'Moonlight' sensation has the edge at present

'Moonlight' breakout has the edge entering gala

Mahershala Ali has flirted with Hollywood stardom for a while now. Will the 43-year-old finally vault to the head of the class Sunday night in Los Angeles?

Online sports book Bovada.lv gives the “Moonlight” scene-stealer odds of -700 to walk away with the Best Supporting Actor statue at the 89th annual Academy Awards ceremony. His chief competition comes from seven-time Oscar nominee Jeff Bridges, the soul of sleeper Western hit “Hell or High Water,” and “Lion” standout Dev Patel. Newcomer Lucas Hedges and respected veteran Michael Shannon round out the field.

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After appearing as a series regular on Netflix’s “House of Cards” and in the final two chapters of the “Hunger Games” franchise, Ali struck dramatic gold with 2016’s breakout independent film. The California native doesn’t receive a bevy of juicy monologues during director Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age tale, but his presence is still felt long after the closing credits roll. “Moonlight” totaled eight nominations, too, further bolstering Ali’s chances.

Bridges (+1400) knows this terrain quite well, having been lauded for his work in “True Grit” and “Crazy Heart” in the past decade alone. Yet “Hell or High Water” ultimately feels like a minor entry in the fan favorite’s catalog of movies. The same applies for Shannon’s (+1800) turn in “Nocturnal Animals,” Tom Ford’s neo-noir follow-up to “A Single Man.”

Ostensibly, that leaves the fresh-faced Hedges and Patel as Ali’s main foes. In “Manchester by the Sea,” Hedges (+1800) holds his own against such heavyweights as Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. Patel (+600), however, arguably anchors the emotional journey of “Lion.” Bank on a closer-than-expected finish.

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