It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
In just under two weeks the best of the best of 2016 cinema will be celebrated and I have some thoughts on the subject. I find it very interesting that there are pairs of supporting nominees from three different films this year (Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Lion). I can’t recall when or even if that has happened before. It’s a testament to the strength of those three films in particular.
Here are the my predictions for supporting actor and actress.
It seems like every year this category is one of the most robust. Each and every one of these actors delivered marvelously.
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
From House of Cards to Free State of Jones to Luke Cage to I’ve been impressed with Mahershala Ali in everything I’ve seen him in. Moonlight is no different. In this film he portrays Juan, the crack dealer who reaches out to “Little” Chiron and serves as a surrogate father figure through his formative years. While only in the first act of the story his impact is felt throughout, both Juan’s impact on Chiron and Ali’s impact on the audience. He could have played this role very one-dimensional but Ali is commanding and complex. He also happens to be the strongest part of this well-crafted film.
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
I was so glad to see Bridges nominated for this role. It’s not only because he’s great but because it could have been easy for the Academy to see this as a variation on his Rooster Cogburn portrayal which it certainly isn’t. If Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton feels familiar to anything it might be Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men. And just like Bell, Hamilton is on the verge of retirement. While in some films that can feel like a tired trope. In this one Bridges keeps it fresh but familiar. That’s the brass ring of movie making.
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
This must be considered one of the breakout performances of the year. I didn’t remember Lucas Hedges in Moonrise Kingdom but his performance in Manchester by the Sea is unforgettable. As the film progresses you begin to realize that Patrick Chandler is as much a central figure in this story as his uncle Lee (Casey Affleck). His selfishness and insecurities are so genuine that if he didn’t get it right everything Affleck has boiling under the surface wouldn’t work. Thankfully it does and the film is all the better for it.
Dev Patel, Lion
Like most people I discovered Dev Patel back in 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire. Many felt he should have been nominated for best actor. But in fairness it was a deep year. And while this year is also very deep in the supporting category Patel isn’t on the outside looking in. In Lion his character Saroo, like in Slumdog, is a child in India. Saroo is separated from his family at the age of 5 and a few months later adopted by an Australian family. Patel plays the 25-year old version of Saroo on his way to Melbourne to study hotel management. Patel carefully plays the building unsettledness of a man coming to grips with wanting to find his home and tell his family he was alive. But what struck me most was the accent work Patel did. He adeptly did what would be an accent of a person who spoke Hindi in northern India but then was raised by Australians. At one point he’s doing a scene with Nicole Kidman who plays his adoptive mother. I thought how intimidating it might have been to be doing an Australian accent in a scene one-on-one with an Australian best actress winner. If he was it certainly didn’t show.
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
In a film with several excellent, award-worthy performances it is Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Andes that gets the glory. This is the only Oscar Nocturnal Animals is nominated for but it could have been up for several more. While Jeff Bridges gives us a cantankerous, smart-mouthed Texas lawman in Hell or High Water, Shannon’s shows gives us his more subdued son, a formidable Texas lawman in his own right. Shannon brings an ease to the performance that enhances some of the more tense and disturbing moments of the film. His story arc drives the third act and stands out among several emotionally significant elements in the conclusion of this well-made film.
SELBY PICK: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
PREDICTION: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
A subtle and nuanced performance Ali rises to the top of a group of very impressive performances.
Some really outstanding work done in this category this year although it’s not as tight a race as the fellas.
Viola Davis, Fences
Although these actresses are listed alphabetically I’m writing about Viola Davis as Rose Maxson in Fences last because I have been saving all my superlatives for her. In a film full of enormous performances she might be the best of them all. Denzel gets all the attention but Viola is the real hero. That’s no knock on Denzel. He’s awesome. But this movie wouldn’t be what it is without her. My wife and I were discussing her this morning. She made a comment about the best actress category and I pointed out how Viola Davis was nominated for supporting actress. She was dumbfounded. “Supporting?” My thoughts exactly.
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Unlike her co-star Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris’ performance in Moonlight is far more amped up. But unlike Juan, Chiron’s crack-smoking mother Paula appears throughout the film. Harris unpacks all the layers of this complex character on a complex journey of remarkable transformation. Naomie Harris has tricks in her acting kit few others have dared to touch. She wields them like a master.
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Sometimes it makes sense to recreate a real person’s look when they are portrayed on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. Robert Downey, Jr. as Charlie Chaplin. You get the idea. If you don’t get the look right it really hurts the performance. However, Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierley the Australian woman who adopted Saroo, a 5-year old boy who was separated from his family in India is probably not a character that required recreating her appearance on screen. Nailing the bright red short, curly hairdo really wasn’t necessary. And it was a bit distracting from Kidman’s performance. She is serviceable in the role but honestly as I’m writing this I’m having a hard time remembering anything about her performance but the wig.
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
I wrote in a previous article how I like Hidden Figures. But that’s about it. I “LIKE” it. I didn’t love it and I’m not sure I fully agree with Octavia Spencer’s nomination. But every time she’s on screen in this movie it’s delightful. Most everything about this movie is enjoyable, including Octavia Spencer.
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
If I had to guess at Michelle Williams total screen time in Manchester by the Sea I’d ballpark it around 9 minutes. If she wins it won’t be the shortest to win. In fact, it would be somewhere around the third shortest. Judi Dench won based on her 8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love and the queen of getting the most bang for your buck is Beatrice Straight. She took home the Oscar in 1976 for her 6 minutes in Network. I don’t dispute those wins and I don’t begrudge any of them for making the most of their role. Lee Chandler is the center of this film. But if the performances around him don’t hold up it doesn’t work. Just like Hedges as Lee’s nephew Patrick, the role of the ex-wife needed an expert. Michelle Williams delivered.
SELBY PICK: Viola Davis, Fences
PREDICTION: Viola Davis, Fences
She won a Tony in 2010 for this role on Broadway. She’ll win an Oscar for it in 2016.