Strangely enough, before the critics started announcing their winners back in December, this seemed like the most nebulous category. Now it's one of the most galvanized, with one name dominating the conversation (give or take an odd Golden Globes loss).
I still wonder how it came to be that Mahershala Ali turned into the awards season figurehead for Moonlight, despite his character exiting the movie so early. Certainly admiration for his drug-dealer-turned-father-figure in the context of the story doesn't hurt, but a performance this soft-spoken and taciturn makes for an atypical Oscar winner. Yet he looks strong to deliver one more whispered, eloquent acceptance speech before this season is done.
You can throw darts to try and guess who's in second place. Possibly Jeff Bridges as the hammy, grizzled sheriff in Hell or High Water. It may not be the best performance of his career, but it might be his most 'Bridges' performance, with that accentuated Texan drawl, impish smile and John Wayne shuffle. May we never take the Dude for granted.
And don't underestimate BAFTA winner Dev Patel. Supporters of Lion -- of which I assume there are plenty -- would have to speak up somewhere, no? And as a lead performance smuggled into the supporting conversation all season long by Weinstein, he has a notable advantage in terms of screen time. But I'll try not to harp on the category fraud too much. Many of the true supporting gems this year never gained any initial traction anyway, and this is a good performance. Any way you slice it, I'm happy for the guy.
The only semi-surprising acting nomination of the entire year came from Nocturnal Animals. No, not for Aaron Taylor-Johnson's unhinged and inexplicably Globe-winning rapist portrayal, but for Michael Shannon's wily, ethically ambiguous detective, who was initially receiving the lion's share of good reviews. It certainly doesn't equate to his best, but it's nothing if not an entertaining turn from one of the business' hardest working character actors. Naturally, being his controversial film's sole nominee, he has no shot at the win.
Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Could win: Dev Patel, Lion
Should win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Should be nominated: Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!