They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Oscar Acting Races

By J. Don Birnam

February 20, 2019

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Voting for the Oscars ended on Tuesday, so all that is left after the accountants finish counting is for everyone else to learn who the heck is walking away with these little trophies. Today, we look at the four acting races, a couple of which have a little bit more intrigue than we have seen in past years.

Last year, a very easy year since all four races had a contender that had won all four precursors, an unprecedented feat, I went 4/4 in my initial predictions and those were proved correct eventually. The year before that, I had gone four for four, as well but changed last minute due to Internet mind-think. This seems to be a theme with me: that my initial guts are more correct than what the collective group think leads me into thinking. So, here’s hoping that these guts prove correct.

So, if you think you know who is going to win those pesky female acting races, let me know on Twitter and Instagram.

First the two easier ones…

Best Supporting Actor

One of the easiest calls on Oscar night surely is the Best Supporting Actor win for Mahershala Ali, who will be collecting his second statuette in this category in three years for his moving portrayal in Green Book. Before we tell you why this is so obvious, consider the other four nominees: Sam Rockwell, Vice, Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born, and Adam Driver, Blackkklansman.

Why is Ali the clear lock? Easy: he won the golden sombrero of Globe + Critics Choice + SAG + BAFTA. Remember that you need to go all the way back to Russell Crowe to find an actor who won all four and then lost the Oscar, and that was due to the cellphone throwing scandal that engulfed him. It would be foolish to bet against Ali even if you think that Green Book’s controversy could hurt the movie in other races.

As for the other four nominees: you can take out Driver and Rockwell the most obviously. Driver did not really figure in a lot of precursors (some thought the fourth spot belonged to Timothee Chalamet for Beautiful Boy), and his performance as the complicit Jewish cop in the Spike Lee dramedy is not exactly his best performance ever. As for Rockwell, this was another strange nod on Oscars morning, against suggesting something was amiss against Chalamet. It also shows that Vice clearly does have strong Academy/acting branch support, as his turn as George W. Bush is one of the least memorable of his successful career. Anyway, Rockwell just won last year and he will be back on the carpet, but unlikely as a winner.

I personally wavered between preferring Elliott as the hardened brother in A Star Is Born and Grant as the complicit gay alcoholic alongside Melissa McCarthy. Indeed, in past years this has been a place where they reward more comedic roles and do not seem to require strict drama. But Elliott missed out on a number of key precursor nods, while Grant was never able to turn his obvious Twitter and social media good will into a win, not even in territorially friendly Britain at BAFTA.

Instead, it seems as if Ali will cruise to his second Oscar, much as he did to his first. In Green Book, which obviously has more Academy support than some of the other movies in this category, he plays a crucial character, and varies from stern to appreciative. Ali is immensely popular in Hollywood, it seems, and Sunday will show us just how much.

Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Could Win: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me

Best Actor

Another relatively easy call on Oscars night is Rami Malek’s upcoming Best Actor victory for playing the turbulent Freddie Mercury in the much-maligned Bohemian Rhapsody. His competition is Viggo Mortensen from Green Book, Christian Bale for Vice, Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born, and, perhaps taking up Ethan Hawke’s slot for First Reformed, Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate.

The last one seems to have gotten in on the strength of some sort of pity party for his failure to convert his Florida Project nomination into a win. Dafoe did not figure at most circuit or critic precursors, and has less than zero chance of winning for his admittedly deep portrayal of the troubled artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Much the same can be said for Mortensen, who is a talented actor and whose second nomination in this category is no doubt deserved. Mortensen changes his body and chews the curtain as the foul-mouthed Italian racist hired to drive a black man across the Southern USA in the 1950s. But given that he has not transformed the movie’s relative popularity into anything anywhere, a win for him here would be more stunning because of what it says about Best Picture than anything else.

What about Cooper? It is relatively rare for a director to direct himself into an acting win. Roberto Benigni did it in 1998 with Life Is Beautiful, but that very rarely happens. Nor did Christian Bale make the dent he needed to emerge victorious for his determined portrayal of the former Vice-President, Dick Cheney. Though Bale did win the Critics’ Choice as well as a Globe for Comedy or Musical, neither of those are industry voters. Bale has won a Supporting Actor Oscar before for a much more nuanced turn, but will not repeat here.

The show belongs to Rami Malek, who is electric, gripping, and resolutely convincing as the troubled singer Mercury.

Will Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Christian Bale, Vice


Now the tricky ones

Best Supporting Actress

The Internet decided early on that its collective love for the admittedly lovable Regina King meant that she should win an Oscar for her portrayal of Sharon, the mother of Tish in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. The critics mostly agreed, but the industry, at least at first, had another idea.

But, before we get to King’s somewhat uneven road to the likely Oscar, let’s pause a moment to ponder the strange statistical anomalies that pervade this year’s Best Supporting Actress race. The other nominees are Amy Adams for Vice (her fifth nomination here and her sixth overall, making her second only to Glenn Close as a living actress with nominations but no wins); Marina de Tavira for Roma; and the two ladies from The Favourite, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, both past winners in their own right.

