With nominees from the major awards bodies coming in before Oscar nominees are announced tomorrow, we finally have a full picture of the acting races. With each new batch and data point, prognosticators scramble to read the tea leaves, gauge momentum, and checkboxes that correlate with Oscar nominations. When predicting, the four televised awards shows (Golden Globes, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild, and British Academy) are often given special attention for their track records in predicting those precious five slots in the Oscar categories. While these awards bodies vary in their overlap in Academy membership and tastes (not to mention historical track record), looking at the four of them combined can give an impressively clear picture of the acting races most of the time.
But every once in a while, a name is announced on nomination morning that fully shocks predictors and film fans alike, someone who manages to secure the Oscar nomination despite missing all four of these significant precursors. Predicting nominees is often a game of trying to predict the shockers, which can lead to dismal results; by any measure, it would be foolish looking at the data to predict any of these surprise nominees. Let’s take a look at who these surprise nominees have been in the recent past, what they can tell us, and which actors in contention for this season’s Oscars might make their place among them.
This exercise may be especially timely going into this season since last year’s batch of acting nominees actually had two! In Best Actress, Penelope Cruz garnered her fourth Oscar nomination for “Parallel Mothers” after missing all four major precursors but scoring consistently with international and critics groups throughout the year. Just last year, Judi Dench swooped into a nomination in Supporting Actress for “Belfast” after being blanked from the major precursors in a category where her co-star Caitriona Balfe was widely predicted. Dench had even less buzz than Cruz going into Oscar nomination morning but was admittedly honored as a part of “Belfast’s” Ensemble at both the SAG awards and the Critics Choice awards.
2021 gave us another shock in LaKeith Stanfield receiving a Supporting Actor nomination for “Judas And The Black Messiah,” despite not appearing on any other precursor’s list of nominees. His was a shocking nomination (in an apparently lead-less movie): Stanfield had received absolutely zero recognition from critics groups or other bodies aside from the Black Reel Awards. His case is an all-timer of an Oscars surprise.
In the recent past, the only other instance of a genuine surprise nominee is Marina de Tavira in “Roma” at the 2019 Oscars. While “Roma” racked up awards left and right and her co-star Yalitza Aparicio almost became another such surprise (she only was nominated at the Critics Choice awards), de Tavira was a complete outsider to the awards conversation by nomination morning aside from a couple of international groups.
These are our only examples of actors receiving nominations despite missing all four major precursors in recent memory- beyond these, you have to go back to 2015, with a much different Academy makeup. So, what can we learn from these unlikely few in recent history?
A few patterns emerge at first glance. Of the four, three are in supporting roles (Dench, Stanfield, and de Tavira). Of those three supporting shockers, all of them were on the “coattails” of otherwise very strong contenders (all had 5+ nominations) and Best Picture nominees. Cruz is unique among the four in being her film’s sole acting nominee; the other three were nominated alongside one of their co-stars. The sample sizes here are obviously small, but when looking for signals to cling to, it’s what we have.
I’ve decided to take on the absolutely foolish task of predicting the unpredictable: if there are going to be shockers like these on Tuesday, who might they be?
My Best Guess: Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” (Currently 10th in NBP odds)
This late-breaking campaign is one of the strangest in recent memory. Until voting started and multiple actors and industry folks started Tweeting and heaping on praise, Riseborough’s performance was a near-unknown in this awards season. Her passion is clearly strong, but can a last-week-of-the-race campaign really work for an otherwise awards sleeper?
Another Possibility: Jessica Chastain in “The Good Nurse” (Not currently in the top 10 in NBP odds)
If the high after her win last year is strong enough and the passion for “The Good Nurse” is greater than it seems, this is one of the only instances in the category of getting nominated beside a co-star. Eddie Redmayne seems fairly likely, and the film is being seen courtesy of Netflix.
My Best Guess: Felix Kammerer in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Not currently in the top 10 in NBP odds)
In a situation where “All Quiet on the Western Front” maxes out on nomination morning as it did at the BAFTAs, its breakout leading man could absolutely squeak in. It may be a Best Picture contender and is looking all but certain to get multiple nominations altogether. His performance is captivating, and he’s very much the face of the movie. 1930’s Paul (Lew Ayres) didn’t get nominated for the Best Picture winner, but could Kammerer surprise?
Another possibility: Gabriel LaBelle in “The Fabelmans” (Not currently in the top 10 in NBP odds)
“The Fabelmans” is predicted to be a contender in Best Picture with multiple likely nominations (including at least one co-star), and LaBelle is largely at the front of this cast. Yes, he’s young, but it’s a great performance, and his name has been in the headlines for months as he garners newcomer/youth awards, including a fresh win at the CCA. He’s nominated as a part of “The Fabelmans” Ensemble at SAG, and assuming the love for Spielberg and the movie, in general, is still strong enough, this seems entirely possible as voters rack their brains for a fifth in the category.
Best Supporting Actress
My best guess: Nina Hoss in “TAR” (Not currently in the top 10 in NBP odds)
Checks all the boxes! There is something about this performance that feels specifically Academy-friendly as a sleeper pick (outside of the fact that it’s just amazing). “TAR” will likely score several nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress for her co-star Cate Blanchett. As much as the Academy views Blanchett’s character and performance as powerful (and it seems like they do- she is currently ranked first in NBP’s odds), Hoss’ opposite but equally powerful performance could come along with it in a topsy-turvy category.
Another Possibility: Claire Foy in “Women Talking” (Currently 10th in NBP odds)
Perhaps the most apparent one on the list. Claire Foy had been atop predictors’ leaderboards at one time or another throughout the season but has yet to manage to break through at the precursors. Could she defy the film’s fast-fading hopes and place over (or still along with) her co-stars Buckley or Whishaw (all of whom are nominated in SAG Ensemble)? If “Women Talking” can manage an overperformance on Oscar nomination morning, she would not be impossible.
Best Supporting Actor
My Best Guess: Ben Whishaw in “Women Talking” (Currently 8th in NBP odds)
Like Foy, this is another acting nom that seemed all but locked up for the “Women Talking” crew, but after missing successive precursors, Whishaw’s chances feel deflated. It’s feeling like it’s all-or-nothing for “Women Talking“; if it’s all, Whishaw could still make it into the bottom slots.
Another Possibility: Tom Hanks in “Elvis” (Currently 10th in NBP odds)
I mean, what if?! People would lose their minds, predictors and critics would have existential crises, and his “Captain Phillips” snub would appear even more egregious. It checks all the boxes that these sorts of things follow (Supporting role, in a film with likely 5+ nominations, including Best Picture, alongside a co-star)! If the Academy has enough goodwill for him (after its remarkable 19-year rejection of him) on top of the passion for “Elvis” as a whole, it could be the one we’re all talking about tomorrow. A hilarious swing for the fences and a chaos pick for the ages.
I wouldn’t go switching around all of your predictions based on these speculations- in fact, the whole point is that the data argues explicitly against it. However, if one of these does pan out, and you manage to predict it, the Oscar glory will fall. Sometimes it does pay to expect the unexpected on nomination morning!
What surprise acting nominations do you think we’ll see tomorrow morning? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.
You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm