It takes a strong man to play the role of supporting actor. He must contribute to the film while not eclipsing the leading man. It’s not an easy task, but five very talented actors have been singled out by the Academy as exemplars.

Morgan Morel
George Clooney plays a CIA operative in “Syriana.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The most visible man in the category this year is George Clooney. He is nominated for his portrayal of Bob Barnes, a CIA operative in the explosive “Syriana.” It’s a convincing performance, and if the Academy rewards monumental physical changes (see Charlize Theron in “Monster”), look for him to take home Oscar. Besides the 20 pounds Clooney gained for the role, he also comes to the race steeped in goodwill for his directorial effort, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

But “Crash” has been gaining momentum lately, and this may help nominee Matt Dillon. In the business for more than 15 years, his turn as a racist cop who finds a small amount of redemption won the actor his first Oscar nomination. If it turns into his movie’s night, Dillon may reap the benefits, but for now he remains a longshot.

After being snubbed for “Sideways” and “American Splendor,” Paul Giamatti finally gets some recognition for his role of Joe Gould in the Depression-era drama “Cinderella Man.” But after Morgan Freeman, can a boxing coach win twice in a row? If the Academy wants to make up for its mistakes, Giamatti could find himself on the podium come Oscar night.

With a role in the movie to beat, “Brokeback Mountain,” Jake Gyllenhaal’s chances are fair in this race. The role took guts and stamina, however, he could be considered a leading actor in the movie, and this may hurt his chances of winning.

Taking a small role and making it memorable, William Hurt is nominated for his brutality in “A History of Violence.” Truly mesmerizing in the role, he only shows up near the end of the movie. However, the Academy awarded Judi Dench for barely 15 minutes of screen time, so why not Hurt?

As the buzz for each actor grows, it becomes harder to make a clear predication. Clooney is the favorite, but Giamatti is close behind. It will be a fight until the envelope is opened.

Oscar Race 2006 Best Supporting Actor

George Clooney Syriana
Matt Dillon Crash
Paul Giamatti Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal Brokeback Mountain
William Hurt A History of Violence

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