With Thanksgiving all a faded memory, it’s time to close out the Ones to Watch series with the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. The nominees for both races can be unpredictable but last year was the second year in a row where the Best Supporting Actor winner was essentially decided early on during the precursor awards circuit. Conversely, the Best Supporting Actress race has become very easy to predict the winner of for the past six years. Often a film’s narrative can decide who from the supporting races makes it in. Last year was a bit different, as you can see from the outcomes below. But the Academy clearly used other parameters in their decision to nominate Melinda Dillon for Absence of Malice in 1982 and more recently, Rachel McAdams’s for Spotlight three years ago. In the former, Dillon’s character famously skipped across lawns picking up newspapers and McAdams does nothing outside of make a few pensive “Mmm” sounds. This is why I use a different format when discussing the supporting than with the leading races. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and whether I would bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down the various circumstances these actors find themselves in because of the film’s narrative, and how that may influence Oscar voters to pencil them in for nominations.
Various critics groups, including the National Board of Review (NBR), the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have announced their respective nominees. These announcements, and the events associated with them, help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories clearer as we approach nominations on January 23. In effect, they signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.
Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:
Mark Rylance — Dunkirk: Because the film was still considered a Best Picture frontrunner at this time last year, it made sense that Rylance could be pulled along, but despite eight nominations for the film, including Best Picture and Best Director that was not the case.
Ben Mendelsohn — Darkest Hour: Even though the film landed six Oscar nominations, Mendelsohn was not one of them.
Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project: Dafoe was the film’s sole nomination, and the race came down to him and Sam Rockwell.
Armie Hammer — Call Me by Your Name: Sadly, despite Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Golden Globe nominations, Hammer was unable to muscle his way into the top 5.
Michael Stuhlbarg — Call Me by Your Name: Same here, Stuhlbarg was unable to find Oscar love despite a BFCA nomination.
Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: As I mentioned above, the race came down to Rockwell and Dafoe, with Rockwell collecting trophies from most of the precursors, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), BFCA, Golden Globes, SAG and eventually went on to win the Oscar.
Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: After his SAG nomination, Harrelson gained some traction and was nominated. This was a real two for one for the film with Rockwell’s nomination and win.
Michael Shannon — The Shape of Water: Although the film did extremely well in overall nominations and went on to win Best Picture and Best Director, the Academy snubbed Shannon’s villain.
The category was rounded out by Richard Jenkins, the good guy in The Shape of Water, and Christopher Plummer, the bad guy in All the Money in the World (who replaced an even worse guy who originally played the role, Kevin Spacey). When Spacey was caught up in the #MeToo tide following sexual misconduct allegations, Plummer was tapped to refilm his scenes and take the role.
Before we dive into this year’s list of contenders, let me touch upon some of the phenomena we often see in the supporting races:
Two for one: A film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set in both supporting categories back in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland competed against one another for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the ninety years of the Academy Awards, we have seen this play out twenty-nine times for Best Supporting Actress and only seventeen times for Best Supporting Actor. Last year we saw the end of a twenty-six-year streak of no double nominations in Supporting Actor with the nominations of Rockwell and Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The last time this occurred was in 1991 when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated for Bugsy. Conversely, we must only go back to 2011, when Octavia Spencer won and Jessica Chastain was nominated for The Help, for the last instance in Supporting Actress. It’s worth noting that Rockwell’s win should negate the idea that many Oscar watchers have that double nominations for a film effectively cancel both actors out.
Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread).
Category fraud: When there are too many high-quality performances to choose from in a given year, Academy voters have been known to fill lead performance slots with supporting roles and vice versa. Lookout for Mahershala Ali to pop up in supporting for Green Book for the men and Emma Stone in The Favourite for the ladies this year.
Eyes on the newcomer: Voters for precursor awards often rally around a newcomer to the Oscar race and anoint them the prom king/queen, i.e., they win most of the races leading up to Oscar so that by the time the Oscars roll around, it is a given that they will win that too. See Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Allison Janney in I, Tonya just this year.
Guide to the precursor awards and nominations standings: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^), Golden Globe (#), and SAG ($). The symbols appear after the contender’s names below.
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)* # $, Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)* # $, Richard E. Grant – (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)^ * # $, and Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)* # $:
Last year we saw three films vie for Best Picture that comment on the Trump regime: Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, and the eventual winner The Shape of Water. This year, that trend continues. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that most of this year’s Best Supporting Actor contenders come from films that capture the zeitgeist. First up is Green Book, which recounts the true story of a New York bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) who drove a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Ali) on a tour through the 1960s’ American South. Although billed as a comedy, much of the South was steeped in racism back then, and without spoiling the film, much of what unfolds is far from laughable—though the director, Peter Farrelly handles the subject matter with kid gloves, thereby avoiding it becoming the film’s focus, much the way it was handled in 1990’s Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. The film, which has seven BFCA nominations, examines race relations in pressure cooker situations such as the division we currently see in the U.S. Ali’s performance is widely regarded as the one to beat.
