Matt and Matt’s Oscar Countdown: Supporting Actors and Actresses

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By Matt Paolizzi and Matt Soderberg, Co-Student Life Editor and Opinion Editor

 


Best Supporting Actors

The Nominees

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight as Juan
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water as Marcus Hamilton
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea as Patrick Chandler
Dev Patel – Lion as Saroo Brierley
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals as Detective Bobby Andes

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Matt Paolizzi

Should Win – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

It’s one of those runaway categories, though I dislike that term and find that it’s often not true, it has to be applied to this one. Dev Patel is like his co-star Nicole Kidman, good performance, mediocre film. I’m glad he’s maturing though, I see an Oscar in the talented young actor’s future. Lucas Hedges is so funny in Manchester by the Sea. He has some tearful moments, but he really keeps a surprising humor filled yet depressing drama from falling all the way down into despondent and hopeless melancholy. The Academy made a mistake though by nominating two sheriffs in this category, like the highlander said, “There can be only one.” Aaron Taylor-Johnson should have been nominated instead of his co-star Michael Shannon. Though Shannon was poised and controlled, he didn’t bring anything really special or noteworthy. The Golden Globe winning Taylor-Johnson would have posed a significant challenge to the frontrunner of this category for his maddening and frightening portrayal of a killer. And gosh, it sure is hard to say no to Jeff Bridges! One of my personal favorites, the Dude is always solid in everything and his portrayal of a dedicated sheriff in “Hell or High Water” had me smitten. But this is Mahershala Ali’s award, might as well already have his name on it. He’s got all the hardware (except for his should-of-been rival running away with the Golden Globe) and he has the favor of many of the judges. Ali is only around for the first part of “Moonlight”, a rather short time for a character to develop. Michelle Williams has been criticized for simply no being in her film as much as she should be, and unfair criticism that misunderstands the term “supporting actor”. They are not the leads, they serve specific purposes and are shown the door when they are not needed, they don’t have to be in every scene. Then they’d be a lead! What Ali does do better than Williams is having his presence felt. Even after the character stops showing up, his spirit is intertwined with the film. Serving as a father figure for the protagonist, it’s a shock when we find that he’s looks very similar to how Ali looked in the beginning of the film. He acting is purposeful, his little monologue on the beach that gives the film its title is lovely and so wonderfully delivered. Ali is helped by the framing of the film, it does make him seem so much grander than he really is. But he is not undeserving, far from it. His final scene in the film, a saddening confrontation with the young protagonist, someone he has quickly taken as a sort of son, is soul-crushing and gut-wrenching. Supporting actors are judged on defining moments, and Ali has his.

Will Win – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

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Matt Soderberg

Should Win – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Supporting actor offers up an interesting mix, one that, until a few months ago, seemed destined to lead to Mahershali Ali for his brief but powerful turn as a drug dealer and benefactor in Moonlight. At the Golden Globes, however, the winner of the category was not even an Oscar Nominee – Aaron-Taylor Johnson in Nocturnal Animals. His costar Michael Shannon gets the nod here for his Michael-Shannon-y performance as a dying sheriff in the south. He’s the best part of the movie, but can’t stand up to the rest of the category. Jeff Bridges gets a nomination for Hell or High Water that should have gone to costar Ben Foster (who would have been my pick to win) but Bridges is certainly deserving, playing a Texas lawman on the hunt for two bank robbing brothers. It’s yet another category Hell or High Water will come close to but walk away from unrewarded. Teenager Lucas Hedges is absolutely astounding opposite Casey Affleck as a boy who’s just lost his father. He plays the most honest, least-movie-like teenage boy maybe ever seen on screen. He won’t win, but the nomination is a sign that he will be back. Dev Patel’s performance in Lion transcends the genre, but isn’t worthy of a nomination. The best performance belongs to Ali, whose restrained, exposition-less moments in Moonlight provide some of the most powerful moments of the year. (Yeah, the beach scene.) Fortunately, I think the Academy will side with me on this one.

