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Best Supporting Actor Nominees (89th Academy Awards)

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I consistently find the Best Supporting Actor category to be the most interesting and competitive group just about any Oscars night. Perhaps that’s because a high percentage of my own work in theatre has been done in supporting roles, but it’s also true that there are naturally more supporting roles available over the course of a year in film which tends to lead to more variety. This time we’ve got a couple of eccentric lawmen, an uncertain father figure, a son dealing with his father’s death, and another trying to find his way back home. Past winners in this category have included luminaries such as Karl Malden, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Plummer. There have also been a bunch of guys you haven’t heard from since. Will this year’s winner fit into one of these categories? Join me below and we’ll discuss.

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
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Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 2
Ali is a new presence for many movie fans who have been engrossed by his arresting and nuanced performance in the highly esteemed drama Moonlight. Prior to Moonlight, he was perhaps most familiar to fans of streaming television series like “House of Cards” and “Luke Cage.” By the by, he also appears in a supporting role in a second Best Picture nominee as Jim in Hidden Figures. Based only on his resume of the last few years, Ali appears to be on the rise, an ascendance which would be symbolically confirmed if he were to have his name called early in the evening on Sunday. It certainly would be well deserved, considering I found myself wishing Moonlight was all about his character. Many great film performances have one indelible moment that speaks volumes about the character or the story. Moments that can knock you on your ass. I don’t know about other people, but for me these moments rarely have anything to do with capital “A” acting. It’s not about a big dramatic speech. Most actors worth their salt can pull off that “They’ll never take away our freedom” bit in Braveheart, or a thousand other rousing scenery-chewing moments like it. What knocks me out more often than not are the more subtle moments in which the inner life of the character simmers up and shows us the truth so honestly that all artifice drops away. This is what happens to Mahershala Ali in a remarkable scene as we watch him field some very tough questions at a dinner table from a young boy in pain. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and it may just have won Ali the Oscar.

Dev Patel – Lion
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Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 5
From one partial movie character to another. Dev Patel’s status in Lion as a supporting player is even more questionable than Viola Davis’ is in Fences. After all, THE ENTIRE MOVIE IS ABOUT HIM. After the first forty or so minutes of the film, Patel’s grown up version of the character Saroo is its central concern – and the filmmakers know it. After all, many of the promotional posters are simply a shot of Patel’s big face. This might be no big thing if one of the other characters actually took the reins of the story in service of his interests, but that’s not what happens. Nobody else is the lead of this movie. Patel is. He does an excellent job, but he’s not a supporting performer here. My ranking of him is entirely due to this category fraud. Many onlookers felt like Patel was wrongly snubbed by the Academy in 2009 for his performance in Danny Boyle’s Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, and perhaps the voters are in the mood to right that perceived wrong. It seems to me that maybe he was able to exact some form of revenge on us all by appearing in The Last Airbender.

Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
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Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 3
Somehow, Jeff Bridges continues to find ways to create significantly different versions of what could be very similar characters. That he does it with what appears to be little to no effort is a real testament to the profound talent for and understanding of the craft of acting that Bridges possesses. t’s an ability which could impress his fellow actors enough to allow him to sneak up on Ali and take home a second Oscar in another acting category. With a total of seven nominations already under his belt, another win wouldn’t necessarily put Bridges in the same company as Hepburn, Nicholson, and Streep, but he would be in relatively rarefied air nonetheless. Having persevered through a number of embarrassing flops and a film industry which didn’t appear to know what to do with him through a large portion of his career helps make him a sort of legend to forever hopeful performers. There’s no doubt that Bridges had substantial, palpable, and unique charm as a younger actor (you’ve seen The Fabulous Baker Boys, right?), and there’s also little doubt that we seemed to be watching him and the rest of Hollywood let it slip away carelessly. Perhaps Bridges was actually just biding his time until he reached the age where he could do the kind of work he was most itching to do. Everybody works hard and everybody feels like they have the talent. The way Bridges has managed to grab his current status serves as a promise that maybe none of us are actually wrong.

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
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Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 1
Okay, so this is one where I’m straight out rooting for a favorite performer rather than literally believing his performance his demonstrably better than the other nominees (his turn in Nocturnal Animals is pretty darn great, though). It also doesn’t hurt that the film he’s nominated in is decidedly underrepresented. If you’ve been reading here at LeBlog for more than just a year or two then you might know that one of my early and enduring projects was weekly write-ups of the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” which featured one Michael Shannon as one of the craziest and most compelling supporting characters I’ve ever seen on television. The series as a whole had its ups and downs, but boy did they know how to deliver several WTF moments across the course of a season, and often Shannon’s Nelson VanAlden provided a few of these. Shannon is always a welcome presence in any project, injecting his eccentric energy into proceedings in a way that raises the tension in every scene simply through his presence. His versatility is easily on display just in this year’s resume, which is Ten Credits Long. In addition to his arresting turn as a Texas lawman of questionable ethics and origin (you know, the one he’s nominated for), it includes an extraordinarily different personage with the softly kind and slightly goofy photographer who shows up in Loving, the hard as nails villain turn left overs in Batman v Superman, and also Elvis Presley in Elvis and Nixon. This guy is much more than just weird.

Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
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Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 4
You know that fairy tale in which a young actor is discovered by a Hollywood power broker in a school play? Yeah, that actually happened to Lucas Hedges when the casting director for Moonrise Kingdom showed up to a performance at his middle school. No big deal – – just got his start in a Wes Anderson film. He then went on to work with Terry Gilliam and Jason Reitman. You know, regular old Hollywood directors. And now he’s up for an Oscar after landing a plumb role in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. It’s the sort of fairy tale that can only happen if you’re doing your middle school acting in a major media market like New York, Los Angeles, or London. The moral of this story? Location, location, location.

Who do you think should grab the gold this Sunday? Vote below and then tell us why you’re right in the comments section.

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Posted on February 21, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Oscars, poll and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Ali is transcendent in this small, but pivotal role. He portrays his character, presumed to be such a bad-ass, with such tenderness and understanding that it is a nearly magical thing to behold.

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  2. “Michael Shannon is clearly an insane person and they should probably give him an Oscar before he kills us all with his death gaze. For all I know, he’s standing outside your window right now, ready to break in and strangle you.” – The Hater’s Guide to the Oscars

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  3. Voted Jeff Bridges (with the disclaimer that I’ve not seen any of these performances so you can discount my vote), after having promised an enthused coworker that I would go see Hell or High Water – not sure I can keep this promise, not generally being a fan of Westerns.
    Interesting reference to Baker Boys, as good as Jeff was in the film, I have always thought that the strongest performance was from his brother Beau.

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    • Hell or High Water, while being set in the American west, is not a traditional western. Mostly this is because it’s set in the current day and incorporates themes which definitely spring from today’s headlines. I’d put it more in the realm of a crime/heist flick, but in which the planning is not really the focus.

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  4. I’m rooting for Michael Shannon too. I haven’t seen the movie, but my introduction to him was Boardwalk Empire, and I have followed his career ever since. There was just something so delightfully unhinged about his Agent Van Alden. I still quote him all the time. 😀

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