Oscar Experts Typing: Can Troy Kotsur topple top ‘Dog’ Kodi Smit-McPhee?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we tackle Best Supporting Actor, which has a surging challenger.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! It’s the Friday before the first major awards show of the season. Sunday brings us the Screen Actors Guild Awards, an opportunity to see actors talk about being actors. Last year’s show was pre-taped and included nominee Bill Camp sitting in his car waiting to get vaccinated. This year’s show is a little more formal: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., and Daveed Diggs will open the show (“Hamilton” reunion with a side order of “Snowpiercer” promo for SAG broadcast partner TNT), and massive stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith are set to appear during the ceremony. We went over our predictions this week and this column isn’t about the SAG Awards anyway. (Not yet, at least! SAG Experts Typing, coming in 2024?) But I wanted to use the SAG Awards to focus on the Best Supporting Actor race. It’s one major Oscars category where we differ at the moment: I have Troy Kotsur winning for “CODA,” you have the frontrunner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, for “The Power of the Dog.” Anyone who has read this column knows you’re probably right. But here’s my case for Kotsur going all the way. Best Supporting Actor likes rewarding big performances, at least in the last 20 years. I’m thinking Daniel Kaluuya, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Christoph Waltz (x2), J.K. Simmons, Christian Bale, Jared Leto, the late Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem and — especially relevant to this discussion — Alan Arkin. Those guys tore up the scenery and were rewarded for that work. If the Oscars race is down to Kotsur and Smit-McPhee, the former’s performance fits more comfortably into that history. I’ve long connected “CODA” to “Little Miss Sunshine,” and while “Little Miss Sunshine” was a stronger Oscar contender at the 2007 ceremony than “CODA” is this year, I think Kotsur could easily follow Arkin’s caustic footsteps into the winners’ circle. And that’s before I factor in the ephemeral It Factor. Both Kotsur and Smit-McPhee have worked it this year, but I’d argue no acting nominee has acquitted him or herself better than Kotsur. He’s perfectly mixed an engaging everyman enthusiasm — an outsider finally invited in — with the weight of being the first deaf man ever nominated for an Academy Award. “With all of that struggle and trauma, I feel like I had cuts all over my body that have finally healed,” Kotsur told the New York Times after his nomination. “I didn’t realize what a big step forward this would be — even bigger than I thought — and it is truly a blessing.” I know Oscar voters don’t just vote on narratives and stuff, but that kind of heartfelt reflection feels hard to beat to me. But I don’t vote, and Smit-McPhee has dominated this season like he’s Mahershala Ali (x2). What do you think, Joyce? Does this “Dog” hunt? (Is that a metaphor?)

joyceeng: Since you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I’m not going to try to convince you to dump Kotsur, and hey — I might be wrong anyway. It’s funny how for the majority of 2021 the talk around a potential “CODA” acting nomination was about Marlee Matlin until Kotsur won the Gotham Award in November and then started racking up nominations left and right. It’s cool to see the groundswell of support around him and his historic nomination — and yes, he is working it — but part of me can’t help but feel like people were on the hunt for an alternative to Kodi for months because he feels like such an atypical winner between his age and his subtle performance, and suddenly Kotsur emerged even though he’s been there all along. This is not to take anything away from Kotsur’s incredibly charismatic performance, but like you said, he checks more of the usual boxes in terms of a winner profile, especially in this category, which was messy AF all season. Arkin is the go-to comparison for Kotsur, but “Little Miss Sunshine” was stronger (the PGA winner and a BAFTA Best Film nominee) and Arkin won the BAFTA while his biggest rival, Eddie Murphy, wasn’t even nominated. Even if Kotsur wins SAG — very possible — I think KSM will add BAFTA to his laundry list of wins and that’ll be enough. Plus, we know how strong “The Power of the Dog” is. I mentioned this the other day, but he’s only seven years younger than Kaluuya, who’s the seventh youngest winner in the category; it’s not like he’s a child. And while, yes, bigger performances tend to have the upper hand, voters are not averse to quieter turns. See: Ali in “Moonlight” and Mark Rylance. Before this seemingly became a two-horse race between Smit-McPhee and Kotsur, Ciaran Hinds looked like the probable No. 2/potential winner until SAG said HARD PASS to both “Belfast” guys. Is there any chance Pop can pop up as, I guess, a “surprise” winner now?

