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Best Supporting Actor: Can Dafoe, Woody, Jenkins or Plummer Take the Gold From Rockwell?

Welcome back to The Pop Break’s third annual Oscar predictions series. Like the previous two years, the site’s film editor, and Oscar guru Daniel Cohen, takes a deep dive into the major races, and examines not only who might walk away with the Oscar on March 4, but the realistic chances of everyone else nominated.

Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)

I know The Florida Project has a passionate group of supporters, but I just don’t get it.  It has a few nice individual moments, and the performances by Bria Vinaite and Brooklyn Prince are strong, but that’s about it. It’s a meandering movie that builds to a climax that could have been wrapped up in under eighty minutes.  There wasn’t enough material here for a film, or at least the script doesn’t give it that chance.

Having said all that, I get why Willem Dafoe was nominated. While the screenplay lets him down, he’s tasked with handling a multitude of annoying issues as manager of this motel.  Not only does he have to deal with a bunch of unsupervised kids who want to break his building, but the adults can act like children as well. That’s on top of dealing with the everyday maintenance of a real crappy building and collecting rent. Dafoe’s restraint and temperament as this character gives him the best chance of upsetting the heavy favorite in this category.

What could cost him the award though is the script’s failings. They attempt to give him an emotional arc with his son, played by Caleb Landry Jones. This storyline is completely and utterly abandoned to the point where I barely remember it. There absolutely could have been something here, but the decision to whatever his son out of the movie downgrades his role.

Dafoe’s best chance at winning this Oscar is the “he’s due” factor, but that’s about it.

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

I’m thrilled to see Woody Harrelson get nominated for this role. While everything else in this movie is loud, bombastic and towering, Harrelson is tasked with playing the most level-headed character of the bunch. Much like Willem Dafoe, he’s the guy who has to deal with all the shrapnel. He’s got Frances McDormand putting up these controversial billboards.  He has to constantly clean up the messes left by his troublesome police officer, played by fellow nominee and front-runner Sam Rockwell. Oh yeah, and he has cancer.

At the end of the day, Harrelson is flat out heartbreaking. You understand and sympathize with why McDormand’s character puts up these billboards. She’s been through so much.  Harrelson is the reason you feel a little guilty about it though. As the Chief of police, the billboards completely call him out, but you know his intentions are good. McDormand even recognizes this, but still knows she has to put up the billboards. That’s why this film is so rich and complex.

While many disagree with Harrelson’s arc, it’s effective nonetheless. You really feel for him in this movie, and it’s all because of Harrelson.  He won’t win because his screen time just isn’t there, but the fact he even got nominated speaks to how impressive a performance he gives.

I hope Harrelson wins an Oscar someday.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)

Richard Jenkins’ performance in The Shape of Water reminds me a lot of Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, which I know is an odd comparison.  Both got it because they exude charisma and an intense amount of likability.  While I strongly disagreed with Mark Rylance winning the Oscar a couple years ago, I get why he won, as his role was more central to the story.

Richard Jenkins has no Oscar moment in this film, but is just consistently great. He’s like a marathon runner in this movie. Every time he pops up, there’s a rhythm and energy to the film that keeps you glued to the screen.

While this won’t win him the Oscar, I get why he’s nominated. The film loses a lot if he isn’t as good as he is, and like most great actors, Jenkins heavily elevates a mediocre script.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)

The backlash towards Plummer’s nomination has really irked me.

“Eh. He’s old. Whatever. Why isn’t Armie Hammer nominated?”

Aside from the “he’s old” factor, people just assume he got in because of the circumstances surrounding his performance, in that he was rushed in at the last minute. Here’s a crazy notion – before you hem and haw about the nomination, maybe you should actually see the movie.  Just a thought.  Here’s the bottom-line: Plummer absolutely and 100% deserves to be here.

All the Money in the World is underrated to begin with, but it’s obviously Plummer who steals the show.  His scenes are scintillating and cold.  He protects his fortune like a twisted amalgam of Monty Burns and Scrooge McDuck.  He’s not breaking any laws, but some of the acts he does had my audience seething.  When you can elicit that kind of response from moviegoers, you probably deserve an Oscar nomination.  What makes the performance special though is there’s about a 2% ounce of humanity buried deep within this man, which makes the character that much more uncomfortable.  Plummer embodies all of this like the acting veteran he is.

For people who are annoyed by this nomination, I urge you to give this movie a chance.  I promise, you’ll see the reasoning for his nomination, and why he just might be the deep dark horse in this category.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

You can say what you want about this movie. You can say what you want about the controversy surrounding this character in particular. You can be angry about an unearned redemption arc.  At the end of the day though, as a pure acting job, Rockwell gives a performance for the ages.

A great screenplay is supposed to give us layered characters with complicated arcs that truly make you think. That’s what Martin McDonagh achieves with the character of Jason Dixon. McDonagh is not telling you to forgive or redeem the character at the end. Many of Dixon’s terrible acts in the film are certainly hard to forget. What this movie does is present a character arc from beginning to end. The experiences Dixon goes through change him.  He’s a completely different person from what he was at the beginning of the movie.  That’s what a great character arc does.

This is one of the most difficult roles for an actor to play I can remember in a long time.  What Sam Rockwell does is truly extraordinary. He’s funny, reprehensible, discriminatory, sympathetic, pathetic, noble, clever, disgusting, cowardice and a total dummy all in the same movie. This is like a waiter carrying ten trays at once across the restaurant, and Rockwell doesn’t drop a single speck of food.

Again, nobody is telling you to forgive him at the end of the movie, but the real genius of the film is the ending. It makes you think for days, and while a great script, Sam Rockwell is a huge reason for that.

Despite all the competitive actors in this category, and the backlash towards his character specifically, I’d be absolutely shocked if Sam Rockwell loses this award.

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.


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