Could Sam Elliott (‘A Star is Born’) replicate James Coburn’s upset victory at the Oscars?

The Oscar race for Best Supporting Actor is shaping up to be all Mahershala Ali all the time for “Green Book,” but is there a chance Sam Elliott (“A Star is Born”) could still upset for his role as tortured musician’s manager? It looks like a long shot, but this particular Oscar category often serves as a de facto lifetime achievement award, and as such Elliott could follow a trajectory similar to James Coburn‘s victory for “Affliction” (1998).

Coburn was a veteran actor who had never received an Oscar nomination before, just like Elliott. And Coburn had inconsistent results at precursor events, only earning nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Awards before his Oscar win — and he had lost both of those. Likewise, Elliott has had mixed results, earning nominations at the Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards but missing out at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. And he didn’t win either of those major noms either.

But Coburn still won on Oscar night, so maybe Elliott will too. Granted, Coburn had the advantage of a divided field where Ed Harris (“The Truman Show”) had won the Golden Globe, Robert Duvall (“A Civil Action”) won the SAG Award, Billy Bob Thornton (“A Simple Plan”) prevailed at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Geoffrey Rush (“Shakespeare in Love”) ended up with the BAFTA Award. So there was no clear industry or media consensus. This year, however, Mahershala Ali seems to have taken all the air out of the room with wins at all four of those events, so Elliott might have much more of an uphill climb.

But perhaps Ali’s victories are deceptive. He won the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award after losing both of those two years ago for “Moonlight,” for which he would go on to win the Oscar, so he had an IOU from those two groups. And the SAG Awards have never been shy about giving multiple prizes, as evidenced by seven victories in a row for Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”).

The Oscars, on the other hand, may be reluctant to reward Ali again so soon. No one has won two acting Oscars so close together since Tom Hanks went back-to-back in Best Actor for “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994) more than two decades ago. And Ali’s “Green Book” role comes with baggage since the family of the man he plays, pianist Don Shirley, has disputed the film’s depiction of him.

That could be the opening that Elliott needs to join the auspicious list of veteran Best Supporting Actor champs like Coburn, Jack Palance (“City Slickers”), Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) and more. Indeed, three of the Expert journalists we’ve polled think Elliott will surprise: Andrea Mandell (USA Today), Kevin Polowy (Yahoo) and Claudia Puig (KPCC), all of whom have updated their predictions just since February 13, a day after Oscar voting got underway. So they might be onto something.

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until winners are announced on February 24.

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