Classic Hollywood comeback story, thy name is Shia LaBeouf. With critically lauded performances in “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and “Honey Boy,” he’s having a pretty fantastic 2019 by any standards. But will that translate to Oscar glory? Let’s explore his chances.
First thing’s first: if the Academy recognizes him, it most likely won’t be for “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” Stranger things have happened, but not many. It’s a delightful little film that everyone seems to be enjoying, but it just doesn’t have the traction to mount a serious Oscar campaign at this time.
But “Honey Boy” is a different story entirely. It may not be a frontrunner by any means, but it contains a few intriguing paths for Shia to net his first-ever Oscar nomination. The first is the more conventional path for an actor within the Best Supporting Actor category. In “Honey Boy,” he plays James Lort, a former rodeo clown who is now micromanaging his young son’s acting career.
It’s universally understood that this is a lightly fictionalized biopic of Shia himself, and the character he’s playing is a stand-in for his father. LaBeouf is commanding in this role, magnetic, manipulative, and toxic in equal measure. His work here, like all good supporting performances, should be, is all in support of his young co-star Noah Jupe, with whom he develops remarkable chemistry.
While all the acting categories are strong this year, Best Supporting Actor might have the most room for surprises. There are plenty of strong contenders, but only a few locks. As it stands now, it would be hard to imagine Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and either Joe Pesci or Al Pacino (or both) in “The Irishman” missing out on a nomination. That leaves two or three spots open, and if casual viewers connect with “Honey Boy” as much as film festival audiences did, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that LaBeouf could snag one of them. Academy voters love a good comeback story, after all, and this is the strongest, most mature performance of his career.
But unlike most of the other actors competing in this category, there’s also the possibility that he could score a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. LaBeouf has received seemingly endless critical acclaim for the “Honey Boy” screenplay, which he based on his own turbulent relationship with his father while he was growing up as a child actor. It’s a vulnerable and deeply moving autobiographical piece, one that shows a keen understanding of human behavior and the impact trauma has on the development of a person.
Unfortunately, although he might legitimately deserve an Oscar nod here, 2019 is an unusually strong year for original screenplays, with “Marriage Story,” “Parasite,” and “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” all powerhouse contenders. But while it seems as though Shia LaBeouf may not have a clear path to victory (or for that matter, a nomination), it would be a mistake to rule him out completely.