It's become something of an annual tradition at the blog to go through, once the dust has settled from the SAG and Golden Globe nominations, to see where the race stands, and specifically figure out who amidst the nominees looks headed toward Oscar immortality and who will be left as the Marilyn Hack. The reality is that most of the people that were nominated for one of these awards will be nominated in a few weeks with AMPAS, but not all of them. In fact, only once in the past year have we encountered a season that left us with a completely SAG/Globe-blessed Oscar race, in 2006 (mostly due to the strangeness of the Supporting Actor race, where they were so split across the board that there weren't as many options as usual for Oscar to strike out on his own). Here's a rundown of recent races that went off-the-beaten-path and went with someone that the precursors largely ignored:
2015: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Hardy, and Mark Ruffalo
2014: Bradley Cooper, Marion Cotillard, and Laura Dern
2014: Bradley Cooper, Marion Cotillard, and Laura Dern
2013: Jonah Hill
2012: Quvenzhane Wallis, Emannuelle Riva, and Jacki Weaver
2011: Gary Oldman and Max von Sydow
2010: Javier Bardem
2009: Maggie Gyllenhaal
2008: Michael Shannon
2007: Laura Linney and Tommy Lee Jones
2006: Zero (let's pay attention people-we've already been over this)
As you can see, especially in recent years, Oscar has had a mind of his own, but the question is-who does he end up going stray with this year? Below I've chronicled the Top 10 most likely candidates to get in even if they haven't been mentioned yet, with Number One being the most filled-with-hope of the remaining candidates. Weigh in below in the comments over who you think is your dark horse contender for the race!
For Her: Her surprise victory at LAFCA earlier this season definitely put Gladstone on the map, and this is a category where there's a high susceptibility for a nomination without a major precursor, since the Globes/SAG went 5/5 with the supporting ladies. After all, Octavia Spencer was a surprise consensus choice (sometimes, like Leo DiCaprio in J. Edgar that's a bad thing) and Nicole Kidman has defaulted before (The Paperboy). Gladstone is getting best-in-show raves against Oscar favorites like Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, and occasionally the Academy goes completely against-the-grain, especially in this category.
Against Her: People like Jacki Weaver had more buzz, and more fame, than Gladstone did, and will this make it to the top of the screener pile without an easier hook or another performer from the film also commanding buzz? It's pretty quiet, and it's not like Kelly Reichardt has ever been an AMPAS draw before.
9. Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)
For Him: For starters, he's a fine actor in a film that is on the edges of a Best Picture citation (anyone else able to get a gage on if this is happening for the top prize?), and he's actually good in it. Plus, one could argue that they owe Foster, and they know it-he's been consistently great in most films he's done for the past decade, and they occasionally like to mark a longtime character actor with a nomination ala Michael Shannon or Stanley Tucci. They'll already be watching this for Bridges...
Against Him: ...but will that end up being a hindrance? No film has had two nominations for Supporting Actor since 1991's Bugsy, and would the Academy start again this year, particularly considering there is a pretty solid batch of diverse contenders in the running for this trophy? It's a hard sell to make.
For Him: On paper, there's so much going for Keaton. He's a recent Oscar nominee who has headlined two back-to-back Best Picture winners, and yet he hasn't managed to score a win despite there being an enormous amount of momentum indicating he could do so. He's starring in a showy biopic from the Weinsteins, who don't really have a horse in this race but should never be entirely counted out of the Oscar race.
Against Him: Where's the buzz? Honestly-Best Actor this year is supremely weak, in my opinion, and there's a lot of room for an upset like this to happen, but has anyone even seen this movie-why has this picture, at one time considered a serious player for the trophy here, essentially disappeared from contention? Is it because it isn't any good, because that's going to hinder it greatly in actually getting a random citation (random citations are usually for either films that are over-celebrated or critical darlings-you don't oftentimes make it if you aren't one of those two things).
7. Matthew McConaughey (Gold)
For Him: Like Keaton, McConaughey has been sort of an omnipresent factor in the Oscar race since his big AMPAS break a few years ago. He's one of the undeniable movie stars of the moment, and he has the rare ability to combine critical with commercial and invite himself to the Oscar talk. It felt like after Dallas Buyers Club he'd probably be back soon-could a stealth campaign work for him here?
Against Him: I'm getting a Jen-Aniston-in-Cake vibe here (which isn't entirely bad-I liked Aniston in Cake), but she didn't make it to the Oscars with that "movie that doesn't exist" sort of campaign, and I wonder if that could be the case with McConaughey. Honestly, this is the sort of year for Best Actor where you could get in on name alone, but I'd expect at least a teensy bit more buzz if that were going to happen.
