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Thursday 22 March 2018

Oscars blog: Best Supporting Actor and Actress - Is Sly a shoo in?

Join Meadhbh McGrath every day this week for musings on the campaign...

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed
Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed
Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Spotlight has earned him an Oscar nomination
Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short
Tom Hardy in The Revenant
Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Meadhbh McGrath

The road to the Oscars has been as long and eventful as ever. Before the little gold men are handed out, we reflect on the highs and lows of this year’s campaign ahead of the ceremony on Sunday, February 28.

Best Supporting Actor


Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – The Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone - Creed


In Best Supporting Actor, the leading contender is running on one of the strongest Oscar narratives: the comeback.

Sylvester Stallone was first nominated for an Oscar in 1977 for the original Rocky, and famously did not win, although the film took home Best Picture.

creed 2.jpg
Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed

The symmetry here is pretty irresistible: Stallone hasn’t been invited to the Oscars since then, and now, nearly 40 years later, the character has survived and brought him back.

In a not-insignificant snub, Sly was shut out by the Screen Actors Guild, which represents the largest branch in the Academy, the actors.

However, it seems like he’s in a good place here. On the campaign trail, he has spoken movingly about how he was afraid of this role and how he turned to an acting coach for the first time in decades to make sure he could pull off an ailing, weak Rocky Balboa.

His is the only nomination for Creed, as leading man Michael B Jordan and director Ryan Coogler both missed out on Oscar nods. Part of the uproar around #OscarsSoWhite related to these deserving hopefuls being left out in the cold, and Stallone has shared his views on the controversy, recalling a phone call with Coogler where he asked whether he should even attend the Oscars (Coogler of course urged him to go and represent the film).

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short

Is this just savvy political campaigning? In any case, it can’t hurt his odds.

Sly has also slowly admitted to a string of ill-advised films in his later career. By acknowledging those Expendables-shaped mistakes, he is starting to redeem himself, and people (and voters) really respond to that.

The comeback narrative is built around the idea that this nomination represents a return to form, and that’s exactly what Stallone’s campaign has been emphasising.

Of course, there is a catch here: a comeback narrative can bring you very close to an Oscar, but it doesn’t always guarantee a win. Think of Mickey Rourke, who missed out on Best Actor in 2008 for The Wrestler (it went to Sean Penn for Milk), or Burt Reynolds, who was tipped for Best Supporting Actor after his comeback performance in Boogie Nights, but saw it go to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting in 1998.

Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Spotlight has earned him an Oscar nomination

And of course, who could forget Eddie Murphy’s 2007 nomination for Dreamgirls? After losing to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, Murphy infamously walked out of the ceremony.

Back to this year’s race – nothing is for sure in Best Supporting Actor. If not Stallone, who?

Bafta went for Mark Rylance, which shows some strength on his side, although his film’s Oscar buzz has faded considerably.

It could go to someone starring in a Best Picture frontrunner, such as Christian Bale, who won Best Actor in 2011 for The Fighter, or Mark Ruffalo, who has never won, and is one of the most well-liked actors on the campaign trail.

rylance bridge.jpg
Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

The Revenant has been taking this awards season by storm, so it’s also possible that first-time nominee Tom Hardy could prove the ultimate victor on the night.


Best Supporting Actress


Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Rachel McAdams - Spotlight

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs


The Best Supporting Actress category is similarly unpredictable. It could likely be another triumph for the ingénue narrative mentioned yesterday in Best Actress.

The Academy likes to reward young actresses who have had a breakthrough year, and Swedish newcomer (and Michael Fassbender’s better half) Alicia Vikander has certainly done that: she’s appeared in seven major movies this year, including a just-as-deserving performance in Ex Machina. She’s also the stand-out style star that the top designers are clamouring to dress, and slides nicely into the role Lupita Nyong’o has held since her breath-taking red carpet reign in 2014 when she won for 12 Years a Slave. Vikander is Louis Vuitton’s new muse, and each of her gowns this awards season has been more beautiful than the last.

Gender issue: Eddie Redmayne, left, and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

When it comes to actual performances, Vikander has an edge: in The Danish Girl, she plays a long-suffering, supportive wife.

We’ve seen in the past that this is a role that goes a long way at the Oscars. The Academy loves a supportive wife/girlfriend who stands by their man, as winners such as Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Marcia Gay Harden and Jennifer Connelly can attest.

Another thing Vikander has going for her is that, like Stallone, she swamps her fellow nominees when it comes to screen time. In this case, it’s an example of blatant category fraud: Vikander is undoubtedly a co-lead in her film (and while we’re at it, Rooney Mara is definitely the lead in Carol, but ended up in the supporting category so she wouldn’t be competing against her co-star, Cate Blanchett).

Kate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol.

It helps Vikander’s chances, because it makes her performance seem more memorable, but it also has the unfortunate side effect of shutting out actual supporting work.

Sometimes, Academy voters will look at a film and think, “I liked this, where can I reward this film?” Although The Danish Girl wasn’t universally loved, it received four nominations, and this category is probably its best chance of a win, so voters who want to give it some form of recognition may see this as their opportunity to do so. This has happened before in Best Supporting Actress – we saw it last year when Patricia Arquette won for Boyhood, and in 2012 when Octavia Spencer won for The Help.

Spotlight cast: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James.

However, this category is far from a done deal. For a long time, Best Supporting Actress was wide open, and any of the nominees could have taken the gold.

There’s a chance the Academy may want to reward Carol, which received strong critical support, or Spotlight, an early Best Picture frontrunner that has lost some momentum. Voters may see a win for Rooney Mara or Rachel McAdams.

Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s comeback narrative was working early on, and many pegged her ferocious performance in The Hateful Eight as a sure-fire win.

For now, it looks like the biggest threat to Vikander is coming from Kate Winslet. Steve Jobs’ weak showing at the box office (and her dodgy Polish accent) doesn’t seem to have done much harm to Winslet’s campaign. She won Best Actress in 2011 for The Reader, and after a surprise win at the Golden Globes (and bagging the Bafta), she could easily take it home on the night.

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