When the nominations were announced for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, I was hit with two thoughts. The first was a question, wondering how often it is that two actors from the same film are nominated in the same category, and, furthermore, how often they canceled each other out so that neither won and the award went to someone else. One fairly easy internet search later, I had my answer, and was surprised to see that one of the actors in question actually won more often that I would have guessed.
Since I know you love statistics as much as I do, I’ll drop some fun ones on you. Twelve times in history, two men from the same movie both earned Best Actor nominations, leading to four wins. One of those, however, has an asterisk, as the 1946 film Going My Way saw both Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald nominated for the award, but because of a quirk in the rules — which was quickly adjudicated after the ceremony so that it would never happen again — Fitzgerald was also nominated for Supporting Actor (yes, really), so the members of the Academy saw fit to reward both men with victories. Thus an actor nominated with someone else from the same film has won one-third of the time, but really one-fourth.
Only five times have two women from the same film been nominated for Best Actress against each other, and of that bunch, only one time has a winner emerged, when Shirley MacLaine beat out co-star Debra Winger for Terms of Endearment. So, if you’re keeping score, that’s one-fifth of the time in that category.
It’s happened far more often in the supporting categories. Eighteen times for Supporting Actor (including last year, with both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci scoring nods for The Irishman), and three of those had three actors from the same film (for the record, they were On the Waterfront and the first two Godfather movies, which is pretty rarefied air). Five of those instances produced a winner, the most recent of those in 1983, when Jack Nicholson beat out costar John Lithgow for, once again, Terms of Endearment. So that’s a little under one-third of the time.
The Supporting Actress category, meanwhile, has seen it happen a whopping 35 times, with the most recent being two years ago, with Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone scoring nominations for The Favourite. There was even a run of five times in six years where it happened, from 2006 to 2012. Of those 35 times, 12 have produced a winner, the most recent of those being Octavia Spencer over co-star Jessica Chastain in 2011’s The Help. That’s almost one-third of the time, but if you add it all up and lose the asterisk example, it’s 21 wins in 70 opportunities, for an even 30 percent.
Both numbers were surprising to me, as I wouldn’t have thought either had happened as often as they did, which actually bodes well for one of our nominees, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I need to address the second thought I had, which is also relevant to these proceedings.
That is, an actor or actress playing a nominal lead role in a film, but putting themselves up in one of the Supporting categories instead. Perhaps to increase the chance of a nomination — or a win — perhaps out of some odd sense of humility, I don’t know. Point is, there are at least three instances in the last decade of a performer winning for what was, in essence, a leading role. J.K. Simmons won Supporting Actor for Whiplash in 2014, Alicia Vikander won Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl in 2016, and Mahershala Ali won his second Supporting Actor Oscar in three years for Green Book in 2019. In all three cases, it was tough to argue that these performers weren’t at least a co-lead in the respective movies, and yet the Academy chose to reward them as supporting players, anyway.
Incidentally, all three of those performances were marvelous, and I take nothing away from them or the actors, but when Ali won over Richard E. Grant and Sam Elliott, I thought it was a crime, because Ali should have earned a nod for Best Actor opposite co-star Viggo Mortensen, which in retrospect would have tied all this together really nicely. Alas.
I think it’s now pretty clear why these two thoughts occurred to me, but just for the sake of clarity, why don’t I tell you who the nominees are, and then I can hammer the point home by explaining the relevance and context. They are Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah, Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami…, Paul Raci, Sound of Metal and Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah.
Okay, the first thing is now pretty clear, right? Two guys from the same movie. It’s right there in the list of nominees. But the second? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment. First I think I should discuss and then eliminate a couple of actors, in spite of their terrific performances that earned them a spot here.
I think it’s safe to say that Sacha Baron Cohen has had a good year. Aside from the phenomenon that was Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which not only earned his costar Maria Bakalova a Supporting Actress nod but also Cohen and his team of writers an Adapted Screenplay nomination, there was his performance as the late Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. He is charming and magnetic and completely owns the movie whenever he’s on screen, even if his Boston accent is completely atrocious. Seriously, how hard is it for actors to get this right? Do any Boston-set movies come to mind where the accents aren’t bad? I know, I know, you’re going to throw Good Will Hunting and The Fighter at me, but even with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Mark Wahlberg actually being from Boston, they’re shaky at best. I swear, it’s apparently easier for an actor to do an accent from a different country or language than it is to get Boston right, but I digress.