Will Win – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

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Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees

Viola Davis – Fences as Rose Maxson
Naomie Harris – Moonlight as Paula
Nicole Kidman – Lion as Sue Brierley
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures as Dorothy Vaughan
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea as Randi

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Matt Paolizzi

Should Win – Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

A profoundly interesting category. All five nominated actresses are all established in film with no real “rookies”  among the bunch, and  I didn’t outright hate any of the performances. Nicole Kidman plays an adoptive mother in “Lion”, an emotional role that doesn’t offer much else, but she shines along with Dev Patel in an otherwise underwhelming film. Octavia Spencer was one of the bright spots  in “Hidden Figures”, another film I found underwhelming and overrated. Naomie Harris really impressed in “Moonlight”, I’m glad to see Tia Dalma from “Pirates of the Caribbean” really branch out and challenge herself, I’m sad she isn’t being talked about more. But much like any other category however, there’s always the two (or three) that always impress the most. Viola Davis has achieved front runner status after clearing out most of the big hardware so far like the Critic’s Choice, BAFTA and SAG awards for Best Supporting Actress. However, it wasn’t too long ago that Michelle Williams was considered the frontrunner. And deservingly so. Her presence in “Manchester by the Sea” is powerful. She plays Casey Affleck’s ex-wife, and the story of the broken marriage is heartbreaking. When ever she’s on camera, the world stops. Whether it’s a flashback of happier times or the present day, Williams commands attention. Both of the favorites (Davis and Williams) both have one scene that’s being pointed to as Oscar worthy. Davis’ tearful confrontation with her husband, and Williams’ already iconic stroller scene. Both are emotionally jarring, but what sets Williams apart is her nakedness, her barebones emotional outpouring. Davis still sounds like she’s reading lines (technically she is performing a play), albeit very well, but Williams is so organic. Her tearful cries to her ex-husband, it’s clear she still loves him, begging for just a lunch together. I won’t spoil anything, but there is an ugly, horrible history they have full of tragedy and you can feel it. She apologizes through the tears that she’s sorry for all the pain she caused him, all the hell she put him through. We don’t need to see that hell, we feel it, we know it happened. It’s all over her face. If you aren’t weeping by the end of that, you don’t have a soul.

Will Win – Viola Davis, Fences

But, despite this, it’s Viola Davis’ night. She is adored in Hollywood and amongst the public, and seeing again as she’s got all the awards she can carry already it’s inevitable she’ll end up with one more. “Fences” snuck up on a lot of critics, overnight Michelle Williams went from being a favorite to a footnote. It’s a shame, but Davis is deserving and it won’t be a massive tragedy. I’ll be slightly upsest, but not like when Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor over Michael Keaton in 2014. That will always be unforgivable and most definitely caused my irrational dislike of Redmayne. Not you fault buddy, thank the Academy for that.

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Matt Soderberg

Should Win – Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

This category is rough for me. I wish Viola Davis had been nominated for Best Actress (Fences is just as much hers as Denzel’s) and her inclusion in a supporting role fills out an already crowded field. Nicole Kidman will be overlooked here, and though she doesn’t deserve to win, her turn in Lion is really touching and avoids all sappiness. Naomie Harris as the drug-addicted mother in Moonlight is sublime, and she has one scene towards the beginning that nearly makes me want to give her this category. If she wins, there will be no complaints. Octavia Spencer is great in Hidden Figures, but she’s the wrong choice from  the film. Where’s Taraji P. Henson? Spencer will be crowded out by the talent that surrounds her in Figures. That leaves the two leading contenders for Supporting Actress, Viola Davis and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. Davis is almost offering a master class in acting in the role she played in the recent Broadway revival. But Williams, in her few moments (seriously, she’s not in the film for long) gives hands down the best acting of the year. I think the Academy will go for Davis, and that’s really a justified pick, but I’d give the slight edge to Williams.

Will Win – Viola Davis, Fences

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