For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller 

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (2016). Photo Courtesy of A24.

As laid out in last year’s column, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races of the Academy Awards are extremely unpredictable. Just take a look at the outcomes below in comparison to what was discussed to see for yourself. It is for this reason that I have chosen to keep the format adopted last year for this edition instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and why I would, or would not, bet on them for a nomination. I have broken down the different circumstances these actors find themselves in and how that narrative may or may not ultimately influence Oscar voters. Various critics groups, including The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), the National Board of Review (NBR), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) has announced its nominees.

These events help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories all the more clearer as we approach nominations on January 24th. Together with nomination announcements from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), these announcements signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.



Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton — Spotlight: Both were nominated, but the latter in lead (due to category fraud).

Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper — Joy: Neither were nominated because the film tanked with critics.

Mark Rylance — Bridge of Spies: Nominated and won.

Tom Hardy — The Revenant: Nominated

Idris Elba — Beasts of No Nation: Not nominated. Making their debut in the Oscar race, Hollywood proved just how scared it was of streaming services, such as Netflix, by snubbing the film entirely.

Last year’s fourth nominee was Sylvester Stallone for Creed, a film that saw its release after completion of this column. For many, Stallone became the frontrunner, and while the Hollywood Foreign Press, the BFCA, and the NBR dressed him up with their awards, Hollywood turned its back on him on Oscar night.

This leaves our last nominee, Christian Bale for The Big Short. Like Creed, the film wasn’t released until after the completion of this column. However, of the film’s sprawling ensemble, awards groups rallied around Bale and he completed the all white acting category.

The results show that by the same time last year, it was pretty easy to determine more than half of the actors in supporting roles that would go on to be nominated by the Academy.

Before we delve into this year’s contender list, allow me to refresh your memory regarding the Supporting Actor and Actress races:

Before we delve into this year’s contender list, allow me to refresh your memory regarding the Supporting Actor and Actress races:

Before we delve into this year’s contender list, allow me to refresh your memory regarding the Supporting Actor and Actress races:

Two for one: The same film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set back in both supporting categories in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel competed against Olivia de Havilland for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This has occurred 29 times for the ladies and only 16 times for the men in the 88 years of the Academy Awards’ existence. The phenomenon last occurred in Supporting Actor for 1991’s Bugsy, when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were both nominated and in Supporting Actress for 2011’s The Help, which yielded a win for Octavia Spencer and a nod for Jessica Chastain.

Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Rachel McAdams in Spotlight.

Category fraud: In years where there is an embarrassment of acting riches, Academy voters often nominate lead performances as supporting and vice versa to get the actor(s) a nomination. This year, it started early with Viola Davis and Dev Patel campaigning in the supporting category for their work in Fences and Lion, respectively.

Eyes on the newcomer: Oscar voters will often rally around a newcomer and anoint them the prom king/queen, e.g., Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl).


Here is a guide to the precursor awards that have already been awarded: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^). The symbols appear after the contender’s name.


Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) *+ ^, Dev Patel (Lion) *:

If you’ve paid any attention to this column, you know that the Academy’s big problem for the past two years has been their inability to diversify the list of nominees in the major categories. The twenty slots that comprise the major acting categories have been filled by white nominees, which has been well-documented with the use of “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag on Twitter. Further, our nation has plunged into turmoil following a brutal election that saw the president-elect incite violence and hatred among his supporters and white supremacy dusted off, repackaged as “alt-right,” and, most unforgivably, accepted as a trait of some of those shoved into the president-elect’s cabinet. This latter point is poignant because this year is one where the zeitgeist could play an important part in determining who the Academy chooses to vote for. For my money, the Academy will choose to not only take the opportunity to address #OscarsSoWhite, but stand up to normalizing white supremacy in America. Take a look at the Academy’s move to increase membership in January coupled with the action it took in June, which represents a 7.5% membership increase. Enter Moonlight, one of the year’s best reviewed films with a 99 Metacritic score and therefore, a serious Best Picture contender. The film chronicles the life of a young black man who struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood. Like Spotlight last year, it has already won the Gotham Jury Award for Ensemble Performance at this year’s Gotham Awards, and with a slew of BFCA and Independent Spirit Award nominations under its belt, looks to be a strong player this Oscar season. Because the film is a true ensemble piece, with Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes all playing the same character through different stages of his life, it’s difficult to pinpoint a lead. The result is that all of the actors inhabit supporting roles. Unfortunately, as brilliant as their performances are, actors from the same film can cancel themselves out in the Oscar race, leaving room for only one to get awards attention. For Moonlight, that is Ali’s drug dealer come father figure Juan, who provides Hibbert’s Little with a foundation to build on, thereby acting as a shining beacon of hope for the young boy. Ali, who was nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for his supporting role in Netflix’s House of Cards, is a newcomer to the Oscar conversation, but is the frontrunner after the precursor announcements to date. Combine that with the Academy’s goal to beat back #OscarsSoWhite, and you have a path to victory.

