Watch out for these Oscar underdogs for Best Supporting Actor: Ben Foster, Kevin Costner & more

This year’s Oscar Supporting Actor race has seen four actors — Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”), Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) and Dev Patel (“Lion”) — nominated at each of the four top precursors: Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTAs. For the sake of argument let’s assume that makes them safe for nominations at the Oscars. If there’s one slot potentially open, could there be a surprise?

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Most likely to fill the last remaining slot based on how they’ve performed at the precursors are Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”) and Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”). Taylor-Johnson gave us the first big surprise of the season when he unexpectedly took home the Golden Globe and then built his momentum with a BAFTA nomination. Working in his favor is that it’s been 40 years since the Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor was snubbed at the Oscars. Then there is Hedges, who not only won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Young Actor/Actress but was also nominated for Supporting Actor and then received a SAG Award nomination. But the Oscars don’t typically nominate young male actors — just ask Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”), the last two Critics’ Choice Award winners for Best Young Actor/Actress.

Then there are a trio of actors who have shown up at one precursor award each: at Critics’ Choice both Ben Foster (“Hell or High Water”) and Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”) competed, and at the Golden Globes Simon Helberg (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) was a surprise nominee. There’s just one problem: each is from a film with another potential Supporting Actor nominee, and no film has earned two nominations in the category since Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley both were nominated for “Bugsy” 25 years ago (they lost to Jack Palance, “City Slickers”). So these three men may need to overtake their co-stars. Most likely to do so is Shannon, a past Oscar Supporting Actor nominee (“Revolutionary Road,” 2008) and an also-ran last year (“99 Homes”), so they might want to make it up to him, which could leave Taylor-Johnson on the sidelines.

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But the Oscars sometimes go their own way, nominating a performer who was not nominated by any precursor. According to Gold Derby’s exclusive odds as of this writing Liam Neeson (“Silence”) has the best chance of sneaking in with odds of 66/1. Neeson is a known entity to the academy, a past Best Actor nominee (“Schindler’s List,” 1993), so he may still have a shot even though “Silence” has underperformed this season.

Our odds might also be underestimating Kevin Costner’s chance of an upset for “Hidden Figures” as he is currently in 13th place with odds of 100/1. “Hidden Figures” is on a roll at the box office and could be peaking at the perfect time for Costner to break through. Keep in mind the Oscars are also familiar with him as he won Best Picture and Best Director and was nominated for Best Actor for “Dances with Wolves” (1990).

Oscars record for ‘La La Land’: Will it be the 3rd film ever to receive 14 nominations?

Sometimes appearing in a film that is expected to do well at the Oscars can help an unlikely performer sneak in, since we know voters will be watching their films. Among actors hoping to ride the coattails of their films include Stephen Henderson (“Fences”), Jeremy Renner (“Arrival”) and John Legend (“La La Land”), each with odds of 100/1.

Henderson, who revived his Tony nominated performance, could benefit as both of his Tony winning co-stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are expected to be nominated. The same can be said of Renner, a past two-time nominee (“The Hurt Locker” in 2009 and “The Town” in 2010), whose co-star Amy Adams is expected to be nominated for Best Actress. Giving him an even bigger boost is that his film is expected to earn 10 nominations so it’s almost guaranteed that the academy’s voters have seen his performance.

It would be a shock for Legend, a past Oscar winner for Best Song (“Glory” from “Selma,” 2014), to receive an acting nomination for his relatively small role in “La La Land,” but he is in the Best Picture frontrunner, both of his co-stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are expected to be nominated and depending on how much the acting branch of the academy loves “La La Land” he could ride that wave to a nomination.

Regardless of who gets in, it will probably be an interesting morning on Jan. 24.

Predict the Oscar nominations now; change them till January 24

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films are faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.

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