By John H. Foote

‘The big three festivals that end the summer and kick off the fall always have a staggering impact on Oscar season. Films and performances are like race horses, moving ahead, falling back, disappearing altogether then surging to the finish, we pretty much have the race outlined with a few exceptions. The New York Film Festival will unveil Martin Scorsese’s three and a half hour The Irishman, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is still unseen, and the Fox News scandal Bombshell could shake up the race completely.

Let’s take a look at the Supporting Actor and Actress races and see where we sit right now. Best Actor and Actress coming tomorrow.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez exploded out of Toronto with her bravest, best performance as a scheming stripper in Hustlers, a wildly entertaining film about criminal female empowerment. With a stunning first scene on the dance pole, Lopez throws herself into her character, a whip smart stripper who figures out a way to get rich stealing from lusting, stupid men, without getting caught. Hollywood loves her, she is a major recording star who has been good but never great on screen before and might never be this good again.

Margot Robbie continues to be talked about for her enchanting Sharon Tate in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Though she says little, she infuses the film with beautiful spirit, near bliss, and deserves to be in the mix. She might be nominated for Bombshell though if it sets off the earthquake I suspect it will.

Scarlett Johansson is potentially up for Best Actress in Marriage Story, and in this category for her smiling mom in Jo Jo Rabbit. Brilliant as a German woman raising a 10 year old Nazi zealot while hiding a Jewish girl in the walls of her home. Sunny, cheerful but steely in her resolve against Hitler, the film showcases the actresses untapped depth and range.

Shuzhen Zhao is a possibility in The Farewell as a doomed grandmother unaware of her fate, 23 time nominee Meryl Streep could slip in for Little Women rather than The Laundromat, but leading the pack is Laura Dern in Marriage Story as a brilliant, ferocious lawyer who unleashes her anger and outrage in court. Dern, having scored on HBO with Big Little Lies and its sequel, could finally win that elusive Oscar. She is superb in the film. Dern could be a nominee for Little Women, which given the sheer number of fine actresses in the film, could provide more than one nominee.

Veteran and previous nominee Annette Bening might be recognized for her role in Scott Burns’ The Report, but I suspect there are greater performances this year. I had high hopes for the lovely Janelle Monae in Harriet, but the film was ordinary, and Monae was eclipsed by Cynthia Erivo.

From Cats who will it be? If audiences can get over the silly looking make up, Judi Dench seems the likeliest, though Jennifer Hudson is no slouch, even Taylor Swift (ahem) has a chance for their work in this musical.

Previous winner Brie Larson could benefit from the juggernaut Just Mercy might become and slip in as a nominee. She did solid work as a young housewife sickened by racism in the Deep South.

Suffice to say we have a race.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

A loaded category with previous Best Actor and Supporting Actor winners and nominees and a few newcomers. Expect this category to be dominated by previous nominees.

Brad Pitt is without question the absolute front runner for his deadly, though easy going stuntman Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Having never won, Pitt has reached that strange point in his career where they say he is due. Baloney! He was great in the film, giving a cool, confident performance that deserves to be praised. Like Paul Newman he is both great actor and movie star, and has evolved into a fine actor right in front of us.

Brad Pitt

Two time Academy Award winning Best Actor Tom Hanks has not been nominated since 2000’s Cast Away, and was shamefully snubbed for Captain Phillips (2013). Five minutes into A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, as he sings that iconic song and slips on that red cardigan, Hanks is gone, the actor is Fred Rogers, completely. In a soul stroking performance the actor does extraordinary work, reminding us of the exceptional talent he is.

Willem Dafoe has been in the race the last two years, and twice more before that. This year he is a likely nominee for his crass old sea dog in The Lighthouse. Speaking in a language suggested by Melville, the veteran actor gets a chance to have some fun with a very strange character, weird enough to be interesting, frightening enough to attract voters.

Alan Alda was a surprise nominee for The Aviator (2004) and could be among the final five for Marriage Story which is going to be a multiple nominee for acting. Alda is a towering talent, much loved and respected in the business and the Academy would love to see him win an Oscar to go alongside the many Emmys he won for M*A*S*H.

Christian Bale and Tracey Letts are each superb in Ford vs. Ferrari, Bale as the gifted driver, Letts as Ford. Bale does another of his disappearing acts, the weight he gained as Dick Cheney in Vice (2018) gone. Letts, best known as a playwright, is fast becoming better known as an actor. Arrogant, tightfisted, used to having his own way, he is brilliant as Ford.

Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. is, no question a huge talent. Only Downey could bring such heart, soul and biting nastiness and arrogance to his prickly Tony Stark, or Iron Man (2008). Portraying the character through the arc of the Iron Man films, The Avengers movies and in general the Marvel Universe, audiences were with him at the beginning and right through to the heartbreaking end. In The Avengers: Endgame, he brought the house down as a dedicated father, surrogate father to a revived Spider Man in the best hug of the year, and finally a heartbreaking death scene. Do not laugh, do not snicker, this could happen. If it happens, it might be the most popular nomination of the year.

Jamie Foxx has been oddly quiet since winning his Oscar for Ray (2004). Very good in Dreamgirls (2006) and Django Unchained (2012), he should break into the final five nominees as an innocent man on Death Row in Just Mercy, having given up on the legal system and any real justice. Foxx does great work here, has tremendous chemistry with Michael B. Jordan and might slip in.

Al Pacino or Joe Pesci, both Oscar winners, have supporting roles in The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s crime epic. For Pacino this is the first time he has worked with Scorsese, for Pesci, the fourth. One or both could get in, each are widely respected acting legends.

Taika Waititi gives a giddy, playful, downright silly performance as Adolf Hitler, yes that Adolf Hitler, in the superb black comedy Jo Jo Rabbit. Waititi also directed and wrote this strange film, bringing to Hitler an infectious childlike energy, perfect as he is the imaginary friend of a 10 year old Nazi Brownshirt in training. “Hello Adolf” never brought such laughter.

John Lithgow was last nominated in back-to-back years for Supporting Actor in The World According to Garp (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983). The multi Emmy winner could crack the final five as Roger Aisles in the film Bombshell, an expose on the sexual harassment goings on at Fox News. Often portraying a good decent man,audiences forget his turn as a ruthless killer in Blow Out (1981) or his serial killer on Showtime’s Dexter.

And finally, the great Ian McKellan is Gus, the wonderful old Theatre Cat in Cats. Maybe. Unlikely, but maybe.

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