Just when things started to look predictable in the Best Supporting Actor Oscar race the Golden Globes came along and threw us a curve ball: presumed frontrunner Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) was upset by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”). Taylor-Johnson was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild, but maybe Ali is not as strong a frontrunner as most pundits once thought. We could be headed for another stunning upset because we may be underestimating Dev Patel (“Lion”), who is on his second individual nomination.
“Lion” is based on a true story and adapted from the nonfiction book “A Long Way Home.” In it Patel plays Saroo Brierley, who was adopted by an Australian couple after getting separated from his family in India when he was five. But 25 years later Saroo decides to seek out the family he lost.
“Lion” has performed unexpectedly well this season, scoring nominations at the PGA Awards, DGA Awards (Garth Davis) and SAG Awards, where it contends twice: Best Supporting Actor (Patel) and Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman). While Patel does not appear in the first hour of the film he owns the second half giving the kind of tear-jerking performance that often wins awards. With the film’s uptick in momentum it might start winning major prizes, and this could benefit Patel most of all in pulling off a victory.
Patel first came into the awards conversation in 2008’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Slumdog Millionaire,” an underdog story of a young man (Patel) trying to win the popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” For his performance Patel received his first SAG Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”) and won Best Film Ensemble as part of the cast. Patel also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor, but with confusion around which category he belonged in he was ultimately snubbed at the Oscars even though the film went on to dominate those awards with eight wins.
Since “Slumdog” Patel has had a series-regular role in HBO’s “The Newsroom” and various film roles. Most notable among these was the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” series co-starring some of Britain’s most respected actors and actress, including Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith; the first of the two “Marigold” films earned Patel another SAG Award nomination for Best Ensemble. Now that he is better known it is possible that his fellow actors will feel that the time has come to make up for not awarding him for “Slumdog” and see this as the perfect opportunity.
Ali’s inability to win at the Golden Globes might be attributed to his relatively limited screen time in “Moonlight.” Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”) and Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) have more significant screen time but lack the kinds of big emotional fireworks that usually win awards. Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) straddles lead and supporting and is a comedic scene stealer, but “Florence Foster Jenkins” hasn’t generated as much buzz as the other films in this race. That leaves Patel, who is the emotional center of his movie and gives a guilt-ridden, heart-wrenching performance as his character searches for his birth mother.
According to Gold Derby’s exclusive odds Ali remains the frontrunner to win the SAG Award as of this writing with overwhelming odds of 1/10. Currently in second place is Bridges with odds of 20/1, but he recently won a SAG Award and an Oscar for Best Actor for “Crazy Heart” (2009), so they might not feel the urgency to award him again. In third place is Patel with odds of 40/1, which does make it appear as though he is a long shot. But Taylor-Johnson was in fourth place with odds of 66/1 at the Globes, and look what happened there.
If Patel should pull off the upset, it would give him the necessary momentum going back to his home turf at the BAFTAs where he will have to face off against not only Ali but his fellow Brit Taylor-Johnson, and should Patel win there as well we might be looking at our new Oscar frontrunner.
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