The good news: last year’s Oscar season is over. The bad news? This year’s Oscar season has begun. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have weeks of Q&As and gaudy pull-quote ads to process, but by this time last year, “Whiplash,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood,” three of this year’s big winners, had already premiered. And you can bet that publicists and executives have already started planning their campaigns for the next season, even when the films are only just entering production.
And as we’ve done for the past few years, we’re exorcising our demons and spending the week running down some of the premature possibilities for films that have been released so far that seem at a distance like they could have the right stuff for Oscar gold.
After examining Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress, it’s time to look at Best Supporting Actor. Last year’s race was one of the least competitive in memory: it seemed pretty clear that J.K. Simmons was going to win from about six months in advance, and as if they knew, the other movies offered up so few worthwhile parts that the Academy had to nominate Robert Duvall for
still being alive “The Judge.” As ever, the supporting categories are particularly hard to call this far out, but whatever happens, it looks likely to be a more competitive year than 2014. Take a look below, and let us know who you’re backing in the comments.
Ken Watanabe — “Sea Of Trees”
Twelve years after his nomination for “The Last Samurai,” and following a number of roles in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like “Inception” and “Godzilla,” we could be seeing Ken Watanabe back in the awards conversation by the year’s end. The Japanese icon is starring alongside Matthew McConaughey in Gus Van Sant’s “Sea Of Trees,” in which the pair play two suicidal men who meet in Japan’s Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji, just before they take their own lives. From everything we hear about Chris Sparling’s script, it’s very emotional stuff with two meaty roles for the stars, and there’s every reason to think that Watanabe will be in the race in this admittedly unpredictable category.
Mark Rylance — “Bridge Of Spies”
Perhaps the most respected British stage actor of his generation, a winner of Olivier, Tony and BAFTA awards (and a strong contender for an Emmy this year too, for the BBC mini-series adaptation of “Wolf Hall”), it took a while for cinema to catch on to Mark Rylance. He’s had only a handful of screen credits over the years, from experimental fare like Derek Jarman’s “Prospero’s Books” and Patrice Chéreau’s controversial “Intimacy,” to unlikely supporting turns in actioners with Jason Statham and Sean Penn. But Hollywood is now keen on the actor, and he’s a new favorite of Steven Spielberg: Rylance is playing the title character in next year’s “The BFG,” but first up he has what we hear is the meatiest and most crucial supporting role in Spielberg’s Tom Hanks-starring Cold War drama “Bridge Of Spies.” It’s too early to say if Rylance will make the grade (Alan Alda has a key role too, and may be seen as more overdue than Rylance), but we have a gut feeling that voters are going to like what they see.
Idris Elba — “Beasts Of No Nation”
The “Luther” star was unlucky a few years ago: he was terrific in the otherwise disappointing “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” but a tough year in the Best Actor category saw him go unrecognized. Don’t expect that to be the case forever, especially with his role in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts Of No Nation,” as a fearsome army commander who oversees the child soldiers the film focuses on. If the book’s anything to go by, it’ll be a memorably villainous turn of the kind that often triumphs in this category: the biggest speed-bump is one raised in the last few days, when Netflix acquired the movie, their most high-profile feature pick-up to date. They’ve made it clear that they’ll be pushing the film hard for awards, and we believe them, but will voters follow theater chains in rejecting the movie, or will the controversy barely register, and the wide availability of the film actually prove an advantage?
Samuel L. Jackson — “The Hateful Eight”
Besides screenplay, if there’s any category where a Tarantino movie is worth watching for, it’s in Best Supporting Actor: his films have had four nods in the category, including two wins for Christoph Waltz. With a murderer’s row of character actors, his latest film “The Hateful Eight” feels like it should have multiple possibilities, but the one we’re backing most is Samuel L. Jackson, who plays bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. The film is a true ensemble, but Jackson gets the most-Tarantino-esque monologues (though Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern in particular are ones to keep an eye on here), and feels like the most obvious one to stand out from the pack. Plus Jackson should have gotten Waltz’s nomination for “Django Unchained,” and 21 years on from losing for “Pulp Fiction,” he’s still never won an Oscar. Assuming the film lives up to Tarantino’s high standards, we could have our potential winner here.
Tom Hardy — “The Revenant”
Unlike Brit contemporaries like Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hardy has yet to break into the Academy club. But he’s about to have a big year: thriller “Child 44” hits soon, blockbuster “Mad Max: Fury Road” lands in the summer, and he’s a dark horse contender for Best Actor for playing both of the Kray Brothers in “Legend” (our gut instinct there is that it won’t be the Academy’s cup of tea, but we’ll see). But given Alejandro González Iñárritu’s track record with actors (all of his films since “21 Grams” have received acting nods, and “Birdman” got three), it could be his upcoming collaboration with the Mexican helmer on “The Revenant” that gets Hardy into the club. The film’s certainly Leonardo DiCaprio’s show, from what we hear, but word is Hardy has a meaty part as the main adversary, so even if “Legend” doesn’t come off, it’s still entirely possible that we’ll be seeing him as a nominee.
The Next 5:
Billy Bob Thornton — “Our Brand Is Crisis”
There’s a brace of ace character actors backing up Sandra Bullock in David Gordon Green’s “Our Brand Is Crisis,” including Scoot McNairy and Anthony Mackie. But if the film follows our predictions and heads for an “Argo”-ish awards run, the most likely candidate for an Alan Arkin-style nod might be Billy Bob Thornton. The “Sling Blade” Oscar-winner had some years in something like the wilderness, but “Fargo” reminded everyone what he can turn his mind to when he’s engaged, and he’s got a pretty good role in ‘Our Brand,’ as a rival political consultant/adversary to Bullock on her quest in Bolivia. It’s the kind of smarmy, charming antagonist that Thornton should revel in, and could be a chance to land his first nod since “A Simple Plan” in 1999.
