While “Moonlight”’s Mahershala Ali is the favorite for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, watch out for Hugh Grant for his change-of-pace performance opposite awards darling Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” He plays St. Clair Bayfield, the supportive husband of the title character, a woman who fancies herself a singer. Currently, we have Grant ranked at fifth in this race, with odds of only 14/1 to prevail on Oscar night. However, I think we are underestimating his chances based on the following three reasons.
1) Grant does some of the best work of his long career in Stephen Frears’ dramedy – a role where’s he both a cad and a loving husband at the same time. We aren’t even sure we like his conniving character for most of the film. Yet Grant brings warmth, depth and plenty of raw emotion – making Bayfield a fully shaped and shaded human and not just the side to another wonderful show by Streep.
There’s one moment, towards the end, where Bayfield tends an ailing Florence and Grant’s pained smile, tears in eyes, as he delivers the line “I was never laughing at you, yours is the truest voice I’ve ever heard” is one of the most genuine pieces of on-screen acting this year.
That he goes toe-to-toe with Streep, sometimes even outshining her. Rising up to her level is commendable for any actor. Indeed, he even surpasses her at some points to carry the film.
2) Grant is more of a co-lead than a featured player. Sometimes, ‘supporting’ actors are not that at all – rather they are equal to the lead performers, be it in relation to screen time or the role’s importance to the film. Grant is both in this film, much like Christoph Waltz was in “Django Unchained.”
In comparison to the other potential nominees, Grant’s role is more crucial to the overall film. Ali only appears in the first third of “Moonlight.” Golden Globes champ Aaron Taylor-Johnson has one major scene in “Nocturnal Animals” and then appears again briefly towards the end. And he is vying for a nomination with co-star Michael Shannon. Lucas Hedges, too, is excellent but it’s all about Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea.” Dev Patel (“Lion”) and Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”) have more substantial parts, particularly Patel, but still not as much as Grant. By the final scene, we’re in love with Grant’s character and he’s the emotional anchor.
3) Grant has a 30-year career in films. The academy love to reward veterans, particularly in this category as evidenced by three of the last five winners — Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies, 2015); J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash,” 2014); and Christopher Plummer (“Beginners,” 2011). This bodes well for Grant, with four of the other five contenders all being young actors with their entire careers ahead of them. The fourth contender, Bridges, is also a veteran – but he’s already won an Oscar fairly recently (2009 Best Actor, “Crazy Heart”). Grant has never even been nominated and this is the perfect chance to reward him for a storied career.
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