Sunday, June 23, 2024

Surveying The Oscar Field – Analyzing The Best Supporting Actor Race So Far

By Ryan C. Showers 

​Timothée Chalamet has acted as the first-place prediction for a majority of award show fans keeping track of predictions this summer in the Best Supporting Actor category. After his rise to stardom for his Oscar-nominated work in “Call Me By Your Name” and the promise of a dynamic character in “Beautiful Boy,” a film adaptation of the true story and best-selling memoirs, this year looked to be an opportunity for Chalamet to clinch the Hollywood spotlight. That was before phase one began and before “Beautiful Boy” screened for critics and audiences. Throwing a roadblock in Chalamet’s mission, people have not warmly embraced the film, citing the approach to be heavy-handed and uneven. Chalamet stands a fair chance to remain in the conversation, but he has a battle cut out for his publicist. Chalamet’s work has been praised, but the film’s reviews are underwhelming, and some even disappointing, which opens up the Best Supporting Actor race in a big way.

​My biggest fear with Chalamet is that he will be dropped for more relevant films and performances. An idea I’ve been thinking about as a more likely scenario is, he could be nominated based on expectations and name recognition by the early precursors such as Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, or SAG, but then ends up being unable to surmount the end of the year hump before Academy members begin to vote. I worry about Chalamet’s lukewarm buzz being maintained from October 12, the film’s proper release date, through the beginning of January, when Oscar voting commences. Many films and supporting actor performances will peak in November and December and will have a lasting impression as Chalamet begins to fade. Watch out for the late-breaking “Vice” to swoop in at the last minute with two supporting actor bids and distract voters from writing Chalamet on their ballots.

As Chalamet’s grip loosens, Mahershala Ali is striking the race at the perfect time to build a campaign to win a second Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Ali’s newest film, “Green Book,” won the TIFF Audience Award. Helping his cause is the fact that Ali is a co-leading character, allotting him an ample amount of screentime; the fact that he’s playing a real-life figure Donald Shirley, a jazz pianist, and the Academy loves to nominate actors who veer into biographical territory; Ali’s character is known to have several showcase acting scenes, one of which is in the trailer, where he emotionally discusses his racial identity. Of all the contenders, I feel the most assured his name will be called on nomination morning. His biggest challenge will be justifying  to award him a second Oscar after winning so recently for “Moonlight.”

Two veteran actors whose performances were validated at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and whom I would consider in a safe zone are, Sam Elliott in “A Star Is Born” and Richard E. Grant for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Both men have aced the critical test, with many reviews citing them specifically for what they bring to their films. Elliott, in particular, has been floated around as a potential winner of the category. The argument goes, his revered work in the Best Picture frontrunner “A Star Is Born” is a way to reward an artist who has consistently performed at a solid beat over a long period of time, and he takes part of a Best Picture sweep after going without a nomination for his entire career. Grant, on the other hand, has a different kind of security. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is really going to live and die by its actors, and Melissa McCarthy has been put forth by many as a potential Best Actress winner. Sometimes a Best Actress and a supporting performance from the same film go hand-in-hand. For example, look no farther than last year’s champions, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

An unseen film that could have a seismic impact on the Best Supporting Actor race, as alluded to earlier, is “Vice.” Adam McKay’s satirical take on the Vice President Dick Cheney, like his “The Big Short” three years ago, is going to spread tangible material to an overflowing cast ensemble. The most prominent actors who could emerge from “Vice” are Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell. Rockwell has the great luck of playing former President George W. Bush, and the stature of the role itself will draw a lot of attention to Rockwell’s portrayal. It’s conceivable that Rockwell will get big laughter from the audience while playing President Bush. Having just won last year, Rockwell is well positioned to extract consecutive Best Supporting Actor nominations after his win for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” similar to Penelope Cruz being nominated for “Nine” out of a huge cast ensemble only a year after winning for “Vicky Cristinia Barcelona.” Steve Carell, on the other hand, has been highlighted as having a noticeable role in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsefled. Rockwell has the stronger chance, but a double nomination for both of them is not out of the realm of possibility.

After those obvious contenders, trying to fill out the lineup is more difficult. Daniel Kaluuya drew big raves for his villainous performance in “Widows.” Of all the talented women in that cast, he’s the performer who was mentioned as the most deserving of awards recognition after the film screened at Toronto. Unfortunately, his path is tricky. No one is sure if “Widows,” despite its positive reviews and talented creators, is in fact going to factor into the Oscar conversation. Many have labeled the film as a “popcorn movie” and a great audience ride, but not the type of film to which Academy will be drawn to. Like Rockwell and Chalamet, Kaluuya just went through the awards circuit last year for “Get Out,” so his name is carrying novelty right now, making another nomination easier. Months ago, I found the perfect analogy to argue for a Kaluuya’s chances: He could be nominated in a similar way as Jeremy Renner was for “The Town.” Renner was nominated in consecutive years for playing the antagonist in an audience-driven ensemble thriller after receiving a Best Actor nomination for “The Hurt Locker” the year prior.

And speaking of “popcorn movies,” or as the Academy once called “popular films,” many believe “Black Panther” will be the superhero film that will finally break into the Best Picture lineup. The mystery is, after Best Picture, where else it contends in the big eight categories. Michael B. Jordan has been suggested as a possible Best Supporting Actor nominee in this category for “Black Panther.” I’m not buying the argument, the role, or the performance for the Oscars, but it’s certainly possible. Jordan has proven himself as a legitimate actor this decade, from “Fruitvale Station” to “Creed” and will have “Creed II” releasing in theaters around the time of voting which could help his chances.

There are a handful of actors who are in the mix but have an arduous road ahead. A tough sell, considering it was released before this previous year’s Oscar nominations were even announced, is Hugh Grant in “Paddington 2.” Most agree Grant gives one of the best performances of his career in the film – he even received a BAFTA nomination for it last year – and some hope he can find a path this year. Another performance that has been praised accordingly for a Best Supporting Actor nomination is Russell Crowe for “Boy Erased.” Though Nicole Kidman has been acknowledged as the MVP of the film, the previous Best Actor winner Crowe has the type of role that fits well in this category. Some pundits have thrown out the idea of Adam Driver representing “BlacKkKlansman” from the acting branch, but I do not think he had strong enough of a response to his work in the film to significantly qualify for Best Supporting Actor.

A final performance worth mentioning is Josh Hamilton’s outstanding characterization in “Eighth Grade” as the father the protagonist growing up in the social media age. “Eighth Grade” was adored by critics, though most pundits see it having trouble finding its footing in the awards season. If it does take off, however, Hamilton is a viable option for Best Supporting Actor. His work is reminiscent of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Clarkson in “Boyhood,” and he emerges as the heart of the film. It would take the film itself gaining momentum in Best Original Screenplay and possibly Best Picture, but he will definitely be in the mix of actors noticed by critics associations in phase two. He would be a worthy nominee.

Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Timothée Chalamet – Beautiful Boy
Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell – Vice

Above are my predicted five nominees at the moment. Ali is the clear frontrunner. Elliott and Grant are more or less fastened in, unless they do not stick the landing after initial buzz, like Armie Hammer in “Call Me By Your Name” last year. Rockwell is in a very strong position, and simply needs to be confirmed once “Vice” is screened for critics and pundits. Chalamet needs to energize his base of support and keep the industry appeal like the way he did when campaigning last year. I’m tempted to predict Kaluuya as the sole nomination for “Widows” for what looks like a wicked character, but I’m not brave enough to drop Chalamet or Rockwell yet.

Do you agree with my predictions? What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments section below and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RyanCShowers

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