One of this year's most talked about categories, best supporting actor not only represents cultural diversity, but also themes and age demographic. Still, there should be only one clear winner from this group (*cough* Mahershala Ali *cough*). But I'll go ahead and talk which scenes make each of the nominated performances noteworthy:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
In a movie in which its characters are either yearning for human connection or railing against it, Ali's Juan is the one grounded soul and the one who most influences main character Chiron (portrayed in three stages of his life by three separate actors). He makes such an impact that when he's no longer in the film, his presence is still felt. The scene that continues to stick out in my mind is when he encounters Chiron's mother (Naomie Harris) and realizes he's sold her drugs before. The feeling of guilt and conflict is shown all over his face as he struggles to decide how to proceed. It's that conflict that humanizes him, and is emulated later in Chiron.
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Much of the time watching this No Country for Old Men knock-off (I mean that in the nicest way possible, because I really like this film), I was struggling with whether or not I like Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), the cranky old sheriff hell bent on catching two small town crooks ripping through Texas. His casual racism and curmudgeonly behavior come to a full stop once the crime hits close to home and his cops and robbers chase turns into a personal revenge mission. At that moment, while he's leaning over the body of his partner, he somehow finds the physical strength to climb up a hot mountain and trail the path of his intended target.
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
If there is any actor this year that has literally earned an Oscar nomination for epitomizing typical young suburban white male angst, it's this guy. An angsty teen, juggling girlfriends and band lessons, and grappling with the death of his father, rages out against his temporary guardian (Casey Affleck) who threatens to disrupt his world by forcing him to relocate with him. (CAUTION: peak privilege). Like every teenager, Patrick is overly dramatic in this scene, and projecting his frustration on the nearest adult in the room. Again, this is basic material, but Oscar voters apparently like it.
Dev Patel, Lion
I still don't know how Patel landed in this category and not with the best actor nominees, but if there is one scene I have to choose with him, it's the one that is in fact the best scene in the film. Throughout the film we are taken on this journey with Saroo (Patel) to discover his true identity and the family he lost somewhere in India, and once he finally reunites with his mother, his expression is enough to make your heart burst. Then that's followed by shattering news, and Patel must manage to embody happiness, despair, and fatigue all at once. And he does, effortlessly.
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Like Bridges's Marcus Hamilton, it's hard to determine whether Shannon's Bobby Andes (also a Texan) is a good guy. Always throwing massive levels of shade at everyone in his path, including Jake Gyllenhaal's grieving dad, it becomes acutely evident that Bobby gets off on pinning the punk. So when he finally catches his first suspect, he relishes every moment of it. In a cold interrogation scene, just before the film launches into its third act, you see a slight flicker of enjoyment cross Shannon's face as Bobby gears up for what could be his biggest case yet.