By Piya Sinha-Roy
January 10, 2019 at 04:23 PM EST
Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images (2)

The supporting actor and actress races often feel like the overlooked middle children of awards season, but if you look a little closer this year, both categories are full of substantial performances that should make for an exciting Oscar contest.

On the supporting actor side, likely Oscar nominees include Mahershala Ali’s reserved musician in Green Book, Timothée Chalamet’s drug-addicted teen in Beautiful Boy, Adam Driver’s poker-faced cop in BlacKkKlansman, Sam Elliott’s stoic tour manager in A Star Is Born, and Sam Rockwell’s sprightly George W. Bush in Vice.

For supporting actress, Amy Adams’ Machiavellian Lynne Cheney in Vice, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s cunning Queen’s helpers in The Favourite, Claire Foy’s pragmatic astronaut’s wife in First Man, Michelle Yeoh’s no-nonsense matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians, and Regina King’s protective mother in If Beale Street Could Talk are all in contention.

It was Ali and King who emerged victorious at Sunday’s Golden Globes, which could boost their Oscar chances: Last year, Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) won their supporting categories at the Globes and went on to win Oscars. But the Globes’ track record as an Oscar predictor is spotty. In recent years, for example, Ali for his role in Moonlight, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) all won Oscars but not Globes.

History aside, what’s interesting about this year’s race is the richness and depth of the supporting roles: Adams’ character is the through-line in Vice, and Stone and Weisz have the same amount of screen time as lead actress Olivia Colman in The Favourite. Chalamet could easily be campaigning for lead actor as the meth-addicted subject of Beautiful Boy, and Ali shares almost all his scenes with Viggo Mortensen as the two main characters of Green Book.

Our takeaway? King’s Golden Globes acceptance speech, in which she pledged to make only gender-equal productions, garnered universal praise and cemented her as a frontrunner in the race. But she was notably left off the Screen Actors Guild nominations last month — not a good sign, as SAG members make up the largest voting body for the Oscars — and she didn’t make the cut for Britain’s BAFTA nominations either.

Ali’s Globe win gives him an edge in the Oscar race, and he landed supporting nods at the SAG nominations and BAFTA nominations. His starring role on HBO’s popular True Detective, premiering Jan. 13, will also keep him in the spotlight. But the multiple controversies that have mired Green Book could hurt the actor’s chances.

Green Book has faced criticism after the family of Don Shirley, the classical pianist played by Ali in the film, said the actor’s portrayal was inaccurate and that they were never contacted by filmmakers during production. Director Peter Farrelly has had to defend Green Book from critics who say it tells a “white savior” narrative that further perpetuates racial stereotypes; as he told EW recently, he believes it’s a story of two friends “saving each other.” Mortensen also used the N-word during a post-screening Q&A in November, later apologizing for the remark.

On Wednesday, two articles from 1998, in Newsweek and The Observer, were resurfaced by New York magazine to highlight that Farrelly, along with his director brother, Bob Farrelly, would find ostensibly amusing ways to reveal his genitals to the cast and crew on his movie sets. Also on Wednesday, a 2015 tweet re-emerged from Green Book co-writer and producer Nick Vallelonga (who won the screenplay Golden Globe on Sunday) in which he repeated Donald Trump’s thoroughly debunked claim that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks.

Farrelly issued a statement apologizing for his actions, saying, “I was an idiot. I did this decades ago and I thought I was being funny and the truth is I’m embarrassed and it makes me cringe now.” Vallelonga deleted his Twitter account and has not yet commented on the backlash against his tweet.

Oscar voters, who are casting their ballots for nominations until Jan. 14, are very likely paying close attention to the controversies and strong reactions.

Let’s also not forget that the supporting categories can be a place for Oscar voters to reward actors who have yet to win: Take Adams, who has five Oscar nods under her belt but hasn’t been awarded a little gold man yet. Or Elliott, who, at 74, has never been nominated for an Oscar despite a solid 50-year career on screen. His quietly strong performance in A Star Is Born has gotten some serious awards buzz.

Our money is on the supporting races coming down to Ali versus Elliott, and King versus Adams. And while all are deserving, for now, King and Ali are the ones to beat.

For more on how this year’s Oscar race is shaping up, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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