Let’s talk about de Tavira first. She became the first woman since Marcia Gay Harden to receive a nomination in this race without a single precursor nod to speak of, not a SAG, BAFTA, Globe, or Critics Choice nod. Harden did it in 2000 for her role in Pollock, and converted that stunning citation into an even more improbable Oscar win. Marisa Tomei was the previous person to do that, in 1993, for My Cousin Vinny, though only the Globe and BAFTA were around back then.

The funny thing about those two is that both converted their upset nod into a shocker upset win. Could de Tavira do the same? I doubt it. The Oscar race has become too controlled by social media and precursors to permit this. The nod for sure shows that Roma is well-liked by the acting branch despite its SAG shutout, and that maybe is the more important thing to note here. Some have said that the lack of a prohibitive front-runner could lead de Tavira to a win, and while I suppose it is possible, I would be honestly surprised.

But Amy Adams and Emma Stone would themselves have to overcome a bunch of historical stats to prevail. Despite King not being nominated for a SAG or a BAFTA, the former of which went to Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place and the latter to Weisz, neither of them took advantage of the opportunity. So, much like de Tavira, they would have to be the first since Harden to win without even one of these four precursors. As for a Supporting Actress winner triumphing while getting nominated but not winning any of these? Anna Paquin did it for The Piano in 1992, when she had a Globe nod but lost it. It is pretty rare, and I am afraid Adams will have to remain content to wait.

Only Weisz, in fact, seems to have stats behind her. While it is only a win from BAFTA and King was not in competition there, BAFTA has the most overlap with the Academy. And it should be clear to voters that Weisz is the true supporting role in the film that is popular enough for ten nods. Indeed, King’s wins – the Globe and the Critics’ Choice – are two non-industry awards. You can make a very compelling case that Weisz is going to pull off an upset.

But I doubt it. King is indeed too liked, has given great acceptance speeches, and her role is a powerful bookend for the film. This should be the first time that a performer from a non-Best Picture nominee beats four performances that were in the Best Picture race, but I think it is King’s turn to shine after her first ever nomination (and win) in this race.

Will Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Could Win: Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Actress

And last but not least, one of the most exciting acting awards in a long while, Best Actress. The nominees are Yalitza Aparicio for Roma, Glenn Close, The Wife, Olivia Colman, The Favourite, Lady Gaga A Star Is Born, and Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me.

This one has been, mostly, all over the place all season long, making it one of the toughest to predict in several years. But the odds do seem long both for the newcomer Mexican actress who appears in Roma, as well as for McCarthy, on her second nomination, for playing Lee Israel in the well-respected adult drama. Neither has done much with nominations - Aparicio herself did not make it into SAG, Globe, or BAFTA (but she did have a Critics Choice nod), meaning that she defied heavy odds against her even being here in the first place. This seems like a classic “wow, awesome” nomination — think Precious or Beasts of the Southern Wild - one that never turns into anything. For them, the nomination is the win.

As for the last three…for the longest time it seemed as if Lady Gaga had a second Oscar in the bag, at least when A Star Is Born seemed firmly in the lead. As with Cooper, one has to wonder if the industry is not ready to recompense actors who in their past lives starred in The Hangover or showed up to awards shows in an egg. (That said, it seems like rewarding the filmmaker behind Dumb and Dumber, Green Book’s Peter Farrelly, is not a problem). There is, of course, plenty of precedent for this sort of snotty response from the Academy, from Sylvester Stallone to Eddie Murphy to Mickey Rourke. They tend to be more forgiving with women, at least with the hot thin young ingénue, a game that Lady Gaga does not play. So, despite her tie for Best Actress from the Critics’ Choice with Glenn Close, Stefanie Germanotta is likely in a distant third place to win this award.

But how are we supposed to figure out which of the two other contenders is ahead? Colman won a Globe for Comedy, a Critics Choice for Comedy, and the BAFTA. Close won a Globe for Drama, the lead acting citation from Critics Choice, and the SAG. It seems that close, no pun.

You can argue about this until you are blue in the face without being able to really figure it out. Close being overdue could be a narrative that nets it to her. But, voters do not like to be told what to vote for, and an argument that she is overdue may for that reason sit poorly. Colman is fantastic and well-liked, but she plays a comedic role many think is a supporting one, and that this is category fraud. There is more BAFTA overlap than SAG, with the Academy, etc. The arguments can go on and on and on.

Looking closer: it has happened only six times in SAG’s 23 years that their Best Actress winner does not win the Oscar. The problem is that the four last of those times, it was BAFTA who called it correctly, including years where Meryl Streep (2011), Kate Winslet (2009), Marion Cotillard (2007) and Nicole Kidman (2002) won the BAFTA after losing SAG, and then went on to win the Oscar. By contrast, years in which BAFTA has not matched with Oscar in the same time span or much rarer, limited to Emmanuelle Riva in 2012 and Carey Mulligan in 2009. To be fair, SAG got it right both of those years. It just seems more common that SAG errs.

I am not at all confident about this and am very likely to change my mind by the time we publish our final predictions…

Will Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Could Win: Glenn Close, The Wife



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