Last Update: October 22, 2019
With awards season heating up, we're taking a look at the leading contenders for Best Supporting Actor at the 2020 Oscars. Obviously, there's still plenty of time for things to change, but by now cinephiles have a general idea of what films are seriously in the running and which ones will be left out in the cold. Several of the Oscar hopefuls screened during the fall festival blitz in August and September, and another (Bombshell) recently played for critics in October. Nobody is a stone cold lock for a nomination at this point in the process, but predicting a possible lineup becomes easier since many of these movies have been seen.
This year, Best Supporting Actor looks like it's going to be a bloodbath stacked with heavy-hitters and A-listers. There's also a couple of names that might fall under the "category fraud" category, as there's some debate if they're playing a lead or supporting role. Regardless of how it all pans out, it should be fun to watch. Without further ado, here are our top picks for Best Supporting Actor this awards season.
Brad Pitt - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Pitt actually has one Oscar on his mantle, since he was a producer on the Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave, but he's never won for his acting. Pitt's been nominated in those categories three times (most recently for 2011's Moneyball) and keeps coming up short. A case can be made he's building an overdue narrative, especially when one considers his great turns that weren't nominated for Oscars. Reuniting with Quentin Tarantino might do the trick and reverse Pitt's bad luck.
Playing stuntman Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt earned arguably the best reviews of his career. He slid effortlessly into the role, and was the MVP of the film. Some felt he outshined Leonardo DiCaprio (who's a Best Actor candidate this year). Even with the influx of festival titles making waves in the fall, the buzz around Once Upon a Time in Hollywood never wavered, and it remains one of the strongest contenders of the year. Pitt also received high marks for his performance in Ad Astra (which isn't going to be much of an Oscar player), so he could cap off a strong year with his first acting Oscar.
Al Pacino - The Irishman
Pacino is one of the most accomplished actors of all-time, but even his biggest fans would have to admit some of his recent choices have been... suspect. It appeared his glory days were well behind him, but Pacino's getting cinephiles excited again with his turn as Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman. Collaborating with Martin Scorsese for the first time in his illustrious career, Pacino was a clear standout and did some of his best work in years. The Irishman is expected to be a major contender across the board, and if it's one of the definite favorites, then Pacino's likely to get swept up for the ride.
In any other year, Pacino might be the clear frontrunner in this category, helping carry a 3.5-hour film that doesn't feel its length. What gives Pitt the slight advantage is the fact Pitt's never won for acting before, and Pacino has one (for Scent of a Woman). The Academy is fond of giving veterans so-called "career achievement" Oscars as a way of making up for past snubs and honoring the actor's entire body of work. This isn't to say Pitt isn't deserving of Best Supporting Actor on the performance's merits, but this is something to consider when trying to predict the category.
Tom Hanks - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Hanks pulled off the rare feat of winning back-to-back Oscars in 1993 and 1994 (Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) and has only been nominated twice since then. His most recent nod came in 2000 for Cast Away, despite a bevy of excellent performances following that drama. Many were surprised when the Academy didn't recognize Hanks for his work in 2013's Captain Phillips, one of three Best Picture nominees he's starred in over the years. Hanks has a knack for choosing good projects to appear in, but he can't get over the hump to earn another Oscar nomination.
His role in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood could change all that. In the film, Hanks plays beloved television personality Fred Rogers, a pitch-perfect match between actor and role that just about everyone seems to approve of. There was a point in time many (including us) thought Hanks would be up for Best Actor in this movie, but his turn as Rogers is a supporting role. The film is more about journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and how his life changed after meeting Rogers. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn't as strong of an Oscar contender as some of the other players, but Hanks could pick up some steam depending on how the precursors play out.
Joe Pesci - The Irishman
Coming out of retirement to work with his longtime collaborator Scorsese again, Pesci didn't miss a beat. In The Irishman, the one-time Oscar winner plays Russell Bufalino, a mafioso who recruits Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) into his criminal operation. Pesci made a name for himself playing loose cannons for Scorsese, like Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas and Nicky Santoro in Casino. Fortunately, Bufalino is a complete departure from those volatile characters. The Irishman reviews remarked Pesci is very reserved in the role, showing a different side of his acting range. Much like Pacino, it's the best work he's done in a very long time.
