Star Tribune movie critic Colin Covert assesses the Academy Awards nominees for supporting roles. 

(Key: G = Golden Globes nomination; S = nomination by Screen Actors Guild; B = nomination by British Academy of Film and Television Arts)


Viola Davis for “Fences”

Role: Rose Maxson, long-suffering wife of a Pittsburgh garbage collector, making every effort she can to keep their troubled family together.

In her favor: She’s a powerhouse performer back in her Tony-winning role. She vacuums up TV awards and Globes, but no Oscar yet. Let’s fix that. (Globes win/S/B)

Then again: Nothing. I don’t think there’s a possible case against her. 

Naomie Harris for “Moonlight”

Role: Paula, an addicted single mother who’s unable to provide guidance to her confused and lonely son.

In her favor: The way she rages feels like a hard punch in the stomach. When her scenes are over, viewers need to catch their breath. (G/S/B)

Then again: What kind of statement would it be to reward a black actress playing an addict instead of one playing a hero at NASA? 

Nicole Kidman for “Lion”

Role: Sue Brierley, Australian adoptive mother of a Calcutta urchin. She is warm, generous and capable of good deeds with complicated consequences.

In her favor: It’s an understated, nuanced performance that practically bleeds soulful grace and kindness from every pore. (G/S/B)

Then again: Oddsmakers place her fourth in this race. She legitimately owns every scene she’s in, but it’s a slender role. 

Octavia Spencer for “Hidden Figures”

Role: Dorothy Vaughan, a NASA mathematician and supervisor in the early 1960s.

In her favor: Spencer won in this category five years ago for “The Help,” which dramatized similar themes. She’s equally impressive as playful or dead serious, and this role showcases both facets. (G/S)

Then again: This part doesn’t feel like a major turning point in her career. We’ve seen her do this before. 

Michelle Williams for “Manchester by the Sea”

Role: Randi Chandler, former wife of the film’s blue-collar protagonist.

In her favor: It’s a small role with the impact of a Molotov cocktail. With co-star Casey Affleck, she does a three-minute autopsy on their marriage that demands Kleenex.

Then again: It’s a precisely cut gem of a performance, but like a petite diamond, it may not stand out large enough for everyone to see its radiance. 


Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight”

Role: Juan, an unexpectedly kind Miami drug dealer who serves as a surrogate father to a bullied schoolboy.

In his favor: The likely winner, Ali offers a graceful take on a remarkably rich character, bringing life to a classic hoodlum archetype. (G/S/B)

Then again: The character’s sketchy early disappearance from the story leaves a sense of unresolved issues. The classic three-act arc feels missing. 

Jeff Bridges for “Hell or High Water”

Role: Marcus Hamilton, an ornery Texas Ranger. He’s a slippery character, with a steel-reinforced moral code you hate to love.

In his favor: It’s a big, puffed-up role like his great Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” He supplies plenty of wish-I’d-said-that zingers in a performance that deserves the Oscar. (G/S/B)

Then again: He didn’t win as Cogburn. This is essentially the same dish, warmed over, with a big squirt of hot sauce. 

Lucas Hedges for “Manchester by the Sea”

Role: Patrick Chandler, a wisecracking teenager getting to know his distant uncle after a family crisis.

In his favor: He portrays grief in a way that is refreshingly honest, tamping down tears because to teenage boys crying isn’t acceptable unless you’re mentally unstable. (S)

Then again: This is clearly a Star of Tomorrow turn. A few more swings, and he’ll surely hit a homer. 

Dev Patel for “Lion”

Role: Saroo Brierley, adopted as a lost child by an Australian couple, who sets out in adulthood to find his birth family.

In his favor: Shedding the young, comedic roles that have followed him since “Slumdog Millionaire,” Patel nails his most demanding job to date. (G/S/B)

Then again: His segment of the film isn’t the real heart of the movie. The powerful finale is too little, too late. 

Michael Shannon for “Nocturnal Animals”

Role: Bobby Andes, a small-town Texas policeman bringing down a gang of hoods.

In his favor: Nobody beats Shannon at being a big, tall, square-jawed bruiser. He turns a standard cop role into an avenging angel.

Then again: As one of the baddies, Aaron Taylor-Johnson won the Globe in this category; Shannon wasn’t even in the running. 


Janelle Monáe for “Hidden Figures”

Role: Mary Jackson, who fought to study advanced math in a segregated school and became NASA’s first black female engineer.

Why she deserved a nomination: While Monáe may not be 100 percent convincing as a rocket scientist, she has irresistible magnetism.

Then again: Voters like newcomers in this category, but she’s much better known as a singer. 

Hugh Grant for “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Role: St. Clair Bayfield, Jenkins’ sycophantic yet loving husband. He betrays the heiress with a mistress and, worse, with endless praise of her awful voice.

Why he deserved a nomination: His crazed jitterbug dancing is the funniest single scene of his career. (G/S/B)

Then again: He plays a florid ham actor trapped in self-delusion, which may be a little close to the bone.