Rotten Tomatoes' Early Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

Pesci, Pacino, Pitt: It's a battle of the megastars when it comes to Supporting Actors this year.

by | November 6, 2019 | Comments


(Photo by Courtesy of Netflix)

We’re at the stage in awards season where we can mostly peg who’s competing for Lead Actor and who is competing for Supporting. Though there has been no ‘official’ word yet on Christian Bale and Matt Damon for Ford vs. Ferrari, early whispers have both Oscar winners going lead. In truth, the supporting performances prove the hardest because the category on both sides is often stacked with leading performances that are being positioned for supporting to up their chances of winning.

For the supporting performances in 2020, we see a reversal of previous years. The men seem to have the hardest path to a nomination, while the female side is relatively more straightforward. As with our Best Actor predictions, the list of male supporting performances runs deep, with several marquee names and newcomers in contention. Post-TIFF-Telluride-Venice, a number of the films likely to be in the conversation have already screened and earned Tomatometer scores, plus the pundits are already singling out the major standout performances in them. We’re sifting through all that noise and breaking down our  early picks for 2020 Best Supporting Actor contenders.

Don’t agree with our picks? Have at us in the comments.

Sterling K. Brown Waves (2019) 84%

Who doesn’t love Sterling K. Brown? The This Is Us star has charmed his way into the hearts of America with his moving and hilarious portrayal of Randall on the hit NBC drama. Even more impressive, the actor managed that while filming his performance in the third effort for up-and-coming indie favorite Trey Edward Shults – that’s right, he shot a full feature film while the weekly drama was still in production. Waves is a film that is best enjoyed when you go in knowing as little as possible, so we don’t want to give too much away here, but the Emmy winner’s turn as the stern and demanding father to Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s model minority son is frightening, charismatic, and gut-wrenching. Perhaps the largest obstacle in the way of Brown making it to Oscar night will be how the Academy reacts to the film’s distinctive narrative style.

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) 95%

It is fitting that the nicest and most beloved man in Hollywood would portray the nicest man to ever grace our television screens. Fred Rogers was an icon of children’s television and a relentless advocate for the value of carving out a safe space for children on our airways. Since the first trailer was released back in July – and sometime before that, if we’re being are honest – Tom Hanks has been on just about every prognosticator’s shortlist for Oscar glory. (Though the same was said of his performance in The Post back in 2018, and he failed to garner a nomination.) Marielle Heller, who directed Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy to dual Oscar nominations last year in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, is poised to maybe do the same for Hanks and lead Matthew Rhys in 2020. Perhaps after a couple of nominations for Heller’s film, we can finally get over the fact the Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? failed to make it to Oscar night this year.

Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, The Irishman (2019) 96%


(Photo by Netflix)

Last year, during the Oscars ceremony, as Netflix was racking up multiple wins from its 15 nominations, the studio opted to play a teaser for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming and long-awaited film The Irishman. It was a signal to the Academy and anyone who was watching that regardless of what happened that night, they were just getting started. With the movie currently Certified Fresh at 97% on the Tomatometer, Scorsese and company are set to rack up multiple nominations, including likely dual nominations for Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. The latter came out of retirement to play quietly menacing mob figure Russell Bufalino in the film, while Pacino portrays the teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. Both men are operating at the height of their powers for this new mob epic based on a script by Steven Zaillian. The only thing standing in the way of Pacino or Pesci taking home the top prize is Brad Pitt, but more on that later.

Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy (2020) 84%

Warner Bros. Pictures

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Academy is particularly fond of films that pair riveting performances with a timely message (see BlacKkKlansman and Get Out for recent examples). Just Mercy is a true-life adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s book chronicling the Harvard Lawyer’s founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and his attempts to navigate the perilous world of death row incarceration and bring exoneration to those wrongly convicted. Set in the heart of Alabama, the book and movie from director Destin Daniel Cretton both shine a light on the systematic racism of our criminal justice system, which so often unjustly incarcerates African-Americans. One of Stevenson’s first and most high-profile clients, Walter McMillian, is the focus of the narrative and is brought to life by Jamie Foxx. Foxx is powerful and tragic as the downhearted inmate just months away from execution, and he is getting his best reviews since his Oscar-winning role in Ray. Foxx’s history with the Academy and the film’s subject matter place him as a strong contender, though if there were any real justice in this world, his co-star Rob Morgan would be right there in contention with him for his brief but powerful depiction of another death row inmate.

Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019) 85%

With such a stacked field, star power could be the thing that tips the vote – and no one has more star power than Brad Pitt. Now that we are confident the A-lister is competing for the supporting category and not for lead, we are placing our money on his chances for a nomination and potentially winning it all. Pitt’s quiet confidence and cocksure smile as strong and silent stuntman Cliff Booth has charmed both critics and audiences alike. Though the star has come out saying that he doesn’t plan to campaign, the veteran actor and producer may not have much to say in the matter; it is the studio and friends of potential nominees that have more say in how the film is rolled out to critics and Academy members.

Also in contention: 

  • Timothée Chalamet (Little Women)
  • Anthony Hopkins (Two Popes)
  • Rob Morgan (Just Mercy)
  • Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy)
  • Wesley Snipes (Dolemite Is My Name)
  • Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
  • Jamie Bell (Rocketman)
  • Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)
  • Alan Alda (Marriage Story)

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