Oscar Gold 2019 – Best Supporting Actor

With the Screen Actors Guild Awards taking place last weekend, three of the four acting categories begin to take greater shape, including Supporting Actor. This year’s field isn’t as strong as it’s been in previous years, and as such I think it’s very possible that we’ve already got this one sewn up. Be that as it may, that’s not what we’re here for. I’ll leave the official predictions for Oscar weekend itself. Here, we’re just going to adjudicate the nominees.

I am going to call a bit of shenanigans before we get started, however. First, it is an absolute crime that Timothée Chalamet was not nominated for his brilliant performance in Beautiful Boy. This is literally the only major award he’s not up for. He was nominated for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG, and while it’s unlikely he’d have won given the results of two of those ceremonies, it’s really messed up to leave him out here, especially in favor of Sam Elliott, who only got a SAG nod out of those three.

Also, we have a bit of Category Fraud this year in this field. For those not in the know (or who can’t infer) the term refers to nominations – particularly in the acting categories – where studios and voters assign a performer to a less competitive category in hopes of delivering easier wins. It happened a couple of years ago when Alicia Vikander, who was certainly the female lead of The Danish Girl, was instead nominated for Best Supporting Actress to ensure she’d win against a weak field rather than create an actual debate between her performance and the Best Actress winner, Brie Larson from Room. When a film is submitted for the general ballot, the studios can suggest a category, but the voters don’t necessarily have to abide. That means the fraud can come from either side. Most often it’s from the studio suggesting a less competitive category, and other times it’s the nominating branches overruling that very suggestion. Either way, it almost certainly happened here.

This year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actor are:

Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Ali has already chalked up two major wins from the Globes and SAG, and given the overall love that Green Book has gotten on this year’s awards circuit, you have to assume it’s his to lose. And it’s hard to argue against him. He’s a wonderful actor who blew audiences and critics away with his performance in Moonlight, which won him his first Supporting Actor Oscar two years ago. And despite the mild controversy of Green Book (Don Shirley’s family calls the film a pack of lies and some critics think it whitewashes racism too much), a large part of the film’s success is in his stoic, heartfelt, and calmly hilarious straight man performance.

But as I mentioned in the preamble, this is Category Fraud. I would argue that an honest viewing of the film would show that Don Shirley is the main character, rather than Tony Lipp, played by Viggo Mortensen, who is nominated for Best Actor. This is Shirley’s story with Tony in the supporting role. He’s literally hired to act in a supporting capacity. I know that screenwriter Nick Vallelonga – Tony’s son – would argue his dad is the lead, but objectively, he’s not. By rights Ali and Mortensen should flip categories. But by doing it this way, you all but guarantee Ali his second Oscar in three years, because there’s really only one other contender in the category, whereas if he were up for Best Actor he’d have to compete with Rami Malek and Christian Bale. He’ll probably win, and his performance is great, but it just won’t feel right.

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Adam Driver is arguably the best character actor of his generation. I never watched Girls, but from what I hear, he played a very unique character over the course of the show’s run. Also, over the last couple of years he’s done a few really strong comic roles, particularly in Logan Lucky. And oh yeah, he’s Kylo fucking Ren! All the youthful angst of Hayden Christensen without any of the whining about Natalie Portman!

In BlacKkKlansman, his comic chops are on full display. Being the go-between in Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the KKK is about the most thankless job in the movie, particularly given that Driver’s character, Flip Zimmerman, is Jewish, and is therefore no more welcome in the Klan than Stallworth’s black ass. Playing double agent while maintaining his charisma and sense of comic timing is a great accomplishment, and the rapport he eventually develops with John David Washington as Stallworth feels completely organic the entire way through. I hope this is just the first of many nominations he gets over the course of his career.

Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
I’ve loved Sam Elliott for years. He’s about as reliable an actor as there is in Hollywood, and he’s well overdue for some love from the Academy. Hell, a lot of people are. Thankfully, the man doesn’t age, so he has plenty of time to win.

But honestly, I just don’t get it here. As Jackson’s brother and manager Bobby Maine, Sam Elliott is just, well, Sam Elliott. He talks in his trademark drawl, offers a few witticisms, says, “fuck” to Bradley Cooper’s face, and waxes poetic about addiction towards the end. There’s really nothing that stands out about this particular performance. He’s a tremendous actor, and in the right role, I’d be all for him getting a nod. But here, it’s just him. There wasn’t a single second where I was able to separate actor from role.

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It’s weird. For an actor who’s been in the game for almost 40 years, I hardly knew anything about Richard E. Grant before seeing this movie. I saw Gosford Park years ago, but didn’t remember him specifically. He’s been a guest star on Doctor Who, which is cool, but again, nothing stood out. Apparently he was even in Downton Abbey. Okay, sure.

What I’m saying is, it took a long time for a breakout role, and my God did he ever bring it when given the shot. Jack Hock was the single funniest character in all of 2018 cinema. And honestly, if you’re going to deal with addiction issues in the Supporting Actor category, forget Sam Elliott’s sideline commentary and just watch Grant steal every goddam scene he’s in! He and Melissa McCarthy play off each other tremendously, a comedic duo seemingly ordained by the heavens. And he even hits a lot of Academy box checks in that his character is gay, has addiction issues, and is eventually afflicted with disease. If it weren’t for Mahershala Ali this would be a no contest!

Sam Rockwell – Vice
Okay folks, I’m going to clue you in on a little secret. This is highly sensitive information, so please use discretion. Okay? Okay. It turns out that George W. Bush is an idiot. Shocking, I know. Even more so, he’s easily manipulated by people way smarter than him. I’m sorry to keep hitting you with these curveballs, but it’s essential to the complexity of Sam Rockwell’s performance. He won last year for his amazing work in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and he’s up for a possible repeat, so we have to understand the depths he had to plumb to get this performance just right.

Or, you know, just give him some makeup and hair to make him look like W. then let him act stupid while affecting the voice. Either way. I mean, he gets points for being believable, but honestly, this role was just too easy for him. And as I mentioned in my review, there were not only better supporting performances in Vice, but it would seem in bad taste to award the dumb clown version of Bush right after Poppy Bush died.

* * * * *

My Rankings:
1) Richard E. Grant
2) Mahershala Ali
3) Adam Driver
4) Sam Rockwell
5) Sam Elliott

Next up: We’re going to start some analysis of the man in the mirror, or more appropriately, the men and women making the man in the mirror look like someone else. It’s Makeup & Hairstyling!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Which performance do you think should win? Who do you think got snubbed? Do you believe Ali’s nomination is Category Fraud? Let me know!

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