Last year, the actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor combined for six previous Oscar wins and sixteen prior nominations. This year, there could not be a more polar-opposite assemblage of performers. Three of this year’s five nominees have never been nominated for an Academy Award. Only Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper have previously received Oscar nominations; however, these two actors combine for just two previous nominations. Even though this year’s group is made up of novices in regards to the Oscars, it is nonetheless one of the most competitive categories of the entire Academy Awards field. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
WINNER: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)
In 12 Years A Slave, Michael Fassbender portrays Edwin Epps, a dark, menacing plantation owner in the pre-Civil War era. Epps is a complicated man with fits of rage mixed in with his sexual desire for his top-producing slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). This year is one of the best collections of supporting performances in a very long time, and even though Jared Leto is stealing everyone’s thunder at nearly every award show, I believe Fassbender gave this year’s top performance. His depiction of the slave-driving Epps is so incredibly multi-dimensional, and Fassbender performs in such a way that made me both despise and empathize with his character simultaneously. For those of you that have not seen this film yet, there is a scene where Fassbender must discipline Patsey, the slave who is the object of his affection, and what transpires is a gruesome, but very authentic presentation that I believe justifies giving both Fassbender and Nyong’o Oscars. Fassbender has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
2. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
In Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto plays Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman. As many of you know, Leto is cleaning house at nearly every awards show for his performance as Rayon, and honestly, it is all justified. Leto is completely believable as a transgender woman, and he gives an emotionally dramatic performance that will rival any performance you may see for quite some time. Even though nearly all of Leto’s scenes in the film are played as Rayon, the most heartbreaking scene in the entire movie features Leto confronting his father as Raymond, seemingly the man he used to be before his transformation. In any other year, I would take Leto by a landslide; however, this year, his fantastic performance did not quite reach the level of Fassbender’s unbelievable depiction of Edwin Epps. Jared Leto has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
3. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
In Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi plays the real-life Abduwali Muse, one of the Somali pirates who overtook a U.S. cargo ship and held the captain hostage. If Abdi were one of the most established actors in all of Hollywood, I would still think that this performance was wonderful. But Abdi is not an established actor; in fact, this was his very first acting job of his entire life—this fact makes it even more evident that Abdi gave one of the year’s most acclaimed performances. Abdi’s depiction of Muse was carefully constructed, and he delineates the character in such a way that I identified with him despite the fact that he is holding a gun to Richard Phillips’s head while taking him hostage. I sure hope Abdi is able to find other work in Hollywood because he is clearly one of the brightest shining stars from 2013. Barkhad Abdi has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
4. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff, the drug-addicted, stock-scheming sidekick of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio); Azoff is a character based on Danny Porush, the real-life associate of Belfort’s brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. If someone would have bet me $1 million in 2007, after my first viewing of Superbad, to say that Jonah Hill would become one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, I would have told that lunatic to get lost. And yet, here I am today about to make that very proclamation: Jonah Hill is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood! He has proven to be a comedic force in films like Get Him to the Green and 21 Jump Street, but his roles in both Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street have revealed his great acting depth. His role as Donnie Azoff will forever be one of my favorites in film, and I only wish Jonah had a weaker group of competition this year so he could finally take home the coveted golden statute. Jonah Hill was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moneyball (2011).
5. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
In American Hustle, Bradley Cooper plays Richie DiMaso, a “go-getter” FBI agent who attempts to take down a group of corrupt politicians in New York City with the help from two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams). Bradley Cooper continually takes on well-calculated acting roles and continues to find loads of success doing so; however, once again he has turned in a tremendous performance in a year that is packed with unbelievable acting talent. I wish he could take home the award for his portrayal of the perm-hairdo-wearing DiMaso, but unfortunately, the cards are stacked against him this Oscars season. Bradley Cooper was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
Actors snubbed in this category: Tye Sheridan (Mud), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12), Will Forte (Nebraska), and Jeremy Renner (American Hustle)