SEE SAG Awards film predictions: Experts’ winner picks and thoughts on the Oscars’ popularity problem

Christopher Rosen: I think if Hinds wasn’t up against Kotsur, it would be easier to imagine him pulling an upset. But the performances might feel too similar on first glance — patriarch imparting wisdom on a youngster — and unless “Belfast” is going to win Best Picture, I don’t think Hinds can win. Which is maybe a case for Smit-McPhee: If “The Power of the Dog” is winning Best Picture like we think it will, it probably has to win an acting award, and Smit-McPhee is the best bet. But what if he goes into the Oscars with just one of these major precursors. There’s a world where Kotsur wins on Sunday, Hinds takes BAFTA, and the Critics Choice Awards go with Smit-McPhee. That creates the kind of chaos we love. If there’s a three-way race, does that open things up for a fourth? Basically I’m asking if J.K. Simmons can win in a shocker. Yes, it’s 10:15 somewhere.

joyceeng: Bold of you to think Smit-McPhee and Kotsur won’t tie at Critics Choice! Even if it shakes out this way, Smit-McPhee has another precursor win under his belt from Twitter’s best awards show of 2022 (remind me again: Is laughter the best medicine?), so numerically he’d still have the edge. I agree that Kotsur and Hinds might appeal to the same type of voter, not just via their roles but their older character actor statuses as well. Simmons would also fall under that umbrella, except he’s a bigger name and a former winner. “Being the Ricardos” has had a wonky performance all season in some truly ineffable ways, but I don’t foresee it potentially winning two acting awards from its total of three nominations. We’d be remiss not to mention Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog’s” fourth acting nominee. As you know, I’ve been on the Jesse train since December, so that worked out very well for me, but I’ve never once felt he would be a threat to Smit-McPhee’s chances to win since the latter has been the consensus supporting actor pick from the film, like Rockwell was over Woody Harrelson. Or Octavia Spencer over Jessica Chastain. Or Melissa Leo over Amy Adams. Or (lol) Kaluuya over Lakeith Stanfield. What’s your take on Plemons, star of six Best Picture nominees in the last seven years (sadly, “Game Night” is not one of them)?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Is there a case for Penelope Cruz to win Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: When I first saw “The Power of the Dog,” with the knowledge that Plemons was an early frontrunner to perhaps win in this category sight unseen, I left merely whelmed. He was definitely in the movie! But I just found Smit-McPhee more captivating as a supporting actor. When I watched the movie a second time — a true requirement when it comes to “The Power of the Dog” — I left thinking Plemons might have been the best thing in the entire movie? He rules. But I think we’re a year early on the Jesse Plemons, Oscar Winner? bandwagon. He’ll probably get in that conversation for Martin Scorsese‘s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” So we’re back to Smit-McPhee versus Kotsur with a side of Hinds here. I’ll stick with Kotsur, but I’ll feel even better about this prediction if he wins on Sunday. Let’s wrap it up here, Joyce. Do you want to take a moment to honor the three SAG nominees in supporting actor who failed to score Oscar nominations? Basically this is just an excuse to boof.

joyceeng: Excuse me, you and I both know that you can only be whelmed in Europe. Of all the possible supporting actor permutations this year, the SAG Awards definitely landed on the wildest one. Flashback to when you had Jared Leto winning the whole shebang. Good times. Alas, he failed to soar like a pigeon. You eventually came around to our guy Ben Affleck getting singled out for “The Tender Bar,” but I will die on “The Last Duel” hill. I would, however, like to extend my condolences about your fave Bradley Cooper, from your top movie of the year, whose seven-minutes-and-change performance I feel like you’re still vibrating from. (At least he got that Best Picture nom? To inevitably go 0-9 😐) If it’s any consolation, my No. 1 Mike Faist was cruelly overlooked almost everywhere (we’ll always have BAFTA!), so I guess neither of us has a, uh, dog in this fight.

PREDICT the 2022 Oscar winners by March 27

Oscar odds for Best Supporting Actor
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