Frances McDormand will all but certainly reap the benefit of staying true to form and eschewing the bulk of the Oscar campaigning playbook, thereby avoiding having to utter any defenses for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, unquestionably this year’s most #problematic awards contender. Sam Rockwell, conversely, has spent Oscar season staying true to himself and doing everything within his power to charm voters and please crowds. The results have been defter than even his ever-reliable fancy feet. He joked through his Golden Globes acceptance speech, admitting that after a career filled with indie films—and, you know, Charlie’s Angels—it was nice to be in something that people actually saw and thanking writer-director Martin McDonagh for “not being a dick.” He reasserted his renegade-outsider cred by dutifully clocking in at Studio 8H and then lacing one of his Saturday Night Live skits with an impromptu, live-TV four-letter word. He kept his tongue firmly planted in cheek even as he allowed a cardboard cutout of Agnès Varda to upstage him and everyone else at the Oscar nominees luncheon.
But most importantly, he’s remembered to address the elephant in the room and confront head-on the, shall we say, character flaws of Jason Dixon, poster child for the unexamined life. He pointed out to Stephen Colbert, who summed Dixon up as a “hateful person,” that neither his character nor McDormand’s end the film in any way redeemed, and that they both “have a lot of work to do, I think maybe a lot of therapy.” And in a new Hollywood Reporter interview, he was careful to term his role as neither a protagonist nor an antagonist (which is accurate: he’s raw, uninformed id) and to reiterate the importance of separating performers from the roles they play, at the same time as he defended the balancing act of his craft. As he told the interviewer: “One day, on your best day, you might be a hero. On your worst day, you might be a coward….That is what acting is to me—utilizing all the aspects of who we are as human beings and accentuating certain aspects for a character.” With nary a misstep, Rockwell, a widely respected character actor who’s hustled for decades and finally landed a plum role in a movie-of-the-moment, did more on the campaign trail to legitimize unlikely redemption than anything McDonagh gave him to work with.
Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project