Welcome to For Your Consideration, The Huffington Post's breakdown of all things Oscars. Between now and February 28, 2016, entertainment editors Matthew Jacobs and Joe Satran will pore over awards season and discuss which films will make the most noise at the 88th annual Academy Awards.
We've now handicapped the Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress races, and it's quite possible that Best Supporting Actor is the most bonkers of them all. Michael Keaton was the purported front-runner at the start of the week, but the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations threw a wrench in the whole damn thing. Keaton and his "Spotlight" co-star Mark Ruffalo were shut out from both prizes, while second-tier contenders like Michael Shannon and Paul Dano got major boosts. We don't mind the confusion, though, because awards-season wrenches are the best kind.
What bearing will all this have on the Oscar race? With about a month until the nominations are announced, it's all about momentum at this point. Let's rank the contenders.
Oscar Isaac, "Ex Machina"
Going into this awards season, we were really hoping “Ex Machina” would emerge as the Little Movie That Could -- that its whip-smart script and stellar performances would capture the hearts and minds of voters as much as it’s captured ours. It hasn’t happened yet. And the performance that’s gotten the most attention so far is Alicia Vikander’s. Don’t get us wrong: We were thrilled that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated her. But we wish Oscar Isaac’s fully committed performance as a reclusive, alcoholic tech genius, would get some credit too. Isaac has become a low-key kind of star by playing diffident but appealing men, like the title character of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Here, he amplifies both the good and bad qualities of his past roles, making Nathan into someone we hate, but who we still want to like us. He’s loathsome but also deeply compelling. Surely Hollywood can relate to that? - Joe Satran
Robert De Niro, "Joy"
20th Century Fox
It’s almost become a cliché to wonder what happened to Robert De Niro. And yet it remains a vexing question! He was so great in his youth, but most of his movies for the past couple decades have been terrible. And he hasn’t been particularly good in them: Lots of schtick, not much emotion. Yet David O. Russell -- in “Silver Linings Playbook” and now “Joy” -- has found a way to bring the magic back. In both movies, De Niro plays a part that’s, on the surface, not so different from the Mean Dad he played in “Meet the Parents.” That (plus some banked goodwill and nostalgia) was enough to net De Niro a nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook.” But he’s even better in “Joy,” because he really drills into the petty, selfish part of the aging-man persona. As the father to Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy, he’s alternatively dismissive and supportive, jolly and dour -- but never less than captivating. Reviews for the movie have been mixed, the part’s not huge and De Niro hasn’t gotten a ton of attention in the early awards, so don’t be surprised if he doesn’t land a nomination. But it’s entirely possible that he will. - JS
Seth Rogen, "Steve Jobs"
Imagine how fun it would be if Seth Rogen and Jason Segel both scored Oscar nominations in this category. The funnymen have been friends since they were mere teenagers warming our hearts on “Freaks and Geeks,” and each turned in dynamite work in heavy dramas this year. Segel’s “End of the Tour” tenure is the splashier of the two, but Rogen plays a vital part in “Steve Jobs.” He portrays Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and even though a lot of Woz’s screentime consists of repeatedly begging Jobs to name-check his team during product launches, Rogen effectively captures the frustrations of working with the difficult titan. Many thought he’d play a strong role in the race before “Steve Jobs” bombed at the box office, but now Rogen's Oscar bout seems DOA. Amid the year’s many films with sprawling casts, it turns out none of the supporting gents in “Steve Jobs” -- which includes bravura from Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlbarg -- were all that memorable. - Matthew Jacobs
Jason Mitchell, "Straight Outta Compton"
Jason Mitchell has one huge advantage in this race: His character in “Straight Outta Compton,” Eazy-E, has a big, dramatic, juicy story. It would be hard to pick just one moment from the movie to feature in the reel of notable scenes on Oscar night, because almost every scene he’s in is hugely emotional. And a big part of the reason that works is that Jason Mitchell, a relative unknown, really inhabits the character. He even gained weight for the role, which always impresses the Academy. But there are two big question marks. Will the voters be willing to nominate a newcomer like Jason Mitchell -- who has his entire career ahead of him -- over veterans like Mark Rylance and Michael Keaton? And did they like and respect “Straight Outta Compton” as much as audiences did? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, Jason Mitchell is as good as in -- but there’s a good chance the answer to both is no. - JS
