a hot streak or breaking out in his first role. Last year, this was Lucas Hedges and Dev Patel for Manchester by the Sea and Lion, respectively. This year, I think that actor will be Jason Mitchell. Mitchell first broke out in 2015 for his memorable performance as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton, a role he deservedly received awards buzz for. Since then, he has appeared in Barry, Kong: Skull Island, and Detroit, oftentimes as the best part of those films. He will soon be appearing in Mudbound, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance. His role as the son of sharecroppers who comes home from World War II a hero, only to be abused by his Mississippi hometown has been met with acclaim, and as the year goes on and stories like that become more and more timely, it will become harder for the Academy to pass up. Hell, after the goodwill they earned last year for awarding two black actors for the first time in years, I don’t know if they’ll be willing to backtrack. It’s quite possible the fact Netflix is releasing the film could earn the film some backlash, and Mitchell could be Idris Elba-ed on the outside looking in, but if there’s one performance I’m looking forward to from the rest of the year, this is it.

Ray Romano in The Big Sick

For the fourth spot, I’m going to look at performances that we’ve already seen. It would not be a shock to me for the Academy to pick a candidate from the first half of the year, as we’ve already seen so many great ones. There’s the more popular choices of Patrick Stewart in Logan (worthy, but unlikely) or Jake Gyllenhaal in Okja. Mark Hamill is a contender for the seen Brigsby Bear and the unseen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but neither is particularly likely. And from the two biggest contenders we’ve seen, there’s Mark Rylance from Dunkirk and Will Poulter from Detroit. As Dunkirk is the most uplifting choice, it is possible that Rylance sneaks in, but due to the subtle nature of the performance, I would say Poulter is the most likely of the two. However, if there’s one performance that’s stuck with me so far, it’s Ray Romano in The Big Sick. Romano plays the role of a worried, shamed father perfectly, creating a three-dimensional, warm, likable character like he’s been playing Terry Gardner for years. If the film continues winning people over, and is remembered come awards season, I think it is entirely possible that the sitcom actor will earn the acclaim he deserves.

Bet on it, bet on it, bet on it, bet on me

This leaves one final spot remaining. It could go to a variety of actors. It could go to a beloved television actor breaking out in a movie role, like Sterling K. Brown as a man falsely accused of rape and murder in the South in Marshall, Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, the recipient of the Pentagon Papers in The Papers, or Jeffrey Tambor as disgraced Soviet Premier Gerogy Malenkov in The Death of Stalin. It could also go to an older, beloved actor either on a hot streak or on his way out, like the widowed Jean-Louis Trignant in the Amour sequel Happy End, family patriarch Dustin Hoffman in The Meyerowitz Stories, or put-upon sheriff Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. However, I’m going way out on a limb and making a rare prediction that will likely be wrong: Zac Efron for The Greatest Showman. It is quite likely the Academy will not want to nominate the star of High School Musical, but Efron is a talented actor, and he’s been trying to move away from the films that gave him his fame in recent years. In The Greatest Showman, he’ll be playing Phillip Carlyle, P.T. Barnum’s assistant in show business. He’ll get to sing, dance, and act, and if he plays the role well, and the film is a hit, then I don’t see why Efron can’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work.

Of course, there are many other acclaimed actors who could sneak into the field. Armie Hammer is supposedly remarkable in Call Me By Your Name. Oscar Isaac is on a hot streak and apparently steals Suburbicon. And Michael Shannon is beloved by the Academy, and is allegedly the highlight of The Current War as George Westinghouse. We’ll find out more about several of these contenders soon enough. Until then, you can see my full list of Best Supporting Actor contenders here, and you can see my Top Five below.

  1. Jason Mitchell-Mudbound
  2. Willem Dafoe-The Florida Project
  3. Ed Harris-mother!
  4. Ray Romano-The Big Sick
  5. Zac Efron-The Greatest Showman

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