Premature Oscar Predictions: Supporting actors (2015)

Ok, just one more and then we promise we won't mention the Oscars until at least after Cannes. Still feeling the hangover from the 86th Academy Awards ten days ago, we've been looking ahead to the potential Best Picture, Actor and Actress nominees in 2015. And to wrap up, we're looking at the Supporting Actor and Actress contenders.

While Picture and the Lead categories can be, relatively speaking, easier to call, Supporting is much tougher—it's often hard to know about category placement, and supporting roles tend to get much less buzz than their leading counterparts. Last year's picks were, frankly, disastrous—of the ten supporting nods, we only guessed Julia Roberts correctly (we had Amy Adams down too, but in the wrong category). Can we do better this year? Or even worse? Find out below.

Supporting Actor

The Top 5

The Judge, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall ("The Judge")
The Supporting Actor category is always a great place to recognize a veteran of the craft (see: Alan Arkin, Christopher Plummer), and this year, Robert Duvall might have an eye on that slot. The legendary character actor has been nominated six times and won once (for 1983's "Tender Mercies"), but its been more than fifteen years since he last figured in (for 1998's "A Civil Action"), so this year's "The Judge" might provide another opportunity to honor him. The comedy-drama stars Robert Downey Jr. as a lawyer who returns home to defend his father, the local judge, from a murder charge. Duvall will play the father, which would appear to be a fairly meaty role. And while the director is the not-much-lauded-so-far David Dobkin (of "Wedding Crashers" and, uh, "Fred Claus" fame), there's some prestige-y power below the line: a script from "Gran Torino" scribe Nick Schenck and "The King's Speech" writer David Seidler, Janusz Kaminski lensing and Thomas Newman scoring. It may yet turn out to be a purely commercial play, but with Warner Bros. giving it the October release date they used for "Argo" and "Gravity," this might be something more, and Duvall would appear to be the best shot at gold.

Idris Elba ("Beasts Of No Nation")
In most other years, Idris Elba might well have been a nominee for "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom"—though the film was tepidly received by many, Elba still won raves. His next project sees him in a very different role, but could end up working out better —he's producing and co-starring in "True Detective" director Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of child soldier novel "Beasts Of No Nation." Elba will play the Commandant, the charismatic but devilish soldier who recruits and trains protagonists Agu and Strika. It's a part that's closer to Ralph Fiennes in "Schindler's List" than to Nelson Mandela. Elba certainly has the chops to do something magnificent with it, especially when paired with Fukunaga —the only question is whether the film, which is only just getting before cameras, will be done and ready in time.

Christoph Waltz ("Big Eyes")
Less than half a decade after his U.S. breakthrough, Christoph Waltz has two Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Could this be the year when he wins for playing something other than a loquacious German in a Quentin Tarantino film? In "Big Eyes," Waltz takes the role of manipulative artist Walter Keane, who took the credit for his wife's paintings, in Tim Burton's latest, and it's potentially a piece of Americana that will show off a new side of the actor. Burton is not a big award magnet, but this seems to be something different, especially with The Weinstein Company on board. Waltz may yet campaign as lead (he's probably keen on the upgrade), but his chances would likely be better here, especially as Adams is likely to be at the heart of the film's push.

James Franco

James Franco ("True Story")
James Franco might not have managed to get a nod for "Spring Breakers" (not a huge surprise), but assuming the Academy have forgiven him for his hosting debacle a few years ago, he has a project on the way that might be more appealing to them. Rupert Goold's "True Story" is the, uh, true story of a journalist (Jonah Hill) who discovers that his identity had been stolen by Christian Longo (Franco), a man on the FBI Most Wanted List for the alleged killing his family. It's a dark tale, backed by the makers of "12 Years A Slave," but seems just accessible enough for awards season, and even if the film as a whole isn't a Best Picture contender, Franco playing a murderer seems to be a meaty role, and certainly stands the best chance of recognition out of the thousand other movies he probably has out this year. It'll be execution-dependent, but keep an eye out for this one.

Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher")
Speaking of dark true stories, there's "Foxcatcher." Only pulled from last year's season late in the game, it's likely to be a major player unless it truly disappoints, and has multiple acting nods possible. As we said earlier in the week, though Channing Tatum's character is the ostensible lead, it's likely to be Steve Carell who campaigns in Best Actor. That means Tatum could go Supporting, but the Academy may not be ready to nominate him yet, which could make co-star Mark Ruffalo the better bet. Ruffalo's a beloved actor who's only ever been nominated once (for "The Kids Are All Right"), and the dramatic strength of the material alone (he plays Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, who *spoiler* meets a tragic end at the hands of Carell's character), would seem to make Ruffalo a contender. Furthermore, the actor had an impressive physical transformation and, like Carell, is borderline unrecognizable. Which helps.