As we continue our in-depth look at the coming awards season, it’s now time to delve in the Best Supporting Actor race. It’s a tough category this year, with a number of impressive turns from a variety of actors. The two big standouts emerged at the Toronto Film Festival this past September with Jared Leto earning extremely high praise for his turn as a transsexual opposite Mattthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, and Michael Fassbender turning heads as a ruthless slave owner in the highly emotional 12 Years a Slave. But there are plenty of other contenders as well, with both Jonah Hill and James Franco firmly in the race for a pair of more comic performances.
Hit the jump to read the latest edition of Oscar Beat, in which we examine the Best Supporting Actor category.
When Dallas Buyers Club premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this fall, all eyes were on what was potentially a striking and Oscar worthy turn from star Matthew McConaughey. While McConaughey did indeed deliver a swell performance, he was nearly upstaged by his co-star Jared Leto, who completely disappears into the role of Rayon. Leto has swept three critics groups awards already and seems destined for an Oscar nomination, if not the win. He’s definitely the one to beat at the moment.
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Nipping at Leto’s heels is Michael Fassbender, who turns in a tremendous performance as the despicable and complicated slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. The film is already a favorite to land a multitude of Oscar nominations, and while Fassbender has yet to earn a Best Supporting Actor trophy from one of the critics groups, he remains a frequent nominee. Fassbender was overlooked for a Best Actor nomination for his previous collaboration with director Steve McQueen on Shame, but I don’t see the Academy making the same mistake twice.
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Although Jonah Hill is known for his excellent comedic work, he’s spent the past few years trying his hand at more dramatic roles in 2010 and 2011 with Cyrus and Moneyball, respectively, and the latter earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. He could very well land on the Oscar shortlist once again for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which appears to be a perfect marriage between his improvisational comedy background and the dramatic world of a veteran filmmaker. Wall Street only recently screened for critics, but Hill has been earning very high praise from early reactions, and given his history with the Academy he seems like a solid bet to land a second Oscar nod.
James Gandolfini’s passing earlier this year was an incredibly sad event, but his warm, grounded performance in Enough Said is a wonderful celebration of the man and his work. The Screen Actors Guild awarded Gandolfini only the third posthumous nomination in the organization’s history, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Academy felt like celebrating him with a much-deserved Oscar nomination.
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Though audiences may have gone into Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks on the mind, nearly everyone came out of the theater talking about newcomer Barkhad Abdi. The Somali-born actor goes toe-to-toe with the veteran Hanks in Paul Greengrass’ tense dramatic thriller, bringing some very welcomed nuance to the story of the 2009 hostage crisis. Abdi has enjoyed plenty of praise from critics for his supporting performance, and a SAG nomination means he has a significant amount of support from his peers as well.
Daniel Bruhl’s work as Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s F1 racing film Rush was one of the first standout performances of the fall awards race, and while the actor was an early frontrunner for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, he had cooled a bit in recent weeks when the race started heating up with other contenders. A SAG award nomination in the category has now increased Bruhl’s chances of landing an Oscar nod significantly, and deservingly so. The actor gives a wonderfully calculated performance in the film, more than holding his own opposite Chris Hemsworth’s rival F1 driver, James Hunt.
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Director David O. Russell’s American Hustle seems to have split reactions between those who think it’s brilliant and those who think it’s merely OK, but there’s no denying the strength of the pic’s ensemble cast. Bradley Cooper does a swell job of bringing the slightly manic FBI agent Richie DiMasso to life, and though he’s upstaged a bit by Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence, strong support for American Hustle in the Academy could result in Cooper’s second Oscar nomination in a row.
Tom Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks
Though he’s certainly a contender in the Best Actor race this year for Captain Phillips, the highly competitive nature of that category might result in Tom Hanks being recognized for a supporting turn instead. The two-time Oscar winner has the distinction of being the first actor to portray Walt Disney on the big screen, and Hanks appears to have done a fine job. Though Saving Mr. Banks wasn’t a unanimous success with critics, the film’s Hollywood sentimentality might translate to strong support in the Academy, and Best Supporting Actor could be one of a few nominations the movie picks up along the way.
Potential Dark Horse
Though the Oscar conversation regarding Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska seems to be mostly focusing on Bruce Dern’s lead performance, a groundswell of support for Will Forte has been growing in recent weeks. The National Board of Review chose Forte for the Best Supporting Actor award, and if he picks up a few more critics trophies along the way, the attention could result in a surprise Oscar nomination. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but the Supporting categories are where most of the Oscar surprises crop up. It also helps that Forte is an incredibly likable guy and does a great job with this more dramatic performance.
James Franco – Spring Breakers
As I said, the Supporting categories are where Oscar surprises mostly come into play, and James Franco’s turn as the criminal Alien in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers just might warrant Oscar consideration. A24 Films has launched a serious campaign to get Franco a nomination, and it was only a few years ago that Robert Downey Jr. landed a Best Supporting Actor nod for his comedic turn in Tropic Thunder. It’s true that the Academy usually neglects to recognize comedy, but in the rare instances where they pay attention, it’s usually in the Supporting categories.
John Goodman – Inside Llewyn Davis
It’s weird to call a Coen Brothers film an “underdog”, but even though Inside Llewyn Davis remains a serious contender in a number of categories, it’s having trouble landing “frontrunner” status in any of them. That being said, John Goodman could possibly earn his first Oscar nomination for his work in the Coens’ snapshot of the 1960s folk music scene. It’s a bit of a longshot given that Goodman hasn’t received any precursor nominations, but as the rest of the guild and critics groups nominations play out over the next few weeks, he’s one to keep an eye on.
To catch up on all of our Oscar Beat coverage thus far, click here.