They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Directing and Supporting Acting Races

By J. Don Birnam

February 16, 2017

Look! The saints are marching in!

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Best Supporting Actor: Confusing Again

The male acting races are the two most confusing ones this year, starting at least with Best Supporting Actor. The race has been in flux most of the year, with the Critics’ Choice going for Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, leading most to assume that he is going to win. But then the Globes randomly went for Nocturnal Animals’ Aaron Taylor Johnson, and we were off to the races.

The nominees, aside from Ali, are Jeff Bridges from Hell or High Water, Dev Patel for Lion, Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea, and, surprisingly, not Johnson, but Michael Shannon from Nocturnal Animals, in that movie’s lone nomination. As you recall, the surprise Oscar nominations morning here was that Hugh Grant missed out a career nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins.

So who has it here? It seems hard to do this by process of elimination, at least if you think that Mahershala does not have it locked. If so, then really anyone can win, particularly after Patel’s somewhat surprising BAFTA win earlier this week. But let’s do ourselves a favor and take out Michael Shannon simply because no one else has given him notice, a sure sign of weakness. If he triumphs despite this, you can hardly blame yourself for missing it.

So what gives? Is Mahershala really the frontrunner? You will recall that last year I saw what few pundits did not in this category, which is that the entire Sylvester Stallone idea had been invented by the Oscar intelligentsia out of nowhere, with little evidence. Yes, Stallone won at SAG that year, but seeing as how broad the voting group is there, it is not really surprising that he won essentially a popularity contest. Rylance then won BAFTA and the Oscar.


So that cuts in favor of Dev this year, no? Not so fast. For one, Ali is not an age-old actor that the blogosphere had an incentive to root for and make up a race for. The critics genuinely like him, as his BFCA win shows. On the other hand, inklings of last year’s race are in the making. When confused, they simply went for the veteran, and that does help Jeff Bridges. The fact that he has won already does not necessarily stop him, as Christoph Waltz will tell you (though, his year, all five had already won before!).

I suppose they could go for the best performance (always a good fallback rule), which in my view is clearly Lucas Hedges this year, and this may be the only space for that movie to win if it loses screenplay. They can also go for Patel, I suppose, if Lion is as beloved as it appears to be (and it does have Weinstein) here. To be honest, I’m flummoxed by this one. It does not help that Ali does not have, in my opinion, the best of the performances of his film, let alone the category.

When Rylance won, he clearly was the epicenter, at least the supporting epicenter, of his movie. He carried the movie. The same cannot be said of Ali, even if it can of Patel, Hedges, or Bridges.

Here are the current Best Supporting Actor Power Rankings, but expect updates and handwringing for two weeks.

Will win: Mahershal Ali, Moonlight
Could win: Dev Patel, Lion

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