The danger here is Pesci will end up splitting votes with Pacino, or gets overshadowed by his co-star completely. Netflix is also a factor to consider here. The streaming giant has a ton on their plate in regards to Oscar campaigning, and they may have to make some tough choices about what to prioritize. In all likelihood, they're going to push for Pacino and Pesci to get in, initially. But as the season evolves, one could emerge over the other as a more viable candidate. Plus, Netflix also has other films like Marriage Story and The Two Popes that may try to crash the Best Supporting Actor race, so it'll be fascinating to see how it'll all play out.
Taika Waititi - Jojo Rabbit
Winner of the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award, Jojo Rabbit looks like the kind of film that will be all over awards season. It's one of the leading contenders for Best Picture, could make some noise in Best Director, and is arguably the frontrunner in Best Adapted Screenplay. While some critics feel this anti-hate satire isn't as biting or daring as it could have been, this is still a very audacious and bold project to take on immediately after becoming a household name for making a crowd-pleasing Marvel film. Waititi, of course, is also in front of the cameras for Jojo Rabbit, playing a fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler.
If Jojo Rabbit is the favorite it appears to be, Waititi could end up with several nominations, including for his acting. Based on the trailers, his turn looks to be far more comedic than others in the film, which may hurt its awards prospects. Typically, the Academy shuns those types of performances for ones that are more dramatic. That said, it wasn't that long ago Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated in this very category for Tropic Thunder, poking fun at the concept of a serious method actor. And he likely would have won if that wasn't the same year The Dark Knight came out. Since the Academy went for that satire, then maybe they'll get a kick out of Waititi's takedown of Nazism.
John Lithgow - Bombshell
Up until this week, Bombshell was one of the major sights unseen. But now that it's screened, the verdict is it's definitely an Oscar contender. Much of the attention has (rightfully) been paid to the trio of actresses at the film's center: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie. The leading ladies are looking to shake things up in their respective categories, but they aren't alone in delivering strong performances. Lithgow as Roger Ailes was cited in reviews as someone who could be in the running for a Supporting Actor nod.
Just like viewers, the Academy can never resist a meaty villain role, and Ailes will almost assuredly be one of the most vile and despicable movie characters in 2019. In just the brief glimpses from the full trailer, Lithgow is an intimidating presence who can make people feel incredibly uncomfortable with just a few words. The difference between Ailes and some of the cinematic antagonists that have won Oscars before (like the Joker and Hans Landa) is that Ailes is just a monster. Joker and Landa were awful people who did terrible things, but they still had a warped sense of charm about them. Their screen presence was magnetic. Whether voters would want to reward the unlikable Ailes or not will remain a debate until the precursors start rolling in.
Anthony Hopkins - The Two Popes
Netflix has a ton on their plate this awards season, and one offering looking to make some noise is The Two Popes, which chronicles Pope Benedict and Pope Francis' efforts to carve a future for The Catholic Church. Screening at some of the fall festivals, The Two Popes received widespread critical praise, putting it in the thick of the race. While the film may not be "big enough" to land a Best Picture nomination, many believe it has what it takes to score a couple of key nods. In particular, the dynamic duo of Jonathan Pryce and Hopkins are in the running in their respective acting categories.
Hopkins won an Oscar for his famous portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, and has been nominated three more times (but none since 1997). And even though he does great work in The Two Popes, he may be facing an uphill climb. As stated above, Netflix has a ton of possible contenders, meaning they need to make some hard choices about what they're going to focus on while campaigning. The Irishman and Marriage Story are presumably higher on the list, and since the former could be a double nominee in this category, there's a chance Hopkins gets left behind. Time will tell.
Timothée Chalamet - Little Women
Chalamet reunites with his Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig for the latest adaptation of the classic novel, playing Theodore Lawrence. The youngster already has one Oscar nomination under his belt (Call Me By Your Name) and keeps delivering strong performances in his other films. Even though last year's Beautiful Boy wasn't much of a player in terms of awards, Chalamet was a highlight. He also has Netflix's The King this year, and sometimes starring in multiple high-profile projects around the same time can boost one's Oscar hopes.
Chalamet already has the pedigree of an Academy favorite, but it's difficult to predict with any certainty if he'll get in for Little Women. The fact of the matter is the film hasn't been screened yet, skipping all of the major fall festivals. Additionally, the top of this category is so loaded with talent, Chalamet would probably have an uphill climb even if Little Women is a critical darling. He'd need to deliver career-best, transformative work to unseat one of the main contenders.