‘Darkest Hour’: Are we underestimating its supporting acting Oscar chances? Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas …

It is almost a foregone conclusion that Gary Oldman will win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” He has leading 7/5 odds to win, according to Gold Derby’s exclusive predictions, far ahead of second-pace contender Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) at 4/1 odds. Oldman also just scored noms at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Despite this confidence, the odds do not favor nominations for any of Oldman’s “Darkest Hour” co-stars. It has been a decade since the eventual Best Actor winner was not Oscar-nominated with at least one co-star.

The dismissals are further curious because Gold Derby is predicting “Darkest Hour” for seven total nominations, including Best Picture and a win for Best Makeup and Hair. Ben Mendelsohn and Ronald Pickup have 100/1 odds for Best Supporting Actor and Kristin Scott Thomas ranks ninth with 66/1 odds for Best Supporting Actress. Focus Features is also campaigning Stephen Dillane and Lily James in those respective categories.

I have had Ben Mendelsohn fourth in my predictions and am steadfast in this ranking after seeing the film open the 17th annual Whistler Film Festival, three weeks ahead of its scheduled domestic wide release on December 22. A specially recorded message from director Joe Wright preceded the screening; the film went on to win the WFF Audience Award. Mendelsohn plays King George VI, a role that won Colin Firth Best Actor for “The King’s Speech” seven years ago. “Darkest Hour” takes place a few years after the main events of “The King’s Speech,” so Mendelsohn downplays the iconic speech impediment. It is Mendelsohn’s overall restraint that is likely hindering him in predictions, but it is welcome characterization opposite Churchill’s exaggerated persona.

Subtlety and lack of screen time have actually been far from detrimental in the Best Supporting Actor race in recent years. Following wins for showy performances from Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained,” 2012), Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club,” 2013) and J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash,” 2014), the academy has gone in a markedly different direction with its last two winners: Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies,” 2015) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight,” 2016). This shift has also manifested in the nominations; the academy opted for a pair of world-weary lawmen over the larger-than-life villains whom they hunted last year, favoring Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”) over Critics’ Choice- and Independent Spirit-nominated Ben Foster, as well as Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”) over Golden Globe-winning and BAFTA-nominated Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

SEE our exclusive video interview with Joe Wright.

Do not count out Mendelsohn even though he was snubbed by the Globes; I predicted this. It would not be the first time that the ultimate Best Actor winner pulled a supporting player across at the last minute. Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant,” 2015) won the Globe, SAG Award and BAFTA without Tom Hardy even being nominated, despite Hardy’s home advantage for BAFTA, the Globes’ penchant for foreigners and both groups awarding “The Revenant” Best Picture over eventual Oscar winner “Spotlight.” Hardy’s only major precursor nomination came from the Critics’ Choice Awards, which have an extra slot per category. Gold Derby gave Hardy 40/1 odds, ranking him ninth. Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Crazy Heart,” 2009) did not even have that; Jeff Bridges basically swept the season, always as the film’s lone acting nominee — until the Oscars, when Gyllenhaal joined him.

Just as Mendelsohn is reminiscent of the last two winners in his category, Thomas’s impression of Clementine Churchill fits the archetype of the last two Best Supporting Actress winners: Viola Davis (“Fences,” 2016) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl,” 2015) both played the supportive wife of the protagonist. Three Best Actor-winning characters in the last decade have had supportive wives; all were nominated: Felicity Jones (in lead for “The Theory of Everything”), Sally Field (“Lincoln”) and Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”). The other Best Actors’ characters were either unmarried (DiCaprio, McConaughey, Bridges, Penn, Day-Lewis) or separated (Affleck, Dujardin).

Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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