Joel Edgerton, "Black Mass"
“Black Mass” is a starring vehicle for Johnny Depp, but it’s really Joel Edgerton’s show. Edgerton plays an FBI agent who protected Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and his criminal enterprise. It's a warm performance in a chilly movie that managed decent box-office receipts during a year where many mainstream adult dramas didn't. It helps, too, that Edgerton made his directorial debut with the well-received summer thriller “The Gift,” another mild sleeper hit. Edgerton has been away from a lot of the campaign trail while he shoots a movie in Virginia, and there’s only so much room for Boston accents in this Oscar race (that means you, "Spotlight"), so count this as an initial step toward the awards glory that Edgerton will see in some not-too-distant future. - MJ
Jason Segel, "The End of the Tour"
I’ve been raving about Jason Segel’s "End of the Tour” portrayal of David Foster Wallace since Sundance in January. Segel captures the author’s slouched gait and self-conscious intellectualism with apparent ease. Sadly, “The End of the Tour” is one of many movies that underperformed this year, and its distributor, A24, has heftier Oscar contenders in “Room” and “Amy.” Another problem? Segel is arguably a co-lead with Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the Rolling Stone journalist profiling the final leg of Wallace’s Infinite Jest tour, and the Golden Globes treated him as such, meaning he stood almost no chance of getting the HFPA's nomination amid such thick Best Actor competition. No Adam Levine house party can salvage that setback. Segel will have to make the most of his Indie Spirit nom. - MJ
Benicio Del Toro, "Sicario"
“Sicario” hasn’t really taken off this awards season; it’s gotten a bit of attention here and there, but not all that much, and essentially none for acting. Emily Blunt is terrific, and has gotten a lot of buzz -- but at this point, the lead-actress category looks fairly solid, and she’s not one of the big contenders. That leaves Benicio Del Toro, who’s competing in a category that’s just as competitive but far less stable, as perhaps the movie’s best chance of a nomination. He’s at his terrifying best as Alejandro, an FBI agent who will do almost anything to take down the Mexican cartel. It’s a return to the subject matter -- if not exactly the same character -- that won Del Toro an Oscar way back in 2001, for “Traffic.” - JS
Walton Goggins, "The Hateful Eight"
The Weinstein Co.
Fans of FX’s superbly acted “Justified” have known that Walton Goggins is a star for years; he was showered with acclaim for his performance as the show’s central villain. (He also made a big impression in “The Shield” and “Sons of Anarchy." He’s got the macho FX thing on lock.) And he’s been in a few movies, here and there. But “The Hateful Eight” is his big-screen breakout. The movie is full of seasoned actors working at the top of their game, but it’s him that your eyes gravitate toward in every seen. He’s riveting as the slightly deranged Chris Mannix, a former Confederate holdout who moves west to assume the sheriffship of the town of Red Rock. Mannix is also a somewhat unusual, for a Tarantino character, in that he changes quite a bit over the course of the movie, shifting from someone loathsome to someone we can really root for -- and Goggins conveys every shift with aplomb. Alas, Goggins has been almost entirely shut out this awards season so far. Part of that may be due to “The Hateful Eight” screening later than many of its competitors, but that hasn’t stopped Jennifer Jason Leigh from being recognized for her great work in the movie. So I'm worried that it may just be too late for this performance to work up enough steam to get Goggins in contention. This kills me because (excepting a couple huge ones, like Brie Larson in "Room") this may be my favorite performance of the year. - JS
Tom Hardy, "The Revenant"
20th Century Fox
