Earlier in the awards season, Willem Dafoe was the outright frontrunner to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn as the hotel manager in “The Florida Project.” His work has been hailed by critics as heartwarming, touching and the soul of the movie – an all round excellent performance. It’s superlatives like these which mean he is still favorite to win the Oscar in mid December.
But his lead has been cut dramatically by Sam Rockwell of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” His scene-stealing performance as a racist police officer in Martin McDonagh’s film has already won him awards from three of the regional critics groups (Dafoe has nine wins and counting with these scribes.)
According to our 26 Oscar experts from major media outlets, Dafoe enjoys only a slight edge in the race. He now has the backing of 12 experts and odds of 27/10 to win an Oscar. Rockwell has 10 votes and odds of 14/5 (See the rankings of the experts in 22 Oscar categories.) Let’s take a closer look at these two Oscar rivals.
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Both Dafoe and Rockwell have mixed indie fare like their current films with blockbusters. Indeed, both have played villains in superhero films (Dafoe as the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man” and Rockwell as Justin Hammer in “Iron Man 2”)
Dafoe has been nominated twice before at the Oscars (he lost the Supporting Actor races in 1986 for “Platoon” and in 2000 for “Shadow of the Vampire”). Rockwell has yet to break through with the actors branch. Indeed, his Globe and SAG nominations for “Three Billboards” are his first solo bids from any major awards group (he was nominated at SAG as part of the ensembles of “The Green Mile” and “Frost/Nixon”).
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Dafoe, who is 13 years Rockwell’s senior, could lay claim to the veteran narrative, which was part of the winning strategy of the two most recent Supporting Actor champs: Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”). Like Dafoe, they gave soulful performances that lay at the heart of their respective films.
However, unlike Dafoe, both Rylance and Ali won their Oscars on their first-ever nominations. Thus, the academy is not reluctant to award newcomers over previous nominees (Rylance beat past nominees Mark Ruffalo, Christian Bale and Sly Stallone while Ali edged out Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon). This fact should reassure Rockwell.
Another plus for Rockwell is that he plays the villain of the piece. Oscar voters love to reward men behaving badly like previous winners of this category J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” and Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds.”
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