Sometimes it seems that the Oscars’ two supporting actor categories are where some of the most impressive work is done. These roles tend to be less flashy but no less crucial than the leads, and they’re performed by some of the best actors around. This year, look for a sentimental favorite and a hardworking newcomer to take home the statues.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale, “The Big Short.” As a socially maladroit but mathematically brilliant hedge-fund manager who bets (wisely) against the U.S. economy, Bale delivers one of this meltdown movie’s best performances.
Tom Hardy, “The Revenant.” An argument could be made that Hardy — a British actor playing a hard-bitten American frontiersman — out-acts Leonardo DiCaprio in this intense survival epic. When DiCaprio won the Golden Globe for his lead performance, he called Hardy “a deep and unbelievable talent.”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight.” This journalism drama was an ensemble picture, but Ruffalo (and co-star Rachel McAdams, also nominated) stood out from the pack. Ruffalo does a fine job as the high-energy, always-on-the-job Michael Rezendes, the real-life Boston Globe reporter who helped uncover the child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies.” An early favorite to win, Rylance is one of those low-profile actors whose long resume of small roles overshadows some of his other impressive credentials (he was the first artistic director of London’s reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe theater). In this film, he was a crowd favorite as the sad-sack Russian spy Rudolf Abel.
Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.” The actor plays Rocky Balboa for the seventh time, and this could be the charm. At 69, Stallone is enjoying his first Oscar nod since 1977, when he was nominated for leading actor and writer for the original “Rocky.”
Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight.” Leigh’s nomination, for playing a wily outlaw in Quentin Tarantino’s violent Western, is something of a surprise given the film’s middling reviews and her mostly nonspeaking role. Still, this is a good year for Leigh, who is also in the voice cast of the Oscar-nominated film “Anomalisa.”
Rooney Mara, “Carol.” She plays a young woman who falls for an older, married woman in Todd Haynes’ lush romance. It’s a fine performance, though the passivity of the role may work against her Oscar potential.
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight.” McAdams plays Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, the only woman on the investigative team that broke open the Catholic Church child-abuse scandal. McAdams’ sensitive performance in a scene involving an adult survivor — one who must tell her his most painful memories — may be the reason she’s in this category.
Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl.” The Swedish actress appeared in six major films during 2015, capping the year by playing the wife of a transgender artist (Eddie Redmayne). She drew widespread praise for the performance and seems to be the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar. Either way, she’s still working hard, having just wrapped production on the upcoming “Jason Bourne.”
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs.” Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for this biopic didn’t have much room for real characters, but Winslet became the exception. She plays Jobs’ right-hand woman, Joanna Hoffman, who mediates his messed-up relationship with his daughter.