The Chaotic Oscars’ Supporting-Actor Category: Are Jared Leto, Ben Affleck, and Jesse Plemons in this?

With the Golden Globe winners and SAG Award nominations announced this past week, the race for the supporting-actor Oscar has cemented a front-runner—and a whole lot of uncertainty beyond him. Ahead, David Canfield and Rebecca Ford identify the few they can safely say will be recognized by the Academy, and the many others with a shot to fill out the field.

David Canfield: If you weren’t clear on whether the Screen Actors Guild’s nominating committee chose chaos, Rebecca, then its supporting-actor picks should be enough to convince you. The group left conventional wisdom at the ballot box, lifting the hopes of a few bubble contenders while humbling a few candidates trying to ride their front-running films to their first-ever Oscar noms. But one clear throughline is emerging, at least, as to who might be the man to beat: Between dominating critics’ wins and getting recognized by all the major precursors so far, The Power of the Dog’s Kodi Smit-McPhee is top dog. (Sorry.) So before we get into the mess beyond him, do you agree? And who’s emerging as a potential challenger?

Rebecca Ford: Yes, I totally agree with you on Smit-McPhee, David. Just like his character in the film, he’s really showing up strong and sort of out of nowhere. I have to say I love that Wednesday’s SAG Awards nominations were chaotic because I think we’re all craving a little bit of drama in this season—after all, the events where we usually get such drama are non-existent for at least the next month. Anyway, I would have answered your question completely differently two days ago, but it’s true that SAG has very much shaken up this category. I do think Troy Kotsur from CODA may now be Smit-McPhee’s biggest competition. He won the Gotham award, and earned Critics Choice and SAG Awards nominations. And CODA clearly has some renewed momentum behind it, also earning an ensemble SAG nom too. Who else do you think has increased momentum in this category based on the most recents news?

Canfield: CODA is gaining momentum fast, and to your point, other than Smit-McPhee, Kotsur is the only actor to have landed nominations consistently across SAG, the Critics Choice, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTA longlist. So at minimum he feels like our other lock for a nomination. I’m also pretty surprised to say I like the chances of Licorice Pizza’s Bradley Cooper; transparently, upon seeing the movie, while I greatly enjoyed his performance I just didn’t think he had the screen time. Getting a SAG nomination for the Paul Thomas Anderson film, which is a big overall contender (the Academy’s acting noms always lean toward strong best-pic players, relative to SAG), is no small thing. Since the category is more shapeless than ever, I’d bet on him making the final five. And who knows, maybe he can keep surprising and Judi Dench his way to an upset. 

SAG’s list was rounded out by Jared Leto for House of Gucci and Ben Affleck for The Tender Bar; the former also showed up with Critics Choice, and the latter with the Globes. But both are still very vulnerable in my eyes. With Leto, it depends on how much of a force you see House of Gucci being. Actors clearly like it, but as we’ve seen with past SAG nominees like Da 5 Bloods and The Big Sick, that doesn’t always mean a ton. Leto’s performance is polarizing, if memorable, and if Gucci isn’t landing with the Academy outside of best-actress lock Lady Gaga, he needs to work hard to maintain momentum. Affleck, meanwhile, is on even more of an island; he’d likely be the only nominee for a small, poorly reviewed movie in The Tender Bar. Despite hitting a few key precursors, he could meet a similar fate to his current partner, Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers’ lone torch-carrier who couldn’t cross the Academy finish line. (Affleck also missed BAFTA’s 15-man longlist, which does not bode well.)

But then again, these guys beat out stiff competition for the SAG five! Rebecca, what is your read on their chances, and who might overtake them? Surely Belfast gets someone in here?

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