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Supporting Actor

The analysis

A bombastic U.S. senator, immature party animal or pugilistic sage? Each of them looks to have a shot at achieving Oscar’s gold standard.

Of the five nominees for supporting actor, the three front-runners appear to be Alan Alda for his portrayal of Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” Thomas Haden Church for his turn as the soon-to-be-married Jack in “Sideways” and Morgan Freeman as Clint Eastwood’s right-hand man in “Million Dollar Baby.”

Their battle for Oscar has as much to do with their outstanding work as it does with a process of elimination involving the other contenders.

Jamie Foxx was widely hailed for his role as Max the cabbie in Michael Mann’s “Collateral,” but is also nominated in the lead actor category for his widely lauded performance as Ray Charles in “Ray.” When a thesp is nominated in two acting categories — and heavily favored in one — Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters tend to pass over the secondary nom in the interests of spreading the wealth.

Foxx is the 10th person to be nominated in two acting categories and no one has ever won both. With his turn in “Ray” looking more and more imminent for an Oscar, his perf in “Collateral” might have a tough time breaking through.

Clive Owen comes off a Golden Globe win for “Closer,” but the film has received mixed reviews and that might be hard to overcome.

That leaves Alda, Church and Freeman, the first two best known for their work on the small screen.

Alda has a remarkable body of work in film and television. He has five Emmys for his turn as Hawkeye Pierce on “MASH” and now has a recurring role in “The West Wing.”

He proves a worthy foe to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes during the government hearings portion of “The Aviator,” and certainly has the breadth of acting experience that voters can appreciate.

Church’s performance in “Sideways” is a revelation, especially for an actor many only know from sitcoms “Wings” and “Ned and Stacey.” His goofy, puerile Jack serves as the perfect counterweight to Paul Giamatti’s crestfallen Miles. Church’s Jack may turn off some female voters, but the work is undeniably on the mark.

Whether the Acad will give out a statue to someone who’s yet to prove himself on the bigscreen remains to be seen.

Freeman is beloved by voters — as witnessed by his now fourth nom — and just picked up a SAG Award. Yet, he’s never won an Oscar and with “Million Dollar Baby” gathering steam, chances are the Acad might finally feel it’s time to reward him with a well-deserved gold statue.

Alan Alda
The Aviator
Current kudos: BAFTA, SAG (nom)
Oscar pedigree: None
Why he’ll win: He’s a respected thesp with a long list of much-admired roles. The fact that he’s in the ensemble of such a well-praised studio film made by one of the greatest living directors doesn’t hurt either.
Why he won’t: Still might be better known as a TV guy than bigscreen one.
Critically speaking: “There are romances with Hollywood royalty Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), glimpses of Hughes’ business genius, airplane test flights and a crowd-pleasing, get-off-the-mat finale pitting the film’s hero against a sanctimonious U.S. senator (well-played by Alan Alda).”
— Glenn Whipp, L.A. Daily News

Thomas Haden Church
Sideways
Current kudos: Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, SAG (nom); Boston Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics, L.A. Film Critics, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, Online Film Critics (won)
Oscar pedigree: None
Why he’ll win: Sometimes the perfect part comes around at the perfect time.
Why he won’t: Backlash by female Academy voters turned off by his tomcatting character.
Critically speaking: “Who ever expected the co-star of TV’s ‘Wings’ and ‘Ned and Stacey’ to suddenly emerge as a riotous presence in a top indie-flavored picture?”
— Todd McCarthy, Variety

Jamie Foxx
Collateral
Current kudos: BAFTA, Broadcast Film Critics, Golden Globes, Online Film Critics, SAG (nom)
Oscar pedigree: None
Why he’ll win: He shared the screen with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and didn’t give an inch.
Why he won’t: He’s considered a strong favorite to win for “Ray” and voters are unlikely to give him two statuettes.
Critically speaking: “Establishing Max as someone others find easy to talk to, Foxx doesn’t overdo the character’s shock and hysteria at his sudden misfortune, nor does he make him seem overly weak only to become falsely brave. What he does do is create a memorable portrait of a very ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances.”
— Todd McCarthy, Variety

Morgan Freeman
Million Dollar Baby
Current kudos: SAG
Oscar pedigree: “Street Smart,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Shawshank Redemption” (nom)
Why he’ll win: The body-of-work factor. He’s one of the most respected actors in the business.
Why he won’t: He didn’t break any new ground with this role.
Critically speaking: “Even brighter, (Clint) Eastwood spotlights on Freeman, who narrates ‘Baby’ with the same beatific calm and all-knowing resonance with which he framed and ennobled ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ (Hilary) Swank and Freeman are both often more powerful than their mentor here and that’s almost certainly what he wanted.”
— Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

Clive Owen
Closer
Current kudos: BAFTA, Broadcast Film Critics, Online Film Critics (nom); Golden Globes, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics (won)
Oscar pedigree: None.
Why he’ll win: Voters are impressed by his work and might be in the mood to stage an upset over more highly touted nominees.
Why he won’t: Like Church, his character didn’t exactly ooze charm and his in-your-face sexual frankness might not sit well with some.
Critically speaking: “(The characters) exist only from moment to moment and only in relation to one another. This places an enormous burden on the actors, who must in effect forge personalities out of thin air and vague language. The only one who succeeds is Mr. Owen, whose volcanic charisma is hedged and to some extent subverted by a flash of rugged wit.”
— A.O. Scott, New York Times

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