For Her: The Best Actress field largely named most of the nominees at the Globes and SAG Awards. Honestly, the woman who almost certainly would have been #1 on this list (Isabelle Huppert) inexplicably landed at the Globes, and so for the most part I didn't have much to say here...except for Henson. She's a huge star now, and this film is likely A) going to be seen by a lot of people and B) could end up being a pretty across-the-board hit with the Academy as it's populist and warm in a year where there isn't a lot of populist and warm (it's been my surprise Best Picture nominee prediction for months). Could Henson find room in a volatile Best Actress field?
Against Her: Unlike Best Actor, there's a lot of legitimately strong names here. She'd essentially have to compete against the likes of Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, or Amy Adams, which is a tough sell. Plus, her fame is mostly from television, not film, which could hurt her a bit in sinking a second nomination.
5. Liam Neeson (Silence)
For Him: I have felt that Liam Neeson is about as perfect of an Oscar nominee choice as one could make for months now. He's graduated well beyond his first nod 23 years ago, becoming a major action movie star but one who brings gravitas thanks to his pedigreed chops. Everyone's heard of him, and it's not like Marty Scorsese has had issue landing tough guys Supporting Actor nods before. Anyone else feel a bit William Hurt in A History of Violence about this spot?
Against Him: Is this role big enough? I've heard comparisons to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now!, which would be a tough sell, but honestly the lack of buzz in general is what's holding me back from a NGNG selection here. Neeson is famous enough to win this trophy if he was a legit threat-if that were the case, wouldn't he be nominated at least at the Globes?
For Her: I've said above that I think that Supporting Actress has some room to grow, and if anyone's sort of "arrived" at the cinema this year, it's Monae. She's potentially starring in two Best Picture nominees, she's a warm presence onscreen, and honestly seems like she'd be a blast at Academy events. AMPAS hasn't shied away from nominating two women from the same film in this category before (it's the most common acting category for it to happen by-far), and Cher, Bette Midler, and Peggy Lee can attest that they aren't snobs about going for musicians that take on a second career.
Against Her: They haven't gone for a crossover star in a while (just ask Justin Timberlake), and could she lose out on support from Octavia Spencer? There might be an attitude of "she's young, she'll have others," if the Oscars are feeling cautionary about handing out a first shot to someone so new to the world of acting but famous somewhere else (perhaps Jennifer Hudson's less-than-stellar film career could be a hindrance?).
3. Tom Hanks (Sully)
For Him: He's a two-time Academy Award winner who is being directed by a man who has overseen 13 Academy Award-nominated performances. I mean, that in and of itself could keep Hanks in the conversation, not to mention that he's been on a bit of a streak recently in terms of critical and commercial success (gone are the days where you couldn't count on Tom Hanks launching a movie), and he's playing a real-life hero in a year where we could use a few of those. All-in-all, this feels up the Academy's sleeve.
Against Him: AMPAS has been so weary of Hanks in recent years even when they're more than willing to nominate his films. Pictures like Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies were Best Picture citations but somehow couldn't make it to Best Actor-could it be that the Academy has just moved past him (it happens-see also Emma Thompson, Susan Sarandon, and Ed Harris)? His lack of a Globe or a SAG despite being one of the most recognizable movie stars on the planet has me thinking that this could be just people not feeling him anymore.
For Her: Gerwig was on most people's predictions lists prior to the Globe and SAG nominations. She did score at the BFCA and is getting raves for her work in 20th Century Women. She's also still in that age group that Oscar tends to notice women (33, getting a bit old for Oscar's first date but not too much so-that's AMPAS sexism, not mine, commenters), and she's a consistent presence in arthouse cinema even if she hasn't broken out with general audiences quite yet.
Against Her: The Frances Ha nomination at the Globes sticks out like a sore thumb for me, in that they already knew she existed, and could have played along with giving her the nomination instead of Spencer. That they didn't makes me wonder-is 20th Century Women playing too small? Bening is also at risk in Best Actress, and movies in recent years have struggled in trying to gain late buzz by doing a "screeners and NY/LA only" strategy (just ask Selma and Cake). I wonder if A24 badly underestimated people's desire to seek this film out without more buzz-it feels like the sort of picture that would have been much smarter in October.
1. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
For Him: Despite Aaron Taylor-Johnson randomly getting in with HFPA, Shannon actually got the bulk of the critics' praise for Tom Ford's latest. More to the point, Michael Shannon just missed last year for 99 Homes, and was in pretty much every film that came out in 2016 (seriously-he made ten movies according to IMDB). That sort of determination is sometimes rewarded (just ask Jessica Chastain), and this is his best shot of the ten. The Supporting Actor field is still influx, and he's made it to the AMPAS dance before.
Against Him: The fact that Taylor-Johnson got a nomination at the Globes sort of makes me wonder if there's more ticket-splitting happening than expected. Additionally, while I do think there's some vulnerability there, Jeff Bridges, Lucas Hedges, Mahershala Ali, Hugh Grant, and Dev Patel all look collectively like an Oscar lineup. Hedges is young and Grant could lose vote from category confusion, but I totally buy them as a lineup. That being said, if one falters, I think it's going to be Shannon who takes his place.