After a December of critics’ awards and nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Critics’ Choice, a lot of Oscar categories that were wide open seem to have slammed shut, with most slots spoken for and only a small number of plausible candidates still fighting for the remaining seats. Is there any room left to maneuver for the underdogs ?
Well, no, not much, but sometimes there’s just enough wiggle room for one or two actors to break through unexpectedly. Usually it happens when an underestimated cast member emerges from a film we already knew was a contender. “Silver Linings Playbook” was one of last year’s top Oscar players, so we knew voters were watching it. We just didn’t expect them to like supporting player Jacki Weaver so much in it.
Same with Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart.” The film was on voters’ radar thanks to Jeff Bridges‘s performance, so his on-screen love interest went along for the ride even though few other awards groups singled her out for her featured role.
Below, five performers on the fringes of their races whose names might still be called on Jan. 16.
Jennifer Garner, “Dallas Buyers Club“
Most of the attention for the film has gone to the men, but even though Garner didn’t undergo a drastic physical transformation as did Matthew McConaughey or Jared Leto, her role as a compassionate doctor is no less important to the story’s emotional arc. The film earned a surprise Best Ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards, which means industry support for the film extends beyond McConaughey and Leto.
Jeremy Renner, “American Hustle“
Bradley Cooper is the actor most likely to earn a Supporting Actor bid for “Hustle,” thanks in large part to the fact that he really plays a lead role. Renner, as a corrupt New Jersey politician, has less screentime and thus is at a disadvantage. But we know the academy likes Renner — he’s been nominated for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town” — so if they embrace “Hustle” as much as we expect it’s possible they’ll nominate him alongside Cooper, or maybe even instead of him.
Will Forte, “Nebraska“
Forte may have the most screentime in “Nebraska,” but that didn’t keep Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”), Jamie Foxx (“Collateral”), or Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) from earning nominations in the supporting categories. Forte has already been singled out in that race by the National Board of Review and Independent Spirit Awards, which solidifies his candidacy. While his role is subdued, voters might be impressed by the “Saturday Night Live” alum’s previously unseen dramatic chops as he holds his own against co-stars Bruce Dern and June Squibb.
John Goodman, “Inside Llewyn Davis“
The Emmys didn’t give him a trophy until 18 years after the first of his seven consecutive nominations for “Roseanne”; he won in 2007 for a guest turn on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Maybe the Oscars mean to make him wait as long. He has established an impressive big-screen track record, including prominent roles in the last two Best Picture-winners (“The Artist” and “Argo“). Though his role in “Llewyn Davis” as a drug-addled musician is brief, it’s showy and memorable. Best Actor is probably too crowded for star Oscar Isaac to sneak in, so Goodman might be this film’s best chance at an acting nomination.
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12“
The challenge for Larson will be getting Oscar voters to watch “Short Term 12,” but if they do she’s a real threat. Consider that she went head-to-head against Cate Blanchett‘s “Blue Jasmine” performance at the Gotham Awards and won. She has also been nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards and, more surprisingly, the Critics’ Choice Awards where she earned a Best Actress bid over Oscar rivals Amy Adams (“American Hustle”) and Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color“). However, Larson missed out at SAG, which has been key in helping indie performances get noticed before (Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson,” Demian Bichir in “A Better Life”), but hope is still alive.
Do any of these actors still have a chance? If not, are there other underdogs we’re foolishly underestimating? Sound off in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
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