You know, it’s funny. When I started writing this article a few weeks ago, I had no frontrunner. I toyed with a few of the names on my list, but I just couldn’t get excited for any of the names, nor did I feel the excitement in the industry for them. It is, quite simply, an incredibly weak year for Best Supporting Actor (not as weak as 2014 when there were only four performances worth considering, but still not great). However, like a sign from the heavens, we have witnessed a frontrunner not only emerge, but emerge in a film I’ve had the chance to see. Hallelujah! Therefore, as we approach the last few days before Oscar season starts (that’s right, we’re only a couple days away), it’s time to return to our Oscar predictions with Best Supporting Actor!
Due to the weak year we are facing in this category, I thought I would announce the nominees a little bit differently. Instead of revealing who that frontrunner is right off the bat, I thought I’d break down the five archetypes (and the similar performers in the running) and reveal which is my current pick to win at the very end. We’ll start with the most obvious contender in the Best Supporting Actor category, the Character Actor/Legend. Every year, the Academy loves to nominate a rarely-nominated legend who has consistently put in good work, even if they aren’t “pretty enough” or focal enough to be a lead. They also love to put in an old-timer who has consistently put in great work without receiving the recognition they deserve. Think Christopher Plummer in Beginners or All the Money in the World, or Sylvester Stallone in Creed, or Michael Shannon literally any year he’s been nominated. This year, there are a few character actors and legends that fit this mold: both Russell Crowe and Joel Edgerton fit this mold in Boy Erased, as does Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give (who’s great, by the way). However, my choice for the nomination is Sam Elliott in A Star Is Born. Elliott is a legend in the industry – he’s been in Road House, Mask, Tombstone, Gettysburg, Up In The Air, Thank You For Smoking, I’ll See You In My Dreams, The Hero and, of course, The Big Lebowski. And while he has consistently been the best part of every single movie he’s been in, he has never received an Academy Award nomination. His turn in A Star Is Born may be his best bet. While his character tends to come and go from the film, he has two scenes near the end that will absolutely break your heart, and remind you why Elliott is one of the best of the best. Add in the fact that the film is a monster hit, and the Academy voters are loving it, and you have the makings of an actor carried in on the love of a film, and should earn Elliott his first Academy Award nomination.
Up next, we have the Popularity Contest. The Academy is notorious for nominating and awarding charming actors they want to grab a beer with – Guillermo del Toro and Eddie Redmayne are both talented artists, but they didn’t just win for good work (hell, Redmayne didn’t even give a good performance the year he won). It takes charm and likability to seal the deal with the Academy. And nowhere is that more true than with Best Supporting Actor. There are a few actors out there right now who have the charm offensive down pat when it comes to the Best Supporting Actor category. Daniel Kaluuya has the twofer of being the popular star of the moment (having been nominated last year in Get Out) as well as playing against type as a terrifying mob enforcer in Widows, and Steve Carell, also up for Best Actor in Beautiful Boy, will have a chance to woo audiences once again with his sneering, humorous portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld in Vice. However, there is only one actor out there right now that has the charm, the talent, and the history in the business to earn a spot in the Top Five, and that is Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Grant has been a Hollywood staple ever since he burst onto the scene in the cult classic Withnail and I, and a lot of what makes that performance wonderful is on full display in his performance as Jack Hock. He’s quippy, funny, bombastic, obnoxious, and altogether likable. His empathy is what helps soften Lee Israel’s harder edges, and their friendship really is the heart of the movie. And most importantly, he has a dramatic final scene that should help put him over the edge. Expect Can You Ever Forgive Me? to be a major Oscar contender, and expect Grant to be one of the film’s key nominations come January.
And now we have the Wunderkind. Like the populist, the Wunderkind is a performer that everyone likes. He’s younger, he’s energetic, and most importantly, he has a talent that will shock and amaze you. Essentially, he’s too good to ignore, and well beyond his peer group. Think Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People, Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, Jonah Hill in Moneyball or The Wolf of Wall Street, orBarkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips. This year we have quite a few wunderkinds in contention. Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn both give great performances in The Favourite. Lin-Manuel Miranda supposedly steals Mary Poppins Returns, not unlike the great Dick van Dyke did back in the day (not nominated due to his terrible cockney accent). And above all, Michael B. Jordan, an actor who should have been nominated at least two times prior, gives the best villainous performance since Heath Ledger’s Joker, playing a Richard III-type character in Black Panther and stealing the film. I have Jordan right on the cusp of getting a nomination (should the film earn a Best Picture nomination, he should get the edge), but can’t quite put him in the running just yet. No, instead I’m going to look at the new heartthrob, and give the edge to Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy. I have seen Beautiful Boy, and while my review is still forthcoming (I’m working through the backlog, folks, I promise), I can tell you that I’m not really a fan of the film overall. It’s mostly overacted and overwritten, and the editing overall gets in the way of the film’s message. However, if there’s one thing that’s undeniably great about the film, it’s Chalamet. His portrayal of a young man caught in the cycle of drug addiction is astounding, easily among the best ever put to film. The look in his eyes as he tries and fails to stay sober, the sound of defeated joy in his voice as he discusses the feeling of getting high, and the anguish as he screws up not only his own life, but the lives of those around him is the work of a true artist, and this young man is accomplishing it at the age of 22. Hell, they could just show his scene in the diner, clearly stoned and lying about it but also airing grievances with his dad is enough to earn someone a win in a weak year, let alone a nomination. It’s a brave as hell performance, and when coupled with the fact that Chalamet is the new hot thing, he should easily earn his second Oscar nomination before the age of 25.