The advance press for “The Revenant” made it seem like the movie would be “All Is Lost” or “The Martian” in period costume, with lots of beautiful shots of the Canadian wilderness and Leonardo DiCaprio on screen alone for the majority of the movie. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but it discounts the heft of the supporting characters, especially those played by Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson. They shape the movie in a very real way, giving a structure to the determination of DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass. Hardy is particularly effective as Glass’s mortal enemy John Fitzgerald, a more dastardly villain, in his way, than Bane. The part also entails a bit of the Oscar-friendly uglifying: Fitzgerald often wears a hat to cover up the part of head that was left hairless by Indian scalping. That said, Hardy’s candidacy would really have benefitted from a SAG or Globe nomination. That doesn’t preclude him from consideration, especially because “The Revenant” is a December release, but he’s coming into this process with a bit of a handicap. - JS
Jacob Tremblay, "Room"
Here’s a recipe for feeling old, incompetent and essentially worthless: Watch “Room” and pay close attention to Jacob Tremblay. He was 8 when the movie was made, but his performance as Jack is as powerful and convincing as any of the year. That’s a feat not only because of Tremblay’s age, but also because it’s a rather extreme part. Jack’s entire world consists of a small garden shed for the first five years of his life -- which is so far from the life experience of most adult viewers that it should be difficult for us to understand him. But we don’t, thanks to Tremblay’s astonishing performance. When we first saw “Room” a couple of months back, we felt sure he would land a nomination. And in most years, he would have. But for the first time in years, this is perhaps the most competitive, difficult category of the race. And Tremblay’s campaign hasn’t found a ton of traction. He’s gotten a couple of nominations in youth-oriented categories, but hasn’t had much luck in supporting-actor lists outside of SAG. At least he has a lot of time to win one in the future. -JS
Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight"
Open Road Films
“Spotlight” is in a highly unusual place for an Oscar movie. As we’ll discuss in further detail a few weeks from now, it’s the front-runner for Best Picture, having won many of the pre-Oscar awards in that category so far. And with good reason: People love it. Yet it’s strangely outmatched in most of the other categories. It doesn’t stand a chance with any of the technical prizes; expect “Mad Max” and “Star Wars” to clean up there. The movie’s problem in the acting category is stranger. There are almost too many good performances, which makes it hard for any one to stand out above the rest, at least enough to get a nomination. This apparent challenge was born out by the Golden Globes, where “Spotlight” landed nominations for Picture, Director and Screenplay but got zilch in the acting categories. The one with the best chances is probably Michael Keaton, who almost won last year for “Birdman.” But we think there’s a real possibility that the momentum would shift so far in the direction of “Spotlight” that two men get nominations -- in which case the wonderful Mark Ruffalo, playing hard-hitting investigative reporter Michael Rezendes, should squeak in. - JS
Christian Bale, "The Big Short"
Like "Spotlight," “The Big Short” is an ensemble effort in which every supporting performer manages to stand out. The strongest of them is Christian Bale, whose doctor turned hedge-fund manager traipses around his Bay Area offices with no shoes but lots of loud death metal. The performance is both actor-y and joyfully naturalistic. But “Big Short," which is based on Michael Lewis’ book about the late-2000s housing-market crash, may suffer from its 11th-hour addition to the year’s film calendar. On the "pro" side, Bale made off Golden Globe and SAG nods this week and the cast nabbed the National Board of Review’s ensemble accolade. Still, buzz has been somewhat muted despite stong reviews and a New York magazine cover story, and for an actor who shares billing with the equally charismatic Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, this Oscar winner could get lost in the crowd. - MJ
Michael Shannon, "99 Homes"
Broad Green Pictures
Another indie underdog is Michael Shannon, whose “99 Homes” esteem rose after he proved to be the best parts of “Freeheld” and “The Night Before.” Broad Green Pictures put Shannon’s face front and center on the screeners that were mailed to voters, and it paid off with the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. What once seemed like a long climb toward the Oscars now seems tangible. Plus, Shannon is playing a real-estate shark who's part Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street" and part Fast Eddie Felson from "The Color of Money" -- roles that resulted in Best Actor triumphs for Michael Douglas and Paul Newman, respectively. Count him in. - MJ
Paul Dano, "Love & Mercy"
