Much like the Best Actor race, this year's Best Supporting Actor nominees feel like a broad mix of talents that each highlight a different portion of charismatic performances. From transsexual (Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club) to boat hijacker (Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips) to a crack smoking broker (Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street), this feels like a crazy selection just on paper. However, the lack of one performance standing out makes it an exciting year that keeps the category from feeling as closed off as some of the others.
If anything, the nominees here are already far more exciting than last year's. Considering that every nominee in this category had won before last year, to see three of the five be newcomers and the other two not being winners, it almost feels like a level playing field. It also feels like the strangest blended group of nominees that could have been conceived, speaking as Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) and David Oyelowo (The Butler) had some potential of being upsets. Luckily, the results have provided something fresh and exciting to talk about, which I feel is the strength of the Academy's decisions this year more than anything else.
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
It seems like the majority of film goers this past year have fallen in love with Dallas Buyers Club, including myself. Matthew McConaughey has turned into a much deserved conversation point with a brilliant performance. I am not as keen on Jared Leto's supporting role, which is fine, but I like it more in its concept. The film is an uneven yet powerful analysis of the AIDS epidemic and Leto definitely made the cause more sympathetic. The only thing is that he felt more nuanced and less memorable than his co-star. The nomination is deserved, but with him winning every award up to this point, I do feel like he isn't quite deserving. It could largely be that the Academy has recognized actors who have played homosexuals in the past (see: Best Actor winner Sean Penn - Milk) and that the very idea of Leto's character is that he is brave. That is fine and all, though in a year where the runner up is a menacing Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), it doesn't feel like the award is going to the right person.
ODDS: It will seem most likely that Dallas Buyers Club has the male acting categories locked down for wins with their only threat being from the 12 Years a Slave nominees.
Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
It seemed for a long time like 12 Years a Slave would have swept the Academy Awards, including Michael Fassbender's role that is so full of violence, energy, and darkness that he easily overshadows most of his co-stars. It is a role that demands you attention and carries the film into dark crevices of the human soul. The only thankful side to Fassbender's potential loss is that he will most likely return somewhere down the line provided he keeps turning in performances like this. Even then, the bait and switch that threw all of the recognition on Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) does seem absurd, though most likely because of how stale the 12 Years a Slave discussion had gotten even by the beginning of December when all of the other nominees began to state their cases. He has lost to Leto quite a bit, so I do worry that the superior performance will be ignored for being too brash and off-putting, yet there is hope that whichever way things go, Fassbender will be back soon enough for another Oscar nomination.
ODDS: If Jared Leto somehow loses steam in the final stretch of awards season, Michael Fassbender could pull ahead, depending on how esteemed 12 Years a Slave still seems come the big night.
Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
I wasn't all that favorable to Captain Phillips upon its release, however the appearance of Barkhad Abdi as the villainous pirate shot the first time actor to the most memorable character, even surpassing Tom Hanks. The love for Captain Phillips has been strange, specifically in its annexing of Tom Hanks from the Best Actor category. However, the Abdi praise is worth the nomination and while it seems unlikely that the unknown actor could win, his performance has enough steam behind it to be a possible upset. The only potential problem is that even in terms of menace, he is overlooked in favor Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and with Captain Phillips not being a film most people are putting much anticipation on winning awards, it is likely that its sole acting nomination will not be pulling any upset against the heavier, more recognized competitors.
ODDS: Very low, considering that it is a pleasant surprise that he even got nominated considering the lack of conversation surrounding Captain Phillips.
Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street
To a large extent, I loathed the idea that Jonah Hill was an Oscar nominee with Moneyball (Best Supporting Actor). His performance there felt baffling at awards time and it only seemed to exist to be a running gag in This is the End. Then came The Wolf of Wall Street and suddenly I was mad that he was a two-time nominee because of Moneyball. In the Martin Scorsese epic, he is so great at blending darkness, perversion, and comedy into an amazing performance that almost made him seem like Leonardo DiCaprio's rabid dog let loose. It is a performance that makes you believe that Hill is a great actor with capabilities of doing work above lowbrow comedy. That alone makes the surprise nomination all the more worth it, if just because it was being ignored by every other awards ceremony. With that said, his acclaim isn't quite as recognized as DiCaprio's and with little previous prestige built up, it seems like a very long shot that he will manage to upset Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) or Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) come awards night. Even if his performance is recognized, it seems unlikely considering The Wolf of Wall Street's controversial existence.
ODDS: Very low, though he does win as one of the most pleasant surprises in terms of 2014 Oscar nominees.
Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
I get why he was nominated, but why did it need to happen? American Hustle works as a great ensemble film with top notch actors turning in enjoyable performances. It isn't that Bradley Cooper was bad, but comparatively he wasn't as memorable. It is a question that I asked with his Silver Linings Playbook (Best Actor) nomination and reprise here. His nomination both times feel unfortunate in that they feel like they exist solely to give director David O. Russell the prestigious recognition of being nominated in all of the top categories. The only difference this time is that American Hustle's overbearing recognition is less egregious. It is strange to consider Cooper a two time nominee. He is fine and the film is in anticipation of an upset, but there isn't enough momentum around Cooper to make him a surprise winner.
ODDS: Practically none, as his nomination alone feels like a novelty move only to make David O. Russell's achievements look more impressive.
Is Michael Fassbender capable of overthrowing Jared Leto? Will Barkhad Abdi's guerrilla performance be recognize despite Captain Phillips' low profile? Will Bradley Cooper ever get nominated and actually stand a legitimate chance?