Why a person is nominated for a supporting actor or actress Oscar often has a lot to do with riding coattails, which probably explains why it takes so long for awards prognosticators to pin down the nominees in these two categories: It’s all about waiting to see which films catch fire at the box office—or on the blogosphere, where most Oscar campaigns seem to be launched nowadays. At the start of the awards season, which begins for some almost as soon as the credits roll on any given year’s Oscar ceremony, few of this year’s likely nominees seemed to be on anyone’s radar. Even Heath Ledger, whose death has been largely attributed to his intense thesping as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, was making few shortlists many months ago until everyone collectively agreed that a nomination for the late actor would be something more than just a gesture of remorse. Another sure lock, Robert Downey Jr. will receive his first nomination in more than a decade for his role in Ben Stiller’s wretched Tropic Thunder in a bid that seems less like a reward than a consolation for there being no room for him in the Best Actor category for his performance in Iron Man. And seeing as Sean Penn and Meryl Streep are locks in the Best Actor and Actress categories, it seems impossible to imagine Josh Brolin and Philip Seymour Hoffman missing out here given how their respective performances in Milk and Doubt are inextricably bound to those of their costars. That leaves one wild spot, and though we’re tempted to give it to Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire, to do so would acknowledge that the Screen Actors Guild nailed this lineup when the group announced its nominees several weeks ago, but SAG has accurately forecasted the five nominees in this category exactly once. So, assuming Patel is unable to ride the immense success and popularity of Slumdog to a nomination, that leaves the fifth spot open for either Michael Shannon or Eddie Marsan. Though Shannon has gotten raves across the board for his memorable performance as a mental patient in Revolutionary Road, the buzz surrounding Sam Mendes’s prestige picture fizzled out almost as soon as it came out. Months ago, no one was raving as loudly about Marsan’s turn as a lunatic driving instructor in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, but just as the collective critical community has practically made Sally Hawkins a frontrunner in the Best Actress category, they’ve also made Marsan something of one here. It’ll be a close one, but we say: En Ra Ha!
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.