Roadside Attractions has done right by “Love & Mercy,” which premiered at 2014’s Toronto Film Festival and opened over the summer, yet has still kept Paul Dano’s and Elizabeth Banks’ awards chatter alive. In fact, Dano is proving to be a veritable threat, having won the lead-actor prize from the Gotham Awards and collected a Golden Globe nomination. But, again, we encounter confusion over whether the performance is lead or supporting, which can hurt candidates since Oscar voters nominate actors in the categories of their individual choosing. Dano’s visibility with the Academy has been strong, though, as he’s consistently appeared in winning films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will Be Blood” and “12 Years a Slave.” He has the added credential of playing an historical figure -- Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson -- in a surprisingly refreshing biopic. - MJ
Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"
There would be a beautiful symmetry to Stallone being nominated for “Creed.” His one and only Oscar nomination was 39 years ago, for the same part, in the original “Rocky.” It’s sort of like if, in 35 years, Taylor Kitsch were to star as the new coach of the Dillon Panthers in a revival of “Friday Night Lights.” That would be cool! And that cool factor may be part of the reason he’s been getting a lot of awards attention for this part. He’s won several awards -- including the National Board of Review’s prize for Best Supporting Actor. And if the performance isn’t even close to the most technically accomplished on this list, it at least has a lot of emotional heft. It brings grown white men to tears. And the Academy is mostly made up of grown white men. Plus, if Stallone won, he’d make history: he would surely be the Oscar winner with the most Razzie Awards, having taken home 10 over the course of his career, including, in 2000, the Razzie for Worst Actor of the Century. - JS
Michael Keaton, "Spotlight"
Open Road Films
A week ago, Michael Keaton was the purported front-runner in this category, to the point that he seemed almost untouchable. But with such a large supporting cast, he and co-star Mark Ruffalo appear to have split the "Spotlight" vote, as both were left off the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe shortlists. That doesn't mean it's impossible for Keaton to earn an Oscar nod, but Open Road Films can no longer trust that the movie's glowing reviews alone will get him there. It's even thornier because Open Road Films is bandying every “Spotlight” performer as a supporting player, yet the New York Film Critics Circle handed Keaton its lead-actor prize anyway. It’s hard to stand out in a movie like “Spotlight,” where the ensemble is key and individual characters don’t receive much backstory. But each performer brings a little bit of glue to the puzzle, and it’s Keaton who boasts the most commanding presence as the steely head of the Boston Globe team that investigated sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Church. Open Road couldn't score a nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal's superb "Nightcrawler" performance, so it's time to hit the campaign trail. His "Birdman" loss from earlier this year might not generate the Academy sympathy once expected. - MJ
Idris Elba, "Beasts of No Nation"
Netflix says a ton of people tuned in, but it's been hard to gauge how much attention voters were paying to the streaming service's first original movie. A lot, as it turns out: "Beasts of No Nation" cleaned up at the SAG Awards. Idris Elba made off with a nomination, and he grabbed another one from the Globes. With an Independent Spirit Award nod also under his belt, Elba, who plays a ferocious West African warlord, is now a veritable lock. Netflix has rounded up folks like Ben Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Scarlett Johansson to host campaign events in the film’s honor, so keep that up and Elba could walk away with an Oscar in his hand come February. That means, thankfully, we can forgo another disappointing #OscarsSoWhite year. - MJ
Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"
“Bridge of Spies” is the sort of polished, classic filmmaking that the Academy historically appreciates. Alternatively, with so many edgier titles around, Steven Spielberg’s movie could be shut out across the board. One exception to the latter outcome: Mark Rylance. He’ll be nominated either way, and without a veritable front-runner, Rylance could inch ahead. He’s the best thing about the movie, playing a soft-spoken Soviet spy who is arrested and later used as bargaining chip in Cold War negotiations. It helps that Rylance, who earned an Emmy nomination for “Wolf Hall” this year, offers true support to the film, which revolves around Tom Hanks. In a year brimming with leads masquerading as support staff for awards purposes, Rylance could coast in by achieving precisely what this category is intended to honor. The SAG, Globes and New York Film Critics Circle surely love him. - MJ