Metacritic score: 70
A second film focused on race relations is Spike Lee’s fantastic BlacKkKlansman, which is also based on a true story where Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs (John David Washington), sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Driver plays Stallworth’s Jewish partner and the decoy for the operation. The depiction of two men of different races who work together in harmony to bring down evil is a bit of a metaphor for combatting the aforementioned division in the U.S. I would be remiss not to mention that Lee ties in past events to deliver a searing indictment of the Charlottesville, VA rally last August. Regardless of how the awards season turns out, the film will forever mark a dark time in the U.S. as a must see with a powerful impact.
Metacritic score: 83
There are two other films this year that capture the zeitgeist in different ways. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name and tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorted to forgery to revitalize a failing writing career. Swazi-English actor Grant plays Israel’s sidekick Jack Hock who gets embroiled in her schemes and leads to her undoing. The beauty of Hock is that he is a character who happens to be gay. His sexuality is not examined under a microscope or even discussed at all. Instead, Israel and Hock are kindred spirits who find comfort in one another as people who are largely rejected from society, and who do not have a definitive path forward. Grant lights up the screen opposite McCarthy and looks to be a lock for a nomination.
Metacritic score: 87
Beautiful Boy is based on a pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff chronicling the experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with drug addiction over many years. Chalamet mesmerizes as Nic, a teenage boy whose drug experimentation sends him down the slippery slope of addiction. The film is one of three films this year exploring addiction; the others are A Star Is Born and Ben Is Back. It’s no surprise really that three films tackling the same subject matter were released in a year that saw drug overdoses become one of the leading causes of death in adults under the age of fifty-five.
Metacritic score: 63
Best Picture Bets
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)* ~ $, Sam Rockwell (Vice)#, and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)*: The rest of our contenders represent a mixed bag. We have Elliott, a veteran actor whose first film role was in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and who is known for his work in westerns on television and the big screen. In ASIB, he makes the most of little screen time, but his voice was also purposely channeled by Bradley Cooper who plays his on-screen brother who suffers from addiction in the latest version of love and stardom. Elliott’s unique voice has helped him stand out, and, in this case, is highlighted by Cooper’s use of it.
Metacritic score: 88
Next is Rockwell as George W. Bush in Vice, a biopic of Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). The film is the third film commenting on the Trump regime in that it examines the events of the past that made it possible. Rockwell, last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner, is said to be strong, but there is a question about his screen time that could ultimately affect his nomination chances.
Metacritic score: 63
Finally, there’s Jordan in Black Panther who looks to join Heath Ledger as only the second performance to date in a superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination. The film is the first in the genre with an all-black cast, which sees the heir to the hidden kingdom of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman in the title role) step forward to lead his people while confronting a challenger from his country’s past (Jordan).
Metacritic score: 88
In all three cases, the men appear in strong Best Picture contenders, which helps their chances of a nomination.
Others who could be nominated include Steve Carrell for Vice and Lin-Manuel Miranda for Mary Poppins Returns. Ever since Carrell first played against type in 2014’s Foxcatcher his projects have often landed squarely in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and this year is no different with roles in Beautiful Boy and Welcome to Marwen. On the other hand, Miranda, a star of the stage looking to segue his voiceover career to the screen, is said to be great in the sequel to the Julie Andrews classic. It’s important to note that neither of these men have appeared in the precursor awards conversation. The only other one who has is Steven Yeun for Burning, but it’s difficult enough to land a Best Actor or Best Actress nomination for a foreign film, so it is not very likely that Yeun will connect.
Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:
– Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird: She was nominated but unable to take down Allison Janney who kept winning on the precursor circuit and never stopped.
– Mary J. Blige – Mudbound: She was nominated thereby breaking the no acting nominations curse that Netflix had been enduring.
– Allison Janney – I, Tonya: As I mentioned, she not only was nominated, but she won.
– Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water: My hunch that the Academy wouldn’t be able to resist nominating her given that they recognized her twice in sprawling ensembles (The Help and Hidden Figures) was correct.
My instincts on Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) and Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project) were also correct, and neither made the cut despite BFCA and SAG and BFCA nominations, respectively.
The biggest snub was Hong Chau who gave one of the best performances of the year in Downsizing. I was really hoping that the Academy would break an abysmal eleven-year streak of zero nominations for an Asian actress, but sadly it was not to be.
Amy Adams (Vice)* # $
If you ask anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the awards race, they’ll tell you that Adams is long overdue for a win. She was first nominated in this category in 2006 for Junebug, and she amassed three more nominations in the category for Doubt, The Fighter, and The Master in 2009, 2011, and 2013, respectively. Adams earned her first Best Actress nomination for American Hustle in 2014. She won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Big Eyes, a BAFTA-nominated role the Academy, SAG, and BFCA ignored. Just two years ago she appeared in Arrival, a Best Picture nominee that earned a total of eight nominations but Adams was left out despite Golden Globe, BFCA, BAFTA, and SAG nominations and an NBR win. This year, not only does Adams have the nominations denoted above for Vice, but she has received double nominations from those awards bodies for her leading role in HBO’s Sharp Objects: Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television (HFPA), Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series (SAG), Best Actress in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series (BFCA), giving her campaign a boost from the television side. Here she portrays VP Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and is once again earning raves for her performance that has many saying that she could win. There’s only one woman standing in her way: Regina King (see below).
Emma Stone* # $ and Rachael Weisz (The Favourite)* # $ and Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased)*:
Oscar often retreats to what is comfortable by nominating those whom have won or been nominated before. Enter Stone and Weisz who play a pair of dueling cousins at each other’s throats as they try to curry favor with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman ruling, literally) in early 18th century England. Both women have won Best Actress Oscars: Stone last year for La La Land and Weisz in 2006 for The Constant Gardener. But Stone also has a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and, the much showier role, giving her a leg up on the competition. As does her second SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series in Netflix’s Maniac. As one of the highest reviewed films of the year, the film is on track for a Best Picture nomination—w ill it pull both Stone and Weisz along for the ride?
Metacritic score: 91
In Boy Erased, based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, Kidman plays Nancy Eamons, the mother of Jared (Lucas Hedges) who is forced by his parents to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. Kidman played a mother just last year in Lion, thereby earning her first Best Supporting Actress nomination. She has also been getting rave reviews for her performance in Destroyer this year, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Like Adams, she has done well on television having won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television this year for Big Little Lies. The same role won her the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie last year. Sadly, the film, my favorite so far this year, hasn’t been able to build momentum, and has been largely shutout of the awards race. Because of this, a nomination for Kidman would be a nice surprise.
Metacritic score: 71
Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots)$:
Last year, Robbie was always in the awards conversation for Best Actress for playing the ill-fated figure skater, Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. So, it was no surprise when she landed her first Best Actress nomination. This year is a bit of a different story—f or one, her film has mixed reviews, but for another, she is just barely in the supporting race with her SAG nomination. In Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie plays Queen Elizabeth I opposite her cousin Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) who is ultimately imprisoned before facing execution for her attempt to grab the crown. At this stage, I am betting Robbie gets in the top five, but a win is just not in the cards.
Metacritic score: 61
Claire Foy (First Man)* # and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)+ ~ ^ * #: Although British actress Foy is new to the Oscar conversation, she is well known for her role in the Netflix drama The Crown, which netted her a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama in 2017 and a nomination the following year. In 2017, Foy was also nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy award, which she won the following year. In First Man, Foy plays the wife of famed U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), and because she did a lot with a small role, hers somewhat overshadows the subtler performance given by Gosling. This has translated to more acclaim for Foy’s performance than her counterpart, but the film’s prospects are uncertain following the controversy that erupted among conservatives because of Damien Chazelle’s decision to not show a flag being planted on the moon during Armstrong’s history-making walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Given that Oscar nominations are often built Academy branch by Academy branch, if the film doesn’t land a Best Picture nomination (as it most certainly should), will Foy’s chances slip away? Her lack of a SAG nomination could be a harbinger of what is to come.
Metacritic score: 84
This brings us to the peculiar case of King. Up until the SAG nominations, she looked like a slam dunk for the Oscar. But when she failed to get that nomination, which many say is crucial—you have to go back 18 years to Marcia Gay Harden’s win for Pollack to find a winner in this category who did not have a SAG nomination—it set her chances of winning back. Some say that because the film is a late breaker the nomination committee may not have seen the film, but we can never be sure. So, let’s focus on what we do know: King is a revered member of the Hollywood community, having won three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work in American Crime. The first two in 2015 and 2016 were for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, and the third this year in Netflix’s Seven Seconds was for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. King earned a third nomination for American Crime last year but did not win. This year, the BFCA nominated her for that same role in Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Limited Series. In If Beale Street Could Talk, King plays the mother of a pregnant woman in Harlem who scrambles to prove her fiancé’s innocence of a crime. The film is director Barry Jenkins’ follow up to 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight and stands strong in the Best Picture race this year. All season, King has been the favorite to win. She will most certainly be nominated, but can she stem the tide of Amy Adams’ good will?
Metacritic score: 86
For the ladies, other possibilities include Michelle Yeoh as a high and mighty matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians, Natalie Portman’s caustic popstar in Vox Lux, and Rachel McAdams remarkable turn in another one of my favorites, Disobedience. Of course, one should never count out Meryl Streep who is said to be great in a small role in Mary Poppins Returns.
Similar to the men discussed earlier, none of these women have appeared in the major precursor awards conversation, though McAdams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the British Independent Film Awards.
With recent developments on the precursor awards circuit, this year’s races are quite exciting. It just goes to show that one should never get too comfortable where Oscar is concerned.