Seth Rogen — “Steve Jobs”
Jonah Hill is now a two-time Oscar nominee (and deserved both nods), which is not something that any of us would have thought a decade ago. Hill’s pal Seth Rogen hasn’t yet managed to do the same, despite some impressive dramatic work in Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.” But just as Aaron Sorkin helped Hill to his first nod in “Moneyball,” Rogen could get a hand from the “Newsroom” creator by playing Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s Sorkin-penned biopic of Steve Jobs. A key figure in the development of the Macintosh, it should let Rogen play to his comic strengths while also showing off his dramatic turns, and could well flourish under Boyle’s direction, and opposite co-star Michael Fassbender. The bigger question might be if he’ll have enough screen-time: Wozniak left Apple in 1987, and the structure of Sorkin’s script means he’s probably only in the first third of the movie. If he makes enough of an impression, that might not be a problem, but the film has other co-stars (Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz, Jeff Daniels) that might end up outshining him.
Robert De Niro — “Joy”
As we’ve remarked elsewhere, David O. Russell’s movies have become nomination-grabbing machines: “The Fighter” got three (and won two), “Silver Linings Playbook” was the first film since “Reds” to pick up acting nods in all four categories, and then “American Hustle” managed the same feat only a year later. So, while “Joy” sounds like it’ll be more of a one-woman show than the ensembles of the other movies, focusing principally on Jennifer Lawrence, there’s sure to be chances for other actors to get involved. Édgar Ramírez and Bradley Cooper are popping up in supporting roles (the latter would get a fourth nomination in a role if he managed one for this, but we hear his role is closer to a cameo), but Robert De Niro could be the better bet: he’s playing Lawrence’s father in the film, and Russell demonstrated with “Silver Linings Playbook” that he knows how to get the best out of the legend, resulting in De Niro’s first nomination in two decades. Assuming the role’s more substantial than the one he had in “American Hustle,” De Niro could be right back again.
Harvey Keitel — “The Early Years”
De Niro’s “Mean Streets” co-star Harvey Keitel has, remarkably, only received one Oscar nomination ever (for “Bugsy” in 1992, not one we’d immediately think of as one of his highlights). Now 75 years old, and the latest performer sponsored by Wes Anderson, Keitel’s starring as Michael Caine’s longtime best friend, a film director, in “The Early Years,” the new film from “The Great Beauty” helmer Paolo Sorrentino. Assuming that the film isn’t as puzzlingly bonkers as Sorrentino’s last English-language pic (“This Must Be The Place”), and that it picks up a distributor and release date after its expected Cannes bow, it could be an irresistible opportunity for the Academy to recognize not just one, but two veteran stars, and provide Keitel with some long overdue acclaim.
Sylvester Stallone — “Creed”
Bear with us. It’s been tainted by all the sequels over the years, but let’s not forget that the original “Rocky” was an Oscar phenomenon — nominated for ten awards, winning Best Picture, and picking up four acting nods, including one for Sylvester Stallone. The actor’s returning to the character again, but “Creed” promises to be something else: it’s a semi-spin-off focusing on the son of Apollo Creed, to be played by Michael B. Jordan, with Rocky moving into a Burgess Meredith-type trainer role, and for the first time in years, Stallone’s trusting his trademark franchise with someone else; the film’s written and directed by Ryan Coogler, whose “Fruitvale Station” was emotional but not crass. Plus *SPOILER* Stallone leaked script pages that revealed that the film sees Rocky battling cancer, which is always a boon when it comes to acting nods. If Coogler pulls off a tricky job and revitalizes the franchise, we wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see Stallone reminding everyone of his acting chops, and the film’s awards-friendly November release date could help him land a nod.
Also In Contention: Again, we counted out Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Tadanobu Asano when “Silence” slipped to 2016, but if the film speeds up again, they may yet figure into the race. Sundance favorite “Brooklyn” could also provide some possibilities with Emory Cohen or Domhnall Gleeson. Or there’s Ben Kingsley and James Badge Dale in “The Walk,” Ben Whishaw in “Suffragette,’ Jack O’Connell in “Money Monster,” Steve Carell in “Freeheld” or Chris Cooper in “Demolition.”
“Lost” star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a potential potent part in “Concussion,” or the film could provide Albert Brooks with that overdue Supporting nod. “Far From The Madding Crowd” has multiple options in Matthias Schoenaerts (who could also figure in for “A Bigger Splash”), Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge, as does “Spotlight” with Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Liev Schreiber, and “Black Mass” with Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton or Corey Stoll.
Sticking with crime flicks, “Triple Nine” could see one of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul or Anthony Mackie with a nomination, while “Sicario” has Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Chris O’Dowd could make it for “Icon,” as could Alden Ehrenerich for Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes flick, while Bill Murray has another chance with Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha.” Keep an eye on Kyle Chandler for “Carol,” Paddy Considine or Sean Harris for “Macbeth,”and Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland for “In The Heart Of the Sea,” while two-time winner Christoph Waltz could be back with “Tulip Fever,” which also has supporting roles for Jack O’Connell and Zach Galafianakis. Anyone else? Let us know in the comments.