Cohen is very good, and his nomination here is deserved, but I think his chances of winning are slim. A better chance, I believe, is Leslie Odom Jr. for playing another real person, Sam Cooke, in One Night in Miami. Also like Cohen, Odom is nominated in two different categories, this one and Original Song. In a wonderful ensemble with Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge, Odom stands out with a fierceness that is familiar to anyone who may have seen him on stage as Aaron Burr in Hamilton. He won a Tony Award for that role, and if he wins an Oscar, he’ll be three-fourths of his way to EGOT status (that would be Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, as he also has a Grammy for the Hamilton cast album). I think he will emerge from Sunday’s ceremony with an Oscar in his hand, but I don’t think it’ll be for his acting. It’ll be for his songwriting.
The reason why both of the above nominees probably won’t win has everything to do with the two men from Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. Not only do they fit the first criteria listed above, but the argument could be made that they both fit the second one, as well. Stanfield especially, since the whole structure of the film rests on his character’s shoulders. Perhaps they both agreed to be listed as Supporting Actors because neither saw himself as the film’s true lead, but it’s still sort of strange to me that they’re both here.
That said, they each give powerhouse performances, something that should come as no surprise if you’re at all familiar with their work. I interviewed Stanfield a few years ago for his work on the fantastic FX show Atlanta, and he was a pleasure to talk to. Smart, aware of his talent but humble about it, intensely charismatic, he had it all. Still does, obviously. It was after he’d filmed Get Out, but before it was released, and he said it was going to be a sensation, but that he had a small role in it. “Wait until you see my boy Daniel Kaluuya,” he said at the time. “Gonna blow your mind.”
Which, in retrospect, was pretty dead on, as Kaluuya scored a Best Actor nod for that movie, his first nomination. This one is his second, and it’s every bit as earned as the first. Same for Stanfield (this is his first nod). Kaluuya is quickly becoming one of the most fascinating actors out there. He was the best thing in the disappointing Widows, and even though I was not at all a fan of 2019’s Queen & Slim, I liked him a lot in it. What he does in this movie as Fred Hampton (another real person, as was Bill O’Neal, the man Stanfield portrays) is remarkable. It’s a powerhouse performance that reminds you of a young Denzel Washington. This, ultimately, is the thing that works against Stanfield, actually. He is also fantastic in the movie, but Kaluuya does just as much with less screen time. It doesn’t hurt that Kaluuya has also won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, and just a couple weeks ago snagged the SAG trophy, which is perhaps the best forecaster of all.
So the odds are that Kaluuya is your winner, but before we close this out, a few words regarding Paul Raci, whose work in Sound of Metal was perhaps my favorite single performance by any actor of any gender this year. Raci is a guy who’s been around forever in small, mostly one-day roles, but proves his mettle (no pun intended) with his spectacular acting here. Raci is the son of deaf parents and American Sign Language was his first language, which comes in handy here. Raci plays a deaf Vietnam vet who lost his hearing in the war, and now runs a shelter for deaf recovering addicts. The movie itself is often difficult to watch, with heavy subject matter as we watch Riz Ahmed’s Ruben deal with both the loss of his hearing and the life he knows, but Raci — himself both a Vietnam vet and a recovering addict — brings heart to the film, as well as a deep humanity that grounds the story and offers the viewer a unique perspective into a very specific world. Raci is 72, by far the oldest of the nominees, and his later-in-life success story is heartening to anyone who slaves away in this industry. I don’t think it will carry him to victory, though. He didn’t even land a SAG nomination, which is pretty telling, and Kaluuya’s momentum is too strong.
Ultimately, it’s hard to complain about Kaluuya winning. He does deserve it, and I’ll applaud him when he does. But you can’t blame me for hoping the old guy pulls it off. It would be awfully nice to see him get up there and sign a thank you.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Paul Raci
WHO WILL WIN: Daniel Kaluuya