95th Academy Award Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

The largest category of every year, by far, is Best Supporting Actor. With most films still dominated by men, and the definition of “Supporting” ranging from “has one really good scene” to “Wait, they’re top billed, how are they not a Lead?” this category is always filled with thousands of contenders before narrowing itself down to a handful. Oftentimes, you can just pick a film and randomly pick an actor from it, and you’ll still get the film right (see: The Big Short). So, acknowledging up front this is a stab in the dark, let’s take a look at the early predictions for Best Supporting Actor at the 95th Academy Awards.

For better or worse, my predictions haven’t changed too much since the beginning of the year. That may be because I made some solid predictions, or it may be stubbornness. Nevertheless, I’m looking to improve upon last year’s predictions. Which shouldn’t be too hard. I didn’t get a chance to see CODA at Sundance, so I couldn’t beat the Troy Kotsur drum from the get-go, but once I saw it, he was my #1 with a bullet. I also managed to predict Jesse Plemons, although my lack of knowledge of the book prevented me from seeing Kodi Smit-McPhee coming. And I had no idea what Belfast was, or that J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons playing William Frawley would be so popular.

So, how am I approaching this year’s Best Supporting Actor races? Well, I’m starting by looking at the Big Ensembles with multiple contenders. The Academy loves a big ensemble, and the best way to reward the group is throwing a Supporting nomination their way. And who knows? If they’re lucky, they might even get two nominations. That’s what happened with The Power of the Dog, and The Irishman, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and somehow inexplicably Judas and the Black Messiah. There are plenty of Big Ensemble pictures in 2022, and therefore lots of contenders. Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan are both looking for first-ever nods for Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale have a chance as the men in Marilyn Monroe’s life in Blonde. And Bill Murry and Russell Crowe could have some strong scenes in The Greatest Beer Run Ever.

But when picking a Big Ensemble, it’s best to look at Best Picture. And with Babylon and Killers of the Flower Moon looking like frontrunners, I’d say at least two nominations are coming from them. Hell, let’s make it interesting. Killers of the Flower Moon is such a meaty, weighty story, it’s quite possible that we see two nominations pop up. The safest nomination is Jesse Plemons, fresh off his first Oscar nomination last year. Plemons plays the voice of good battling evil on the plains of Oklahoma, an FBI agent investigating a greedy oil baron. It’s technically a co-lead, and the category fraud should pay off. However, it’ll hard to overlook Robert De Niro reteaming with Martin Scorsese for a potentially final time – especially when De Niro is set to play a scenery-chewing villain. With talent like that directed by a master like Scorsese, I’d say these two feel like pretty safe bets.

As for Babylon, well, we learned last year that you don’t bet against a film based on classic Hollywood with actors playing real stars. That’s how Simmons snuck into the race. The only question is, which actor from Babylon’s sprawling cast will make the cut? Well Jovan Adepo has a juicy role. And Max Minghella is in the mix for potentially playing Irving Thalberg (we’ll get to that). Hell, rumor has it (and it’s a very evidence-based rumor) that Brad Pitt, who I predicted last week in Best Actor, has a role that could be right on the border, marking a second performance in three years that’s technically co-lead and billed as Supporting for the awards. But for now, without solid evidence on Pitt, I’m going with co-producer Tobey Maguire, earning his first acting nomination. Maguire’s an actor who’s been around a while and has plenty of goodwill. Hell, he’s fresh off a box-office breaking hit with Spider-Man: No Way Home. He’s been in and out in terms of the production of Babylon, taking a role before switching to producer before accepting the role again, and so on. For him to earn a nomination, there are only two questions in the way: who is he playing (reports vary from Thalberg to Charlie Chaplin), and how much screen time does he have? If it’s a juicy role with enough face time, Maguire may be hard to deny.

Of course, the thing the Supporting Actor race loves most of all is what I call “The New Leaf.” These are actors going against type, or doing something completely different, in order to get the nomination. This includes Sacha Baron Cohen in Trial of the Chicago 7, Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, Sylvester Stallone’s return to grounded roots in Creed, and Edward Norton and Jonah Hill’s comedic turns in dramatic films. Contenders that meet the criteria this year include lovable Brits Ben Whishaw and Colin Firth as sleazebags in Women Talking and Empire of Light, respectively, Steven Yeun in Jordan Peele’s new sci-fi extravaganza Nope, and whatever Chris Pine and Harry Styles are doing in Don’t Worry Darling. And it’d be insane not to point out how powerful Ke Huy Quan is in Everything Everywhere All At Once – if that film comes to play, expect a nomination. But for now, I’m leaning Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans. Sure, I love Paul Dano, who has the meatier role as Steven Spielberg’s dad. But Rogen has been turning over a new leaf, fresh off of an Emmy nomination. And with a meaty role as the cool uncle (see similar roles in Ciarán Hinds, Alan Arkin, Mahershala Ali, Mark Ruffalo, and so on, look for Rogen to score his first Oscar nomination this year.

And finally, we have the scene stealer. This is a usually-beloved actor, taking on a juicy role with all the best lines, the best arc, the best everything. Think Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, or Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, or most Christian Bale performances, and so on. This year’s list has plenty of opportunities. Zen McGrath is committing category fraud in The Son. John David Washington is rumored to be a stand-out in Amsterdam. Both Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong have juicy roles in Armageddon Time. Woody Harrelson plays a pompous jackass in Triangle of Sadness. Brian Tyree Henry plays a troubled vet in Causeway, while Tom Hanks chews scenery in Elvis (yes, if the Academy loves the film, it could happen). And Michael K. Williams could earn a posthumous nomination as a hostage negotiator whose hands are tied by racist, incompetent superiors in Breaking.

But I think this nomination will go to Viggo Mortensen for Thirteen Lives. Mortensen’s been on the verge of an Oscar win for some time now – he was likely closer than people think for Green Book. In Thirteen Lives, Mortensen plays Richard Stanton, the leader of the rescuers in the 2018 Thai Soccer Team rescue. Now, if you’ve seen the documentary, or any interviews with Stanton, you’ll know he’s highly idiosyncratic – in fact, he’s likely on the Autism Spectrum. Most of the time, he had to have things like “give the boys prayer beads to improve morale” explained to him. But he was also the most gifted, most decorated diver of the bunch. It’s the type of role that Mortensen, who loves to dive into complicated characters, should eat up. Now, Amazon has basically neutered Thirteen Lives’ Oscar chances, so Mortensen’s odds have certainly gone down. But so long as he lives up to the hype, and the film can stay in the race, Mortensen may still be able to eke out a nomination.

So that concludes our look at Best Supporting Actor. Now, there are still plenty of contenders I haven’t mentioned yet. Ashton Sanders plays the controversial Bobby Brown in the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody. John Boyega plays a put-upon leader in The Woman King. And no matter how bad it may be, if Where The Crawdads Sing becomes a box office juggernaut, then David Strathairn could sneak in for his best-in-show turn as a kindhearted lawyer. Who knows, really? Until the festival season starts, you can see my Top 5 listed below, in order. You can also see my Best Supporting Actor contenders ranked in full by clicking here. And if you’d like to see my full up-to-date Oscar predictions in every category, click here. I’ll be back later this week with a look at Best Supporting Actress.

  1. Jesse Plemons – Killers of the Flower Moon
  2. Viggo Mortensen – Thirteen Lives
  3. Robert De Niro – Killers of the Flower Moon
  4. Seth Rogen – The Fabelmans
  5. Tobey Maguire – Babylon

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