This Oscar race might be the hardest to predict

Steve Martin and Chris Rock during the 92nd annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, February 9, 2020. (Photo: NYTimes)
In a normal Oscar season, you’d be able to pretty much guess the winning actors by now. Think of last year, when the same foursome of Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern steamrolled their way through every awards show: The only suspense was whether they could sell us on their surprise as their names were called again and again.اضافة اعلان

There are some acting races this year I already feel confident in calling — a posthumous best-actor Oscar for the “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” star Chadwick Boseman is pretty much a done deal. I’m keeping an eye on Carey Mulligan in best actress, and Daniel Kaluuya is coming on strong in the supporting-actor race for his work in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” But there’s still one acting category I can’t make heads or tails of. This year’s supporting-actress race is an eclectic free-for-all where just about anybody could win.

Those wacky Golden Globes didn’t help narrow the field at all, since voters there gave the supporting-actress award to Jodie Foster for “The Mauritanian,” a performance the Oscars didn’t even bother to nominate. I’m not mad, though: It’s fun to not know what will happen, and I’m impressed that the category’s up-for-grabs chaos has lasted this long. The Screen Actors Guild Awards may clarify matters when they’re presented April 4, but until that big clue comes, let’s parse the contenders and keep scratching our heads.

Maria Bakalova, ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’

Look, let’s get real about this: Not a single one of this year’s nominated performances generated more headlines than Bakalova’s. Her hotel-room encounter with Rudy Giuliani gave the “Borat” sequel its you-gotta-see-it comedic climax, but the fearless Bakalova proved indispensable throughout, picking up on every prankish cue from Sacha Baron Cohen like she was born to play his daughter. You can feel the movie reconfiguring itself around her performance as it continues, and ultimately, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” has a spine and a soul because of what this formerly unknown Bulgarian actress brought to it.

This is, I think, how most voters feel; where they differ is on whether a performance like this can ever really be considered Oscar-worthy. An improvised role in a comedic sequel is pretty much without precedent when it comes to winning Academy Awards, let alone an improvised role in a comedic sequel in which the character is introduced eating a monkey and is then offered to Republican politicians as a child bride. (And those are just the plot points I could name in a family paper!)

It would be completely beyond for Bakalova and “Borat” to triumph in this category, but hey, 2020 was a weird year for the movies. Let the Oscars reflect that with the weirdest win imaginable!

Glenn Close, ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Close is one of the five most-nominated actresses in Oscar history, and the only one of those five who has never won. Isn’t it time to just give her the trophy?

Well, that was pretty much the argument when Close was nominated two years ago for “The Wife,” and it didn’t work then, either. (She lost to Olivia Colman, who is once again nominated against her this year — that’s some real Bening-Swank energy, folks.) Although Close was excellent in “The Wife,” the movie couldn’t stir up enough passion to put her over the top, and critical support is even more lacking for the poverty-porn drama “Hillbilly Elegy,” which is currently sitting at 26% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, I wouldn’t count Close out. There will always be a contingent of voters who simply like to watch a famous person physically transform for a role, and Close as the ruddy-cheeked, wild-eyed Mamaw is giving them that in a way that none of her competition can really touch. She may be the only Oscar nominee this year who received a Razzie nomination for the same performance, but voters are liable to look past all that: They want to see the work that was put into playing a character, and you can’t accuse Close of underselling it.

Olivia Colman, ‘The Father’

The supporting-actress category is usually where you go to win your first Oscar, not your second: Only four women who were already Oscar-minted have ever won another in the supporting-actress category, and the last one was Dianne Wiest in 1995 (for “Bullets Over Broadway”). Colman is the sole contender in this year’s race with an Academy Award at home, so if voters are looking to spread the wealth a little, she won’t be their first pick.

But that recent win does give Colman at least one advantage: Her part in “The Father” couldn’t possibly be more different than the capricious queen she played in “The Favourite,” and to think of those films in concert is to better appreciate Colman’s breathtaking range. She is by far the most sympathetic figure in “The Father,” tending to the addled Anthony Hopkins and weathering so many of his cruel mood swings. You almost want to give her an Oscar just because the poor woman has to endure so much!

While actresses haven’t had much luck picking up a second trophy in this race, men have made a recent sport of it in their own category: Mahershala Ali and Christoph Waltz each pulled off a supporting-actor twofer in short succession. That provides something of a precedent for the similarly respected Colman, as does this: “The Father” earned six nominations, and voters are clearly fond of it. If they want the film to win something on Oscar night, the supporting-actress race is its best bet.

Amanda Seyfried, ‘Mank’

With her role as Marion Davies in “Mank,” Seyfried checks off a lot of Oscar’s favorite boxes: She’s an ingenue (check) playing another ingenue (double-check) in the field-leading best-picture nominee (ch-check). And while Seyfried is best known for comedies, musicals and romances, “Mank” proves that she can seriously shine in a prestige drama, the sort of maybe-you-underestimated-me career arc that Oscar voters gobble up.

Still, it’s a little weird that Seyfried missed out on a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild, which added the young “News of the World” star Helena Zengel in Seyfried’s presumed place. The Oscar winner in this category almost always wins at SAG first, and there’s rarely a path for a non-nominee to prevail: Regina King managed it two years ago for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but at least she picked up a high-profile, televised Golden Globe along the way. A win for Seyfried would still be fully within the Oscars’ wheelhouse, but that SAG snub is going to keep it suspenseful until the very last minute.

Yuh-Jung Youn, ‘Minari’

Actors make up the academy’s biggest branch, and their guild went for “Minari” in a big way: Not only did Youn and Steven Yeun earn nominations there, too, but “Minari” was the only best-picture nominee aside from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to have also earned a commensurate SAG nomination for best cast. And although “Mank” received more Oscar nominations, “Minari” is arguably the stronger movie with a representative in the supporting-actress category, since it also earned a key screenplay Oscar nomination that eluded David Fincher’s film.

Youn’s role as the grandmother in “Minari” is riotously funny and more than a little heartbreaking — if you love the movie, you’ve got to love her, too — and the 73-year-old performer has collected supporting-actress trophies all season from critics’ groups, including the high-profile Los Angeles Film Critics Association. She was the first Korean actress to be nominated for an Academy Award — and she may become the first to win it. Let’s just hope the Oscars have the good sense to invite her wonderful 8-year-old scene partner, Alan S. Kim, to the ceremony: If Youn triumphs, can you imagine his reaction shot?