If, as Ed pointed out yesterday, supporting means its own antonym in the world of Oscar, then a wide-open race also means the opposite. Maybe it's just that full-time awards-circuit journos have the same rooting interest in the illusion of competition that bookies do—bookies who, despite acknowledging a frontrunner, still see this as the closest of the four acting categories. Sure, the myth of a nail-biter is likely to make the eventual four losers feel a lot better, but then again, so can a goody bag filled with a vaporizer, trips to Israel and Japan, the world's most expensive toilet paper, and a blood-migrating breast lift.
Much as we'd love to see Mark Ruffalo finalize his transformation into beardom with a freshly plumped vampire rack, he joins Tom McCarthy's Spotlight co-star Rachel McAdams as probably the least likely to win in their respective categories. It's not problematic in and of itself that, as a pavement-pounding reporter, he gets the film's one unabashed moment of Oscar-clip scenery-chewing as he rips his editor's decision to sit on a story (a moment, having worked in newsrooms, I'd have to say Spotlight could have used plenty more of). But his righteous tantrum doesn't mesh with a film that tastefully flaunts its cohesive ensemble.
At least Christian Bale, recalibrating his glass eye throughout Adam McKay's Brah-ll Street, and Tom Hardy, spitting out slasher-movie threats ever more zealously as The Revenant devolves single-mindedly into a horse opera of vengeful machismo, operate within their film's basic frames of reference. But Bale already has a still-fresh Oscar for The Fighter, and Hardy and Ruffalo will have many more opportunities down the line.
So back to the bookies and the Oscar bloggers' inside track, who are both closely following the party line of a five-way race, a story plainly contradicted by empirical evidence. So you have to ask which storyline does an evenly matched Oscar contest best serve? That of the underdog, obviously. It shields the meek and the humble from the taint of self-promotion. And Oscar's never cottoned to an underdog quite so conspicuously as they have Rocky Balboa.
Sylvester Stallone lost best actor the first time around with this character when his eventual defeater, Network's Peter Finch, died on the campaign trail. Stallone, now nearly a decade older than Finch was at the time, works the same weary bulldog territory The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke did eight years ago. We rightly guessed Rourke wouldn't collect the trophy on pity alone, asking “Does Hollywood as a whole really feel it owes Rourke anything?” But to judge from the standing ovation Sly earned at the Golden Globes, and in comparing the inflation-adjusted revenue he's brought Hollywood against what Rourke had circa 2008, it's obvious that Hollywood not only feels it owes him this one. The underdog has finally earned their respect.
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Could Win: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed