2014 Oscar Race: Best Supporting Actor

It’s February, and that means its Oscar time around this blog. This is the fourth of nine blog pieces set to roll out between now and the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, all of which will be breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories.

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post my Oscar scorecard right before the show as best I can – I’ve seen each of the films in the eight categories I’m covering, but not across the board.

On to today’s posting: Best Supporting Actor.

The Nominees
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Who Will Win: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Who Could Win: Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Who Should Win: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Who Should Be Here: Harrison Ford (42)

This will be the shortest of these posts: If anyone other than Jared Leto walks home with the Oscar on March 2, it will be a shocking turn of events.

Leto gave perhaps the best performance in any film of the year. He played the transgender character of Rayon with a significant number of mental health issues. Rayon also had to provide much of the comic relief in the heavy “ In the hands of a lesser actor, Rayon could have been a distraction as heavy-handed or a parody. But Leto, in his first film in six years, played the character with immense skill and balance.

For his efforts, Leto has essentially won every preseason award in the book. The other nominees (these Oscar ones and others) have essentially shown up to the other shows just to watch Leto win other awards.

An upset would be so surprising, it’s virtually impossible to call who it might be (but I’m gonna do it anyway). Bradley Cooper has one of the best chances of the other four. Cooper gave a terrific performance in American Hustle, but is in trouble because his was, at best, the fourth best in the film (behind Amy Adams, Christian Bale & Jennifer Lawrence – and debatably Jeremy Renner). But if you’ve been following my “spread it around” theory, Cooper’s candidacy could perhaps draw some additional heat.

The same goes for Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender has been a fast-rising actor in recent years, and is poised for an even better 2014. In 12 Years, Fassbender played the relatively small role of a slave owner. The role could have been completely one-dimensional (and I’d bet it was written that way), but Fassbender brought both a new level of crazy and even a bit of sympathy into it.

My personal favorite in this category was Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips, if for no other reason than this was his first acting job – ever. Abdi owned the screen in each scene he was in with such a commanding presence and intensity that I wonder if it actually cost Tom Hanks his Best Actor nomination.

I am also happy to see Jonah Hill get a slot here. Hill, who came up in raunchy comedies like Superbad, has made a terrific conversion to dramatic actor. And – believe it or not – this is his second Oscar nomination (the first was for Moneyball a couple years back). The Wolf of Wall Street was a terrific film (I gave it four stars), but it was very divisive, costing it huge come Oscar time. Hill landing on the list here was a bit of a surprise, but helped avoid a disappointing Oscar result for the picture.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year was the complete ignoral (is this a word? It should be) of Harrison Ford’s turn as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey in 42. Ford completely disappeared into Rickey in a way we’ve seldom seen from the great and legendary actor, even seemingly elevating the performances around him. It seems that since the film came out in April and was (perhaps) lighter than many thought it should have been, leading to its ignoral (yeah, not a word) come Oscar time.