Thursday, February 6, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

So, I promise this blog will focus on other subjects come March when the Oscars are over, but for now, it's still Oscar time and I am in an Oscar frenzy, which means it's time to start with the predictions of who will win the coveted Academy Award. It's almost a month before the Oscars, so things are still subject to change, but despite the wide array of great films this year, things are starting to settle in and the frontrunners in the major awards have already become fairly clear.

To kick off the performance categories, here are my predictions for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.


Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse—Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso—American Hustle

Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps—12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff—The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto as Rayon—Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: Jared Leto—Dallas Buyers Club

This award is probably the least contested of the acting awards. At this point, it's fairly inconceivable that anyone except Leto will win. He's won every other award, after all, for his portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. This isn't much in the way of a prediction, but it's a sure point for anyone filling out an Oscar ballot.

Should Win: Barkhad Abdi—Captain Phillips

I have to say that I find this list of nominees disappointing. Jonah Hill is a good actor but really doesn't do anything that extraordinary in The Wolf of Wall Street. Bradley Cooper's nomination here is a surprise-- and has more to do with recognition for American Hustle as a whole than his particular performance. He's a great actor but, in my opinion, he's outshone by his co-stars in this film. Then there's Michael Fassbender-- he's a really talented actor who I have no doubt could win an Oscar some day. But his work in 12 Years a Slave is really nothing special. He just kind of shouts a lot and give a one-note, angry performance. And that's okay-- the film calls for that role to possess a uniform brutality. He does what the film needs him to do, but this leaves his performance without any nuance or complexity. It's just not a role or a performance that should be receiving an Oscar nomination and I honestly don't know why there was so much support for him, and why he was nominated for pretty much every major award. Perhaps someone can explain it to me? Anger is, frankly, an easy emotion to play on screen. What sets this performance apart? Or makes it at all nomination-worthy? The thing is, none of these are bad performances-- they're all good. But if this award is to celebrate true excellence in film, then I don't think any of these three performances should have made the cut this time around.

This leaves us with two really strong performances-- and one of them is presumed-winner Jared Leto. Now, Leto is very good and I understand why he will win this award. But, I have a lot of problems with his role in the film. Despite Dallas Buyers Club being inspired by a true story, the character of Rayon is completely made up. Which is fine, except that she plays a rather important role in the film. Now, to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, they probably wanted to have a transgender character in the film to increase awareness of transgender issues, and I'm obviously all for that. But...couldn't this actor have been played by a transgender actress rather than a cis man? The Oscars have a rich history of honoring portrayals of queer characters-- winners from the past ten years include Tom Hanks for Philadelphia, Nicole Kidman for The Hours, Charlize Theron for Monster, the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote, Sean Penn for Milk, and Christopher Plummer for Beginners who all play gay characters. It's a great track record, but it's worth noting that all of these roles were portrayed by straight actors. In fact, in 86 years, only one openly gay actor has ever been nominated for portraying a queer role (Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters, who lost to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful). There is a similar record for transgender characters. Hilary Swank won the Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, Felicity Huffman was nominated for Transamerica, and Janet McTeer was nominated for Albert Nobbs-- all three played transgender roles. All are excellent films and have been (I believe) generally well-received by the transgender community. But there has been a justifiable increase in the resentment towards cisgender actors taking these roles and being told that they're "taking a risk." 

Leto's nomination is especially suspect as he has come under attack for what many perceive to be offensive comments made on the talk show circuit and during acceptance speeches. In fact, he was just heckled when receiving the award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. A woman called out "Trans-misogyny does not deserve an award." Leto responded:

 "Because I'm a man, I don't deserve to play that part? So you would hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian-- they can't play a straight part? Then you've made sure people that are gay, people that aren't straight, people like the Rayons of the world would never have the opportunity to turn the tables and explore parts of that art." 
Most articles I've read of this incident have applauded his response, but I find it problematic, and a textbook example of someone not recognizing their own privilege. The truth is that there is no shortage of straight, cisgender roles out there. But there are, at the moment, a limited number of transgender characters in high-profile projects. This isn't to say that Leto can't play the part-- he can, and he does so well. But was he the best choice? No. And, yes, this award should go to the best performance regardless of the actor's background, but many of Leto's comments since the film's release have left a bad taste in my mouth and I find it hard to separate my feelings about his recent insensitivity from the performance that he gives. Which is partly why I just wouldn't feel comfortable ever saying that he "should" win this award.

Luckily for me, Barkhad Abdi exists, and is my clear choice for who should win this award. Abdi, a former limousine driver, makes his film debut in Captain Phillips and delivers a captivating performance and matches Tom Hanks note for note (which is especially impressive considering that this is Hanks at his best). He's definitely the villain here, but his portrayal of a Somalian pirate captain is not one-dimensional (I'm looking at you, Fassbender) and gives his character charisma, intelligence, and even some sympathy. Despite knowing how the story ends, Abdi grants the character the necessary menace needed to keep the film thrilling. The volatility of the portrayal allows Tom Hanks to remain reserved and stoic-- Hanks does not have to spell out to the audience that the Captain is afraid, because Abdi manages to be intimidating enough to make the tension palpable.

Should Have Been Nominated: Daniel Bruhl—Rush 

In one of the ceremony's biggest snubs, Daniel Bruhl was not nominated for the underrated Rush (which failed to score any nominations). Bruhl (who gives a leading performance and the fact that he was entered in the supporting category is ludicrous) was nominated for almost every other major award, and his absence here is notable. As portrayed by Bruhl, Austrian Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda is calculating, ratlike, and mathematic-- viewing his dangerous profession as a game of science rather than thrills. Bruhl takes command of every scene he's in, and brings humanity to a character who is written as uptight and distant. Not only is he my choice for who should have been nominated, if he were nominated, then I would have listed him as the performer who should have won.

What are your thoughts? Which actor will/should win? And which performance should have been recognized? Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm way off the mark? Let me know in the comments!

I'd be especially curious to know peoples' thoughts on Leto. His performance and the controversy surrounding it is a difficult situation and I have not gone into nearly enough detail above, as that's not what this post is really about. But it's undoubtedly an important issue, and I'd love to hear the thoughts of someone who is more qualified to speak on the subject. Or, if I'm completely wrong, feel free to call me out on that as well. Thanks!

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