Up next, we have The Artist. The Artist is the person who takes the craft of acting seriously, who transforms into each role and challenges themselves, no matter the cost. Whether they become big stars or not is irrelevant; all that matters is that they are a workhorse who changes the game each time out. Think Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, Christian Bale in The Big Short, Tom Hardy in The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher, Edward Norton in Birdman, or J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. This year, we have a few great options to choose from. There’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as a dandy in The Sisters Brothers, or Oscar Isaac’s turn as a fellow painter in At Eternity’s Gate. Corey Stoll gives a fantastic turn as a douchey Buzz Aldrin in First Man, while David Tennant takes a turn as a 16th century pundit (i.e. fire and brimstone preacher) in Mary Queen of Scots. However, if there’s anyone worthy of this nomination, due to his stature, his so-far stellar awards season, and the very nature of his performance, it’s Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman. On paper, Driver’s role is simply good, not great. He’s essentially the white sidekick to John David Washington’s Shaft-esque hero cop. However, in many ways, Driver’s performance is the heart of the movie. As the face of the duo’s efforts to bring down the Klan, he has to pretend to be a white supremacist in the face of the Klan, while simultaneously come to terms with the fact that he’s been hiding his Judaism all his life for similar reasons. It’s a performance about masking, passing, and coming to terms with who you are, and it is easily one of the best of the year. Driver should receive a well-deserved nomination, and while I doubt he will win, he can count on my vote (note: I do not have a vote).
And finally, we have not one, but two actors contending for the final spot, and here’s where things get tricky. For the past several weeks, I have been going back and forth over which of these two will earn the nomination as the Reigning Champ. These are the actors who earn nominations in the afterglow of a great performance, great nomination, or great win. Think of Matthew McConaughey earning an Oscar after his snub for Magic Mike, or Leonardo DiCaprio winning after a snub for The Wolf of Wall Street. Bradley Cooper’s nomination for American Hustle mostly had to do with love for his work in Silver Linings Playbook, and Christoph Waltz won in Django Unchained due to residual love for Inglourious Basterds. The Academy likes who it likes, and they won’t stop nominating you just because you already won. This year, we have a unique position, as not only does last year’s winner give a great performance worthy of nomination, but the previous year’s winner gives one as well. I’m talking, of course, about the titanic battle between Mahershala Ali in Green Book and Sam Rockwell in Vice. Both actors had been respected character performers for many years, but it wasn’t until recently they received their proper due from the Academy. Ali won for his nuanced, heartbreaking, warmhearted turn as Juan in Moonlight, while Rockwell won last year for his performance as Jason Dixon, a bumbling racist cop who sees the horrible effects of his hatred and strives for a change of heart (whether he actually receives one is ambiguous). This year, the actors are back, bringing much of the same passion to their performances that we’ve seen in roles past. Ali plays Dr. Don Shirley, a gay, African-American classical pianist determined to perform a concert tour through the Deep South in the 60s, and who makes his first friend in his oafish driver. Meanwhile, Rockwell gives another great, albeit brief, performance in Vice as former President George W. Bush. Reportedly, Rockwell’s performance is decidedly different than the spoof made by Will Ferrell, or the insufferable caricature by Josh Brolin – instead, Rockwell avoids portraying Bush is either a complete buffoon or a scheming madman, instead portraying him as a kind-hearted, albeit naïve everyman whose insecurity in his abilities allowed Cheney to steamroll him on a series of important issues. While it is far from the film’s deepest performance, it’s the type of scenery-chewing role that actors like Rockwell love to munch on. So we have two great actors giving two great performances; unfortunately, there is only one spot. So who do I pick? While I had Rockwell on my list for most of the season, in the end, I’ve decided to predict Ali, as his performance is much more central to the overall piece (as well as reasons to come in the next paragraph). So expect Ali to earn that fifth nomination.
So those are the five names I’ve narrowed down for Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Adam Driver, Sam Elliott, and Richard E. Grant. Each actor has something special in their performance that makes them stand out, and each one with something in their way on the way to the podium. So who do I think will win it all? Well, if you’d asked me two weeks ago, I would have said, “Hell if I know.” However, in the time it’s taken me to write this article, I have seen Green Book. And I can say with a decent amount of certainty right now: Mahershala Ali is the one to beat for this award. Ali is the heart of the film, charming yet stiff, poetic yet insufferable, and completely happy and joyous even as he suffers from alcoholism, loneliness, and the racism and homophobia that surrounds him in his daily activities. He is the reason the film works as well as it does, and I cannot imagine another actor playing this part so well. Expect Ali to win the Oscar this year, and expect it to be wholeheartedly deserved. However, we will find out soon enough if these other predictions are completely right or wrong, so until then, you can see the full list of Best Supporting Actor contenders here, you can see my full list of nominees as of today right here, and you can see my Top Five below!
- Mahershala Ali-Green Book
- Richard E. Grant-Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- Timothée Chalamet-Beautiful Boy
- Adam Driver-BlacKkKlansman
- Sam Elliott-A Star Is Born