Academy Awards Preview, Part 1: The Supporting Players

In the first part of a three part series, our resident film buffs Max O'Connell and Nick Schmiedicker talk about who will take Oscar glory this Sunday.

It’s that time of the year again, where Hollywood gathers to give itself a good ol’ pat on the back for a job well done, regardless of whether or not they’re really honoring films or performances that will stand as the most memorable of 2013. 

The Academy Awards have a habit of giving out trophies to films that make them feel good about themselves and performances by people they believe are “due” for an award,  but to their credit, they’ve nominated some fine films and performances this year (12 Years a Slave, Her) among the usual middling choices (Philomena, anyone?). 

With that in mind, movie gurus Nicholas Schmiedicker and Max O’Connell are going to go through the nominations in each category and talk about what they think should win, what they think will win, and who was wrongfully left off the nominee list.

Best 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)

Max O'Connell: A couple of nominees I wouldn’t have included: Abdi is perfectly credible in Captain Phillips but hardly superlative (then again, I was underwhelmed by Captain Phillips overall). Leto, meanwhile, is fine, but he isn’t always well-served by Dallas Buyers Club’s screenplay. We don’t see enough trans characters on the screen, and to see one that never extends beyond a basic type and a rote victimization storyline is a shame.

I’d rather see McConaughey here for his performance in Mud (his best this year), or the late James Gandolfini for his heartbreaking work in Enough Said, or James Franco for his "Capital-C Character" Alien in Spring Breakers. As it is, I’m glad the Academy recognized two great comic performances with Cooper and Hill, the former a hilarious portrait of coked-up, half-mad ambition, the latter Joe Pesci to DiCaprio’s Robert De Niro in Wolf.

But Fassbender is the best of the bunch for me. Here’s a character who could easily have been just a one-note monster, but Fassbender allows the slaver Epps a certain amount of humanity, someone who’s as pathetic as he is evil. What do you think, Schmiddy?

Nick Schmiedicker: Leto, Abdi, and Cooper were all performances that I enjoyed, Cooper more than the others, but didn’t fall in love with like I did with Fassbender and Hill. Abdi’s history and this being his first true acting role make his role in Captain Phillips impressive but not enough for a win. Cooper, while great and fantastic to watch, wasn't up to the standards I had based on the film overall.

Fassbender’s role in 12 Years was absolutely terrific. As you mentioned he was equal parts deplorable as well as pathetically human. It’s a tough call for me but his role in the movie didn’t shine as brightly as I would’ve liked and he was overcast by Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o in a way that I almost failed to notice Fassbender as much as I was supposed to. 

I definitely am with you and most of your-should-have-been-here roles, perhaps most strongly with Franco in Spring Breakers, for all the reasons mentioned. But who really should have been here was Jake Gyllenhaal from his role in Prisoners. His role as Detective Loki was a pleasure to watch from the facial tics to his intensity that was more powerful for its comparison to Jackman’s rage in that film. Hill’s performance in Wolf was the main saving grace of that film for me. Unlike DiCaprio, Hill brought his character to life in a way that was both hilarious and questionable with the mannerisms and way of speaking that really sold his character. I’d like to see Hill take this one for making what was otherwise a film I did not enjoy somewhat bearable.

MO: You know about my burning hatred for Prisoners, but Gyllenhaal is one of the few things it has going for it (he’s really a co-lead, though). Speaking as to who will win: Fassbender decided not to campaign. There’s a lot of integrity to letting the work speak for itself, but unfortunately I think it cost him a possible win. Hill, meanwhile, faces the same challenges as DiCaprio – playing a deplorable character in a controversial film.

There are some pundits who have Cooper and Abdi pegged for a possible upset. Abdi went from limo-driver to actor to Oscar-nominee with his first film, which is a hell of a story, and Cooper has emerged as a gifted comedic performer. Still, Leto seems pretty far in front of everyone, and the Academy clearly loves Dallas Buyers Club as well. Right now I’m crossing my fingers for a Cooper or Fassbender upset, or even a shocker win for Hill. But Leto has the momentum, so I’m going with him.

NS: I see where you’re going but my gut is warning me away from backing Leto for the full win. You’re right that Fassbender hasn’t campaigned enough, and between that and the controversy around Wolf I think it’s pretty safe to count him and Hill out. 

All-in-all my vote is going to go to Abdi. His rising star story has him perfectly placed, plus his performance in Captain Phillips will make him my bet for taking this award.

Best 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)

NS: I don’t have much to say about this category unfortunately. I love Lawrence, and the whole world seems to have fallen under her spell, but she doesn’t have a lot to go against Nyong’o, whose performance in 12 Years a Slave should be the winner without question.

Roberts and Squibb don’t compare nearly as much, and as I have mixed up Blue Jasmine with another movie, Hawkins was not a memorable enough perofrmance for me to really grasp on to. Max, maybe you think differently, do you think Hawkins is one we should be paying closer attention to?

MO: Not really. She’s good, but I think this is in part an apology for not nominating her for Happy-Go-Lucky five years ago. Roberts has the same problem as Streep: she’s fine, cast in the kind of role she doesn’t excel in. I’m miffed that Lea Seydoux for Blue is the Warmest Color and, most notably, Scarlett Johansson’s incredible vocal performance in Her were left off the shortlist in favor of these two.

Lawrence is more deserving, taking Hustle’s most haywire character and running with it. And I’m actually a huge fan of Squibb’s work: It’s easy to take a crotchety, foul-mouthed elderly character and turn it into a stock role, but she mixes in some real humanity with all of the barbed comments (which are still hilarious). But yeah, this is an easy one on the “should win” front. Nyong’o takes a character who has to go through an almost superhuman level of suffering and anguish and makes every feeling palpable, every choice an act borne out of desperation and spiritual exhaustion.

NS: I see what you’re saying and can back you most of the way. We both loved Her and while Scarlett Johansson was incredible, especially considering her vocal only performance, I think we both know that was what ultimately left her off this list.

As for who “will win,” I almost hate to say it because I think it’s a robbery for Nyong’o but I believe JLaw is going to be taking home another award. She’s in the spotlight, everyone loves her, and her performance was remarkable enough that she’ll take it this year. Do you disagree?

MO: I disagree. It’d be a real stunner to see someone so young win an Oscar immediately after the last one, and I’d see a huge backlash on Lawrence (already dangerously overexposed) if it happened. Nyong’o’s work is the most emotional, the kind of work that breaks hearts, and I don’t see them passing it up.


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