With Patel’s work in Lion also catching a bump from the precursor awards, it’s comforting that Ali isn’t the sole chance for a person of color to be nominated. The film recounts the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy (Patel) who was lost on the streets of Calcutta and survived many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Patel, who is British but of Indian descent, first came on the scene through his work in 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, which earned him a best supporting actor SAG nomination and a best actor BAFTA nomination. He also won the Best Young Actor/Actress (Under 21) BFCA award in 2009 for the role. Lion premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it was first runner up for the People’s Choice award. It earned six BFCA nominations, including Best Picture and is on many pundits’ lips for Best Picture. If it gets in, Patel could follow.

Wanted: White Male Supporting Performances

Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) * and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) *: With only 14 acting credits to date, you’re probably unfamiliar with Hedges. Maybe you saw him in the background of either of Wes Anderson’s last films, Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel? Perhaps you glimpsed him in Labor Day, or The Zero Theorem? Outside of those films, sightings of Hedges are slim pickings. That is about to change: countless pundits have raved about his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s latest concerning an uncle (Casey Affleck) who is forced to take care of his nephew (Hedges) when the teenager’s father dies. Even though Hedges film is a Best Picture contender (as evidenced by its eight BFCA nominations, including Best Picture), young actors are often not given the same amount of weight as adults in the Oscar race. So even if #OscarsSoWhite were to rear its ugly head again, Hedges would face a steep climb.

Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals (2016). Photo Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES.

Unlike Hedges, who will likely benefit from a Best Picture nomination, Shannon stands to be the sole nomination for Nocturnal Animals in the major categories. Not only does he deliver a nuanced performance as Detective Bobby Andes in Tom Ford’s second film, but his performances over the years have been consistent in caliber. Shannon was nominated in 2009 for his supporting role in Revolutionary Road and has been in the Oscar mix ever since. On paper, with one nomination under his belt, Shannon has the strongest probability for a win, but critic response to the film has been divisive, which is never good in the Oscar race. It’s worth mentioning that Ford’s first film, A Single Man, racked up a best actor nomination for its star Colin Firth. Still, last year four out of five supporting actor nominations were accompanied by a Best Picture nomination. Because this isn’t a likely path for Nocturnal Animals, you can do the math.

Old Favorites

Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) * ~: Although Bridges is also white, I chose to single him out for some contrast. The actor plays a Texas Ranger hot on the heels of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who set off a desperate bank robbery scheme to save their family’s ranch. The film is a surprising Best Picture contender and recently earned six BFCA nominations, including Best Picture. Bridges has a long and storied history with the Academy that began in 1972 with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Last Picture Show and continues to this day.

He has three Best Supporting Actor and three Best Actor nominations, including a Best Actor win for Crazy Heart in 2010. Bridges was last nominated for Best Actor in 2011 for True Grit. Given his high profile with the Academy, I would count on him taking one of the five slots, and if there is any wiggle room, he could unseat Ali.

Other considerations: If Martin Scorsese’s Silence becomes a Best Picture nominee, look for the film to pull along Liam Neeson. If Academy voters remember the first half of the year, Ralph Fiennes performance in A Bigger Splash might spark with them. They may also make room for heartthrob Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins, who gives perhaps his best performance to date. There are also newcomers Stephen Henderson and Jovan Adepo in Fences to consider.



Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:

Rooney Mara – Carol: Nominated

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl: Nominated and won

Kate Winslet Steve Jobs: Nominated

Jane Fonda Youth: Not nominated

-Jennifer Jason Leigh The Hateful Eight: Nominated

Last year’s fifth nominee was Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, the lone female nominee for the eventual Best Picture winner, and a classic example of ride along when she did next to nothing throughout the film.

The results illustrate that by the same time last year, it was pretty easy to determine almost all of the actresses that would make up the eventual supporting actress nominees.

Two Birds, One Stone

Viola Davis (Fences) *:

Viola Davis in Fences (2015). Photo Courtesy of PARAMOUNT PICTURES.

Going back to the Academy’s objective this year, Davis not only stands the biggest chance for a nomination because her role is really a leading role (see last year’s winner Vikander whose role was just as meaty), but also is the frontrunner. Back in 2008, Davis burst out onto the Oscar scene with her searing Oscar nominated supporting performance in Doubt. Davis was last nominated in 2012 for The Help alongside Meryl Streep who was campaigning for her third Oscar for her leading role in The Iron Lady. Streep famously won that year after a neck and neck season. It was the only year that I bet against Streep, and I, like many others, learned to never bet against her. Afterward, Davis found success starring in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. Between 2015 and 2016 the role netted her back-to-back SAG wins for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series, as well as Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama Golden Globe nominations, and a Primetime Emmy Award in 2015 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Now, Davis returns with a stock of hardware that includes a Tony Award for playing the same role on Broadway in 2010, and this time Streep is in the Best Actress race for Florence Foster Jenkins giving the Academy the opportunity to award Davis. Here’s hoping!

Old Favorites

Nicole Kidman (Lion) *: Kidman plays the adoptive mother of Patel’s Saroo in this first feature film from Garth Davis. Kidman was first nominated in 2001 for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Moulin Rouge!, and won the following year (by a nose, har har!) for The Hours. She was last nominated for Best Actress in 2011 for Rabbit Hole. Given her star power, she stands a very good chance of being nominated, but as with anyone, a much stronger one if her film lands a Best Picture nomination.

Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) *^: Williams has three nominations to date: Best Supporting Actress for Brokeback Mountain in 2006 and Best Actress for Blue Valentine and My Week with Marilyn, in 2011 and 2012, respectively. She gives a wallop of a performance in Manchester

seriously, bring tissues. Some pundits have complained that Williams doesn’t have nearly enough screen time in the film to warrant a nomination, but Beatrice Straight, who holds the record for the shortest amount of screen time: five minutes and two seconds of screen time, was not only nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Network in 1977, but she won!


Naomie Harris (Moonlight) * ~ ^: The British actress won much acclaim for her role as the drug addled mother of Moonlight’s protagonist. Having previously been honored with BAFTA’s rising star award in 2007, you can pencil her in the top five, for her star has most definitely risen.

Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures) *: Monáe is a Grammy nominated musician who made her acting debut this year, both in Hidden Figures and the aforementioned Best Picture contender Moonlight. While she certainly struck a chord with critics, she may find herself on the outside of the top five come Oscar nomination morning.

Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women *): Gerwig’s leading role in Frances Ha earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and a BFCA nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy. Although these accolades give her a slight edge over Monáe, anything can happen.

For the ladies, other contenders include Molly Shannon for Other People (playing against type as a mother dying of cancer), newcomer Lily Gladstone for Certain Women, who is of native American heritage—timely, given the North Dakota pipeline controversy. There is also the opportunity to recognize Academy award winner Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures.

Something to keep in mind: The Academy may nominate people of color, but until they start awarding them as well, #OscarsSoWhite will remain.

On a sincere note: I recognize that we are standing on the precipice of what could be a very dark time in our nation’s history. I encourage everyone to build relationships with those with similar ideals and to remain vigilant. Remember to laugh, that it’s OK to cry, and always share your voice. If you’re afraid, remember that you’re not alone and I stand with you. Together we will weather the storm and come out stronger because of it.