Oscar voting begins on January 5, and the acting races already seem to have narrowed down after the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards announced their nominations in December. So is there still room for any underdog contenders to break through, or are the academy’s choices already a foregone conclusion? History tells us we should never say never. Every once in a while the Oscars throw us a curve ball.
Consider last year when Michael Shannon earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Nocturnal Animals.” He was nominated by the Critics’ Choice Awards, but snubbed at the SAG Awards, and even when the Golden Globes and BAFTAs nominated the film in that category it was for his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson instead. So it came as a surprise when the Oscars’ choices were announced with just one nom for “Nocturnal” — for Shannon.
In other cases, surprises happen when an underestimated cast member emerges from a film we already knew was a contender. For instance, “Silver Linings Playbook” was a top Oscar player in 2012, so we knew voters were watching it. We just didn’t expect them to like supporting actress Jacki Weaver as much as they did. Ditto Maggie Gyllenhaal, who snuck into the Oscar race in 2009 for “Crazy Heart,” likely riding the wave of support for eventual Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges.
So who could surprise us this year among underdog contenders who haven’t gotten their due yet? Consider the following eight possibilities.
Beanie Feldstein, “Lady Bird” — Saoirse Ronan is a likely Best Actress nominee for playing the title role in the coming-of-age comedy, and Laurie Metcalf is the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actress as Ronan’s mom, but voters who love the film might equally love Feldstein’s scene-stealing performance as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie. And Oscar noms run in the family for Feldstein, whose brother Jonah Hill has been nominated twice.
Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, “Get Out” — Daniel Kaluuya was singled out for his leading role across the board at the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG Awards, but so far Keener and Whitford haven’t been recognized for playing progressive parents who turn out to be the parents from hell for a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. Keener has two previous Best Supporting Actress noms for “Being John Malkovich” (1999) and “Capote” (2005), and though Whitford hasn’t been nominated before he’s a respected industry veteran with two Emmys and an additional film role this year in “The Post” that might impress voters.
Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread” — The academy loves Daniel Day-Lewis, who has won three Oscars out of five nominations. Surely they’d watch “Phantom Thread” if for no other reason than to see what may be his last performance. In doing so they may be surprised by how well Krieps holds her own as his muse, the object of his affection, and a formidable partner who refuses to let him have the upper hand.
Jason Mitchell, “Mudbound” — Mary J. Blige looks like a strong Best Supporting Actress contender for playing a sharecropper fighting for her family in 1940s Mississippi, so voters will also be watching Mitchell as Blige’s son, a heroic soldier who returns from World War II and suffers the indignities of racism back home. Voters may also remember that Mitchell gave another standout performance in an Oscar contender two years ago, as doomed rapper Eazy-E in “Straight Outta Compton.”
Ray Romano, “The Big Sick” — Holly Hunter earned Critics’ Choice and SAG Award nominations for playing the mother of a comatose girl in this unique romantic comedy, but Romano’s role as Hunter’s husband is just as showy, just as sympathetic, and just as prominent, so even though he doesn’t have Hunter’s extensive Oscar resume, he could appeal to voters just the same.
Mark Rylance, “Dunkirk” — Rylance seemed like a probable contender earlier in the fall, but “Dunkirk” hasn’t made much of an impact in acting races this season given its limited dialogue and divided storylines. But we underestimated Rylance once before: after he lost at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Critics’ Choice Awards for his supporting performance in “Bridge of Spies” (2015), he won the Oscar anyway, so if the academy likes “Dunkirk,” they may still bring Rylance along for the ride.
Michael Shannon, “The Shape of Water” — The aforementioned Shannon, a surprise nominee last year for “Nocturnal Animals” could strike again this year. Most of the Best Supporting Actor plaudits for “Shape of Water” have gone to the more sympathetic performance by Richard Jenkins, but Shannon could be a usurper again as the film’s primary villain.
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.