This year, I thought it would be fun to look more closely at the nominees for the biggest categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor) at the Academy Awards in advance of the ceremony instead of only doing a look back once the dust has settled.
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
I haven’t seen Green Book yet, but I have great respect for Mahershala Ali as an actor. He was great in Moonlight, which won him an Oscar in this category back for 2016. Ordinarily, winning that recently would hinder an actor’s chances, but Ali has been a standout for Green Book since it began screening at festivals. One could argue, though, that he actually belongs in the Best Actor category with his costar, Viggo Mortensen.
From the trailer and from clips online, Ali looks superb in Green Book, which traces his fussy, hyperintelligent concert performer on a tour through the deep south during the Civil Rights era.
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sometimes an abundance of enthusiasm for a movie gets an acting nomination for a performance that otherwise would have flown under the radar. Think Ethan Hawke in Training Day or Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Driver is solid as the white face of the central plan to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in BlacKkKlansman, but I don’t think I would have nominated him.
Sam Elliott, A Star is Born
I want to throw all the Oscars at Sam Elliott for A Star is Born, in which he plays Bradley Cooper’s (much) older brother and father figure, but the truth is I feel like there needed to be more. He’s so good at what he’s given but he’s barely in the movie at all. With just one or two more scenes, I feel like he would have the heft needed to win. Still, his big scene with Bradley Cooper is one of the most emotional moments in the film–and actors have certainly won an Oscar for less.
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Grant has been terrific in countless roles and movies throughout the years (Gosford Park, anyone?). In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, he finally gets the showcase he deserves as an aging and ill gay con artist in 1991 New York City. He gives a perfect balance of charm, wit, drama, and humor to the film–providing it with essential balance. Isn’t that the best definition of a supporting performance?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Ultimately, Rockwell’s biggest impression in Vice came in the trailer, where he delivered pitch perfect sound bytes as George W. Bush. In the full movie, however, there isn’t much there. He’s barely in the movie and seeing those sound bytes played out in a full scene feels like something of an SNL skit more than a fully realized performance. He’s a joy, sure, but not worthy of a nomination in my mind.
Should Win/Will Win
Richard E. Grant’s campaign has been such an unusual charm offensive that there’s a chance he may pull it off after all, but Mahershala Ali remains the heavy favorite.
But if there’s any justice in the world, Grant’s Twitter exchange with Barbra Streisand will ensure that the right man takes Oscar home. Grant deserves it (with apologies to Sam Elliott).
My Personal Nominations
Take out Sam Rockwell and Adam Driver and substitute Timothée Chalamet for Beautiful Boy and Nicholas Hoult for his delicious turn in The Favourite and we’ve got a proper footrace.