By John H. Foote

The current group of actors leading the pack for nominations for Best Supporting Actor have a total of 33 nominations between them, both leading and supporting nominations. Of those 33, six resulted in wins, five in the Best Actor category.

This year’s race for Best Supporting Actor already has 11 actors in the mix, any five would be deserving of a nomination and only five are nominated.

Brad Pitt

A month ago, before both TIFF and the NYFF, Brad Pitt was the crowned king, that Oscar was as good as his for his frightening efficient stunt man in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s re-imagining of the Manson murders in 1969.

Now, to say the least, Pitt has some very stiff competition from some of the greatest working actors.

Though Pitt is still leading the race, closing in on him is Al Pacino for his superb Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman. Portrayed with volcanic fury by the actor, for once his volume and over the top acting style fits the role to perfection. Hoffa was a bombastic, loud bully, and Pacino has his best role in years as the doomed labour leader, and responds with a brilliant performance.

Tom Hanks is a bit of a surprise in this category as children’s TV host, the legendary Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Was he not the lead? Not according to the films’ producers who are campaigning him as supporting. Not nominated since his breathtaking performance in Cast Away (2000), expect him to be nominated as Rogers, for inhabiting the character flawlessly.

Alan Alda is a highly respected actor, nominated for just a single Oscar, but likely to be among the nominees for his lawyer in Marriage Story. Radiating intelligence, as he has always done, the actor is powerful in one of two great supporting roles in the film, and the likeliest to be nominated. With multiple Emmy wins, he is a much revered actor who would not be out of place as an Oscar winner.

Anyone who doubts Robert Downey Jr. deserves to be nominated, go back and watch Avengers: Endgame. Watch his face, his eyes during the scenes with his long dead father when they encounter each other through a time bend. Watch his eyes and body language when he and Spiderman come face to face once again, and experience the depth of his grief at losing “the kid” and the staggering depth of love he possesses for his own child. If nominated, and he might be, make no mistake, he deserves to be among the nominees.

Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe has been a nominee the last two years, once for Supporting last year for Best Actor, taking his number of nominations to four. As the aging vulgarian sea dog in The Lighthouse, he is superb, having a great deal of fun in a challenging role. Spouting dialogue based on the language and words of Herman Melville, Dafoe is again most deserving, creating a rude, hard drinking but wise old man who the sea has used up and spat out.

Joe Pesci, Oscar winner for Goodfellas (1990), is best known for his fury-filled characters in that Martin Scorsese film as well as Casino (1995), but in The Irishman he is the polar opposite of those rage-fueled men. Calm, polite, even elegant, Pesci came out of retirement for Scorsese to be in the film. Lucky us, and he responds with a performance that should garner him another nomination.

Twenty eight years have passed since Anthony Hopkins won his Oscar as Dr. Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and though nominated three times since he has never won again. He might be back for his work in The Two Popes, as one of the two Holy Fathers guiding the Catholic Church. As always Hopkins is superb, he and Jonathan Pryce offering a master class in great acting.

Director-writer Taika Waititi also played the cuddly, wide-eyed Hitler, the invisible playmate of a 10 year old Nazi zealot in Jo Jo Rabbit. Unlike any previous screen Hitler we have ever seen, Waititi is hilarious as an energetic, hyper active advice offering Fuhrer in a very funny performance. Nutty enough to get him nominated, brilliant enough to win, this wildly original film was a major hit at TIFF.

Though it has been 15 years since Jamie Foxx won his Oscar as Ray Charles in Ray (2004) he has never been absent from the screen. His work as the Death Row inmate in Just Mercy might have him back in the Oscar race as he brings grit, rage and grace to his character. If the film clicks, look to see Foxx among the nominees.

And finally, John Lithgow as disgraced Roger Aisles in Bombshell, could impress enough to earn his first nomination since consecutive nominations in 1982 and 1983. Lithgow is the great unknown, but given the film’s cast and director, it is hard not to see it in the race.

Any five of the men would be worthy of a nomination and though it is too early to predict who they will be, count on me doing that later in the year.

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