OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Supporting Performance Races

Now we come down to the performance races, which almost always tend to become less competitive as the season progresses. That’s mostly because, Best Picture aside, they’re the most consistently present categories most awards, guilds notwithstanding. Is that to say they’re all tied up in a bow? Not necessarily, but even if they were, there’d still be plenty worth discussing in each lineup, this year particularly. The supporting races are (or should be) a feast of strong scene-stealing performances, so lets see how they’ll check out of this season.

Michael Fassbender 12 Years a SlaveBest Supporting Actor

  • 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

At the start of the season I was very curious about how this race would progress. After all, this is the category most by the vigorous villains (Bardem, Ledger), sweet-natured victims of circumstance (Plummer, Arkin) and lead performances by Christoph Waltz. Two performances of this bunch could fit that first category, Michael Fassbender perhaps being the most overtly villainous of the lineup. How could he not be? He’s a racist, a slaver, a monster, but still unsettlingly a human being. Fassbender channels the same broiling, destructive physicality that earned him acclaim in Shame and exerts it on the screen with less contained fury. Earlier this season, I thought he’d be the one to beat.

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers ClubThen came Captain Phillips‘ film stealing standout Barkhad Abdi, the most marvelous thing in Paul Greengrass’ impressive and exciting real-world thriller that totes ace sound design, enticing international politics and Tom Hanks’ best performance to date. He won the BAFTA, so there’s definitely a lot of good will going for his fiercely desperate work, and his fiercely desperate background as a cab driver in Minneapolis. It’s an inspiring story, but moreover it’s a well deserved one. His presence here wouldn’t be just a sympathy, as he fully deserves recognition for it.

Of course Barkhad’s BAFTA win was aided by the absence of frontrunner Jared Leto, who has taken the bulk of the precursors for playing the second of the above categories, sweet-natured victim of circumstance Rayon. The Academy loves transformation, and a star who has largely given up on acting returning to give one of the most impressively inhabited performances of his career is another inspiring story, aided by the voice he’s seemingly giving to transsexuals onscreen. My issue, though, is how much of a stunt his performance feels like, or at least that’s how I feel whenever he does an interview. It frankly doesn’t seem like his work comes from passion for who he’s giving voice to, something which I take issue with from a very personal perspective. And yeah, there are plenty of transsexual actress’ who deserved that breakout role, but that’s less exciting to producers than getting a man to play a woman.

Bradley Cooper, American HustleThe two remaining candidates are Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill, who both play more endearingly flawed, tragically volatile assholes than all-out villains. I know plenty are moaning about “two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill”, and I too wouldn’t have even considered voting him for either of his nominated performances. It’s still not worth nothing that an actor widely dismissed as a comedic actor is getting recognition for taking risks. It should only mean that truly deserving work is somewhere down the pipeline. As for Cooper, I’ve been a beguiled fan of his work since surprising us with Silver Linings Playbook, and now even further developing the debilitating neuroses of his characters with O. Russell. They make for a superb actor-director pairing, and though the same could be said of O. Russell’s work with all American Hustle‘s nominated stars, Cooper’s image as an actor is the one that’s been most healthily and astonishingly transformed by the partnership.

Predicted Winner: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Preferred Winner: Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Write-In Vote: Michael Polley, Stories We Tell

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a SlaveBest Supporting Actress

  • Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
  • Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
  • Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
  • June Squibb, Nebraska

Three of the candidates in this race don’t really stand a chance, something that’s often irritated me while breaking down these individual categories. I’d say, however, this is arguably the strongest lineup this category has had since 2007’s assembly of Cate Blanchett, Ruby Dee, Saoirse Ronan, Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton. Of this group, the only one I’m not significantly charmed by is June Squibb, though I can see how many took to it. I’m not sure I have much to say about the performance, which speaks to how perfunctory I found it, but it’s nice to see the Academy not stretching to fill their ballots with older candidates.

Julia Roberts, August Osage CountySally Hawkins is perhaps an even less expected nominee here, though her warmth and acute sensitivity throughout Blue Jasmine was clear even to those utterly beguiled by Cate Blanchett’s more obviously showstopping performance. Hawkins has a lot of good will earned after missing the nod in 2008 for Happy-Go-Lucky, but I wouldn’t expect that to push her towards the win. Another earthy performance, though one of a more muddy tone, Julia Roberts was the surprise standout of August: Osage County, a performance piece destined to walk away with at least one impressive performance. Those who voted for Streep would argue there’s two, but Roberts’ display of volatility is not only a better performance than Streep’s, but a better lead. She may have gotten my vote here if it weren’t such a blatant case of category fraud.

The two frontrunners is this race are, as could be expected, the category’s youngest nominees. Lupita Nyong’o entered the season with the kind of commanding fury you don’t expect of a first-time performance, but it’s a gloriously sympathetic and powerful role that she has backing her up. We arguably hold more affinity for Nyong’o’s Patsy than anyone else, even Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northrup, in 12 Years a Slave, and she has to hold down some incredibly tough scenes that challenge her both physically and psychologically. After winning the SAG award in this category, many expect her to win.

Jennifer Lawrence, American HustleHere’s where everyone looks at me like a crazy person, because not only do I expect Jennifer Lawrence to win over Nyong’o – for her second consecutive win, I should add – but I also believe she deserves to. I’ve heard the cries of “too much, too soon” so much that I’ve almost started to believe them, worrying that J-Law may have a critical backlash descending upon her following her win. Concerned as I am, I can’t honestly say Lawrence doesn’t absolutely command the stage in her salaciously limited screen time. Some might accuse her of having the “most acting” of the nominees, but her unwavering commitment to the manic extremes of the character is what makes her a commanding presence onscreen, and I truly don’t think anyone else could bring to the role what she does.

Predicted & Preferred Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Write-In Vote: Amy Adams, Her

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