When Dev Patel’s name was called out at the BAFTAs on Sunday night, the star of “Lion” leant forward in his chair, head in hands. The vast majority of our experts, editors and users (myself included) also had their heads in their hands as well given that we had predicted Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” to win Best Supporting Actor.
In the end, “Moonlight” was snubbed in all four of its races at the BAFTAs. Ali’s failure to lock down his category has allowed Patel to sneak in with a real chance of Oscar glory.”Lion” is that rare crowdpleaser that is also admired by critics and this first film by Garth Davis is gaining traction at just the right time. The BAFTAs took place the day before Oscar voting began. While Ali has been the favorite all season and is currently at the top of our odds charts at 2/9, Patel is rising fast and could win the Oscar for the following four reasons.
1. Rave reviews
Patel’s now a proven actor, in both leading and supporting roles (including, of course, 2008 Best Picture champ “Slumdog Millionaire”), and many critics have called his work in “Lion” career-best. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter raved, “a tremendously moving performance from Dev Patel is the resilient soul of ‘Lion.’ He does arguably his most nuanced and heartfelt screen work to date.” Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post agreed, “this may be Patel’s best performance” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says his “strong, soulful, Oscar-buzzed performance cuts deep” while IndieWire’s Eric Kohn enthused, “Patel delivers his most intricate performance since “Slumdog Millionaire.””
2. Remember Mark Rylance
Last year, Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”) was the frontrunner in Best Supporting Actor, scooping up most of the precursors. However, he ended up losing to Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies.” The only other award Rylance won? The BAFTA, just like Patel. Stallone won two out of the four major awards for Best Supporting Actor; the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award. He lost at SAG to Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) and at the BAFTAs. Ali has also gone two for four: the Critics Choice, like Stallone, and the SAG. Ali lost the BAFTA to Patel and the Golden Globe to wildcard Aaron Taylor- Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”).
Both “Lion” and “Moonlight” play around with timelines and both present their main characters at different ages, being portrayed by different actors. Patel isn’t in the first half of the film but is the focus of the second, while Ali is the exact opposite: present in the first half but completely absent in the second.
Yes, Ali is seen as the ‘soul’ of “Moonlight” but he doesn’t have the film’s main role. He plays Juan, who is seen as the father figure to the main character of Chiron. Although Ali makes an impact in his scenes, his absence in the rest of the film may lead some voters to forget about him – especially when so much more emotion is brought to the story through the older incarnations of Chiron.
Patel is the main character of “Lion,” playing the older version of Saroo Brierly. That makes his supporting performance seem more important, particularly compared to Ali’s definitive supporting character. That Patel isn’t in the first half of the film doesn’t matter. Because he’s in the entirety of the second, is the story’s primary focus and gets that big, crucial, emotional release at the end, it is impossible to forget Patel.
4. The Weinstein factor
In recent times, Harvey Weinstein has been thanked more times than God in Oscar acceptance speeches. He has produced Best Picture champs “Shakespeare in Love” and “The King’s Speech,” as well as Oscar-winning fare such as “The Fighter,” “Carol,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Aviator,” “The Reader,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “Django Unchained.” EGOT champ Mel Brooks riffed on his power while accepting the BAFTA Fellowship: “Thanks to Harvey Weinstein for butting out of this award.”
Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films are faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before winners are announced on February 26 at 5:00 pm PT/8:00 pm ET. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.