5 Oscar underdogs that might actually win

(Photos: Getty Images, The Associated Press)

Jonathan Doyle

By the time the Oscars roll around, movie fans have endured nearly three months of nominations and awards, watching the same small group of actors win again and again. 

As a result, most of us develop a false sense of certainty about who’s going home with the gold on Oscar night. While the frontrunners usually win most of the major awards, there are always a few upsets almost no one saw coming. With that in mind, don’t underestimate these five Oscar underdogs come Sunday night. 

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams

Nominated for a meaty role that would be a better fit for the Best Actress category, Viola Davis (“Fences”) has an unfair advantage in this category. As for her competition, Nicole Kidman (“Lion”) and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) already won their Oscars for more attention-grabbing work (“The Hours” and “The Help” respectively), leaving “Moonlight”’s Naomie Harris and “Manchester by the Sea”’s Michelle Williams in the best position to upset the frontrunner. With three previous defeats under her belt, Williams is overdue for an Oscar victory, making her the most likely underdog winner.

Best Supporting Actor: Lucas Hedges

Until recently, Mahershala Ali was best known as a TV actor (“Treme,” “House of Cards”) with little film experience and a much longer name (Mahershalalalhashbaz). However, he came into his own in 2016, emerging as the standout member of “Moonlight”’s acclaimed ensemble. While this is likely to be one of “Moonlight”’s two major Oscar victories—Best Adapted Screenplay also appears to be a safe bet—it’s still conceivable that Ali could lose to seven-time nominee Jeff Bridges or another relative newcomer: “Manchester by the Sea”’s Lucas Hedges. Since the former won his Oscar just seven years ago, we’re putting our underdog money on the latter.

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert

In recent months, Best Actress has turned into a two-way race between youthful crowd-pleaser Emma Stone (“La La Land”) and 63-year-old critics’ darling Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”). With well over 100 credits to her name (and nearly 50 in the last decade alone), Huppert is far more deserving of the lifetime achievement recognition that often comes with this award. But France’s most celebrated actress gets more adulation from critics than Hollywood, a community that usually prefers to reward one of its own. If she pulls off the upset, don’t be surprised if you hear gasps of disbelief—and delight.

Best Actor: Denzel Washington

Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”) should be happy just to be nominated, as their chances of winning this award seem negligible at best. By all indications, Best Actor is another two-way race. Having already won over 40 awards for his muted performance in “Manchester by the Sea,” Casey Affleck has earned frontrunner status, but a series of damning accusations make him vulnerable to a surge from Denzel Washington (“Fences”), a two-time Oscar winner, who last won this award in 2002.

Best Picture: Hidden Figures

Arguably the most decisive Best Picture frontrunner since “Titanic,” “La La Land” scored 14 nominations, tying the record held by James Cameron’s iceberg epic and “All About Eve.” Adding to its advantage, “La La Land” enjoyed near-unanimous critical acclaim and a significantly higher worldwide gross ($340 million and counting) than any of the other nominees. But if any film can deliver the upset, it’s probably “Hidden Figures.” A late addition to this year’s Oscar race — it arrived in theatres just last month— the film recently won the coveted SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast, an honour that has gone to six of the last nine Best Picture winners.