For all of the unpredictability this Oscar season has provided, nothing stands as more of a mystery than the Best Supporting Actor race. There are quite literally 10 actors ranging from co-leads to bit roles, coming from likely Best Picture nominees and likely one-off nominations for their films. We’ve got schemers and villains, spies and despots. Heroes and musical legends, cops and robbers. We have a child at the beginning of his his career to careers looking for an Oscar comeback. All of this year’s contenders also come with stats and/or a narrative that makes any one of them a possibility.
Let’s look at those ten. For the moment I’m going to include the Golden Globes (as well as any major critics win) with this group but for the charts below it’s only the Screen Actors Guild. The Globes aren’t industry and there’s no crossover in voting. That said, there is much to be said about momentum keeping someone in the race long enough to get them to an Oscar nomination. Once the BAFTA noms are revealed we’ll have another piece of the puzzle. Then we get to play the “Who has SAG+GG+BAFTA but is missing out on Oscar” game which has plagued so many contenders in the last few years.
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (SAG/GG, NYFCC and Boston wins)
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (SAG/GG)
Christian Bale, The Big Short (SAG/GG)
Jacob Tremblay, Room (SAG)
Sylvester Stallone, Creed (GG, NBR)
This is what the most logical top five looks like. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is pretty far out ahead with his major critics wins and SAG and GG noms. He’s assured a BAFTA so that will put him in a strong position. But it is an absolute mystery to me how he got there. He’s perfectly respectable in Bridge of Spies but it’s a nothing role and a performance so subdued it could be issued as a sleep aid. So why is he winning awards and out ahead of the pack? Why has no one, until now, challenged his place in this race? It’s like a season of such unsureness has forced people to pick a performance that is utterly benign and ineffectual and safe instead of going for something more interesting, more challenging, just…more.
Idris Elba and Christian Bale should feel pretty safe right now; both actors have individual Screen Actors Guild nominations and their films are nominated for Best Cast as well. Both actors have Golden Globe nominations although Bale’s is in Lead and in the Comedy category. But, his film has a Best Motion Picture nomination as well, whereas Elba’s does not. But, Elba’s Golden Globe nomination isn’t separated into drama or comedy, his is in supporting which combines both. BAFTA nominations seem likely for both and The Big Short is a sure Best Picture Oscar nomination whereas Beasts of No Nation could happen but is far from a certainty. Flip flop, back and forth. It’s a volley.
Jacob Tremblay (Room) secured that very important SAG nom and could become the youngest actor nominated for an Oscar in this category since Haley Joel Osment in 1999’s The Sixth Sense. Like Osment, Tremblay’s role is really a co-lead performance. But, the Oscar like to ghettoize kids into the supporting categories unless they are the sole and undeniable lead of their films like Keisha Castle Hughes in Whale Rider or Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It also helps that Tremblay is aligned with the likely Best Actress winner (Brie Larson). If he gets a BAFTA nomination he should be solid. Sylvester Stallone in Creed is looking for a major comeback and the critics have been more than willing to give it to him. He’s revisiting the most iconic role of his career (and one he already has an Oscar nomination for) and we could see a Mickey Rourke type of Although Rylance has won more more top tier critics awards, Stallone is actually the champ with a whopping 8 wins. Although he missed SAG (which he probably shouldn’t have) his Golden Globe nomination and narrative is strong enough to keep him just barely in the top five. Something of note: Stallone ended up at #2 on IndieWire’s 2015 Best Performances Year-End Critics Poll, a collection of over 200 critics. Who was #1? Mark Rylance.
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes (SAG/GG, LAFCA)
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Michael Keaton, Spotlight (NYFCC in Best Actor)
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (GG, 1 critics win here but 4 in Best Actor)
Looking at the next five we have a major contender in Michael Shannon. With SAG and GG noms and a LAFCA win, plus being a previous nominee, he’s a lock, right? Eh, not so fast. This category likes its correlation with Best Picture almost as much as Best Actor does and there’s no way 99 Homes is getting in there. It’s crazy that Tom Hardy isn’t a lock here. He’s in two likely top 5 Best Picture contenders (Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant) yet he couldn’t muster up a nomination from either SAG or the Globes while his leading co-star and the inevitable Best Actor winner, Leonardo DiCaprio, did. He seems like a prime coattail nominee. Hell, if Jonah Hill could do it, right? Problem is, since the inception of SAG only Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) and Alan Alda (The Aviator) have gotten Oscar nominations without either SAG or a Golden Globe nomination first (Alda at least got a BAFTA nom). Not very good news for Hardy.
Even worse news for Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Despite being in the Oscar Best Picture frontrunner and Spotlight having a SAG cast nomination both of these have missed these crucial stops on the way to the Kodak theater. The ‘everyone is supporting’ gambit by Open Roads Films has proven to be a pretty bad idea unless your name is Rachel McAdams.
Then there’s poor Paul Dano. A huge critics darling for his role as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, awards bodies are having a hard time deciding on where to reward him. He’s only received one citation in Supporting Actor but he’s gotten four in Lead Actor, including the Boston Society of Film Critics. No SAG or Golden Globe nomination plus this clear split on where to put him puts a chance of a nomination in major jeopardy. These speaks nothing of the guys who should be in this conversation: Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina, Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight, Benicio del Toro in Sicario, Tom Noonan in Anomalisa, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton and Sam Elliot in either Grandma or I’ll See You in My Dreams.
The last 10 years have showed us that the SAG/Oscar crossover in this category is very strong. Only once was it 3/5, all other years were 4/5 or three years saw a perfect match. Obviously that bodes very well for Michael Shannon but if it’s a 4/5 year then Shannon is probably the first to go with Stallone waiting in the wings. In the last five years, anytime an Oscar nominee was snubbed by SAG his film was also Best Picture nominated. That boosts Tom Hardy, Michael Keaton and/or Mark Ruffalo.
Occasions over the past 21 years where the winner of the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor did not win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor:
1995: Ed Harris (Apollo 13) lost to Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects)
1998: Robert Duvall (A Civil Action) lost to James Coburn (Affliction)
2000: Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich) lost to Benicio del Toro (Traffic)
– Del Toro did win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
2001: Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) lost to Jim Broadbent (Iris)
2002: Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can) lost to Chris Cooper (Adaptation.)
2005: Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) lost to George Clooney (Syriana)
2006: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) lost to Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
2012: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) lost to Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
– This is the first time in SAG Award history that the category’s eventual Oscar winner was not previously nominated by the SAG.
Now let’s look at some charts!
1995 and 1996 saw the least amount of crossover between SAG and Oscar; only two.
Only three times have the Screen Actors Guild and the Oscars matched 5/5: 2009, 2010 and 2014.
One thing that’s really interesting is how many double nominees from the same film have happened at SAG in this category (1996, 2000, 2005, 2007) yet it hasn’t happened at the Oscars since SAG started. Only one of those times, 1996, did neither SAG nominee get Oscar-nominated. Also, there were three times where one actor was nominated at SAG but another from the same film at the Oscars (1994, 1996, 2006).