Best Supporting Actor Is The Race To Watch At The Oscars

Every year, there’s one Oscars category that feels like the race to watch. Last year it was Best Actress, where Michelle Yeoh won against Cate Blanchett and Michelle Williams, while Ana De Armas would have been the shock nominee if not for the total left-field nomination of Andrea Riseborough. This year, the big battle is clearly the clash for Best Supporting Actor, where a new challenger has just made a late rush for the crown.


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It feels like Best Actor and Best Actress are sewn up. Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer and Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon are heavy frontrunners, and while Emma Stone’s turn in Poor Things and general popularity with the Academy voters give Gladstone a hurdle, it’s one most expect her to clear. Both would be first-time winners with very different journeys to the crown, but it’s always a little more exciting when there’s a race and not a victory lap afoot.


The Front-Runners

Ken smiling to someone off-camera in Barbie

Barbenheimer is the movie event of the year, so it makes sense that both would be heavily involved in this year’s tightest contest. Oppenheimer had such a stacked cast that it was unclear before its release who would emerge as the leading candidate, but after the picture opened, there was no room for doubt. Robert Downey Jr. was back in a serious role after years as Iron Man, and carried the intensity of the movie on his back. The repressed rage in each scene, the small notes of anger in each line delivery, the little details of the craft that went way beyond Easter Eggs about blueberries – he was a serious actor again. The Judge, made midway through his MCU stint in which Robert Duvall scored an Oscar nom, showed he still had it, but this was a bigger test. He passed with flying colours, even in black and white.

Much has been made of the narrative that it would be a post-MCU win, but long-time Oscar fans will remember that RDJ is ‘owed’ one, just a little bit. Overlooked in 1992 for Chaplin in favour of a career-middling turn by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, Downey has since joked “I’m probably going to win it one year when someone else deserves to win it. Why? Because it’s my time, goddamit,” and this year, he might finally be due – though few will argue it was undeserved.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Barbie also gave us a strong challenger with Ryan Gosling’s scene-stealing role as Ken. Is there some feminist analysis we make about the most talked about roles in Barbie and Priscilla being their abusive male love interests, but when movies are made about problematic men, they get the spotlight alone? Sure we could. But also, Gosling elevates the campy fun of Barbie and ties the movie together, and with I’m Just Ken he also gives us the most iconic moment in the movie. Op-eds be damned, Gosling deserves a nomination here.

The Breakouts

Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in the snow in The Holdovers

Everybody expected that May December would lead to a conversation on the performances, but Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore were the ones we all had our eyes on. Moore is great and Portman is surely in the mix to lose to Gladstone respectably, but Charles Melton emerged as the tragic hero of it all. Married to a woman who groomed him when he was just 13, he plays the part of emotionally stunted manchild perfectly without devolving into boorish cliche. There’s a vulnerable innocence, and at first you think it’s ‘the guy from Riverdale’ stuck in this teen drama impersonation, but as the film explores his character deeper, the performance emerges from its chrysalis. The late dart and element of surprise gives Melton a serious chance to upset the two-horse Barbenheimer race that RDJ seemed to be pulling ahead in.

I’m not sure he’ll make the cut, but it’s also worth spending a moment to savour Dominic Sessa in The Holdovers, as the spoiled kid left behind for Christmas. Initially a cocky brat who wants to seem more mature than he is, as the mask slips and he becomes more childlike and open, the performance deepens into something far more matured and layered on its own. Considering this is Sessa’s acting debut and The Holdovers’ strange release means the movie is destined to be overlooked, it’s worth celebrating even if it won’t win big in February.

The Holdovers is going relatively strong at the US box office, despite a late-game switch of release date and being made available on digital the same day it hit theatres. It won’t arrive in the UK until the new year however, despite being a Christmas movie.

He Couldn’t, Could He?

Robert De Niro walking towards the camera in Killers of the Flower Moon

There is some talk that Mark Ruffalo could make up the numbers in his category, and with a three way shootout between RDJ, Gosling, and Melton, the other two probably will just be seat-fillers. However, I think it’s because we’re so used to his presence that we’re overlooking the menace of De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon. In what is highly likely to be his last ever movie with lifetime collaborator Martin Scorsese, I’d like to see De Niro drink in the applause at least one more time.

Best Supporting Actor is the race to watch at the Oscars this year, with all of the frontrunners having some kind of narrative alongside just putting in a great performance. It will be tough to take for whoever loses, but whoever wins will deserve it and then some.

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