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For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors That Deserve Oscar’s Attention This Year

For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors That Deserve Oscar's Attention This Year

Last week, this column took the first in a two-part break from Oscar-related dish to profile 10 deserving underdog actresses from this year’s batch of films, including Adèle Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”), Julie Delpy (“Before Midnight”) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Enough Said”). This second part works in a similar vein, except this
time it takes a look at the boys’ club.

There’s definitely a few good men from specialty films that are close to locked into both male acting
categories this year, like Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) in the lead category, and Michael Fassbender (“12 Years”) and Jared Leto (“Dallas”) in supporting (check
out an updated weekly prediction charts here).
But there’s still a little bit of wiggle room (particularly in supporting), perhaps the same sort
that brought performances from small films like “A Better Life” (Demian Bichir)
and “The Messenger” (Woody Harrelson) into the mix in recent years. So perhaps one or
two of the following will indeed end up in the running.

Commentators should once again keep in mind that the list purposely does not
include work that looks like a good bet for a nomination (such as the
noted six men in the previous paragraph) and that it only includes films
scheduled for release during the 2013 eligibility period, With that
said, here are 10 underdog actors for
your consideration:

Ben Foster, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

David Lowery’s
visually poetic outlaw romance “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” came out of
Sundance earlier this year with glowing reviews and hopes that it could
end up in this year’s awards race. But when it came out this summer, it
did so to little buzz and lackluster box office, making it overall an
underdog at best as awards season gears up. But if there’s any
nomination its many fans should surely rally for — other than Bradford
Young’s gorgeous cinematography, perhaps — it’s Ben Foster’s
performance as the police officer than takes Ruth (Rooney Mara) under
his wing when her husband (Casey Affleck) is in jail. While Mara and
Affleck are also excellent, Foster carves out — with much less screen
time — a layered, affecting character that sticks with you long after
the credits role. The 33 year old actor is also definitely due for some
awards love, given his impressive body of work — particularly “The
Messenger” and “3:10 To Yuma” — has largely gone unnoticed from the
awards circuit.

Dane DeHaan, Kill Your Darlings
Ben Foster actually has a few films out this year, including John Krokidas’s underrated beat generation take “Kill Your Darlings.” But while Foster is reliably great as William S. Burroughs in the film (as are Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and John Huston as Jack Kerouac), it’s Dane DeHaan who steals the show as Lucien Carr. Pulling off a distinct mix of decadent, cool (in a few senses of the word), sexy and dangerous, you can’t take your eyes off him. His work was deservedly honored with a Gotham Award nomination last week, and while it’s unlikely the Academy will follow suit we’d certainly have no issue if they did. And judging from this performance, it seems likely they will one of these days.

James Franco, Spring Breakers
“Spring Breakers” distributor A24 has already started a clever For Your Consideration campaign for James Franco instantly iconic performance as Alien in Harmony Korine’s film. But surely even they know it’s a very long shot. His work here is far from up the Academy’s alley, even if Franco himself has been previously nominated (and hosted the show itself, though we all know the legacy of that). But there’s many a folk — including this one — that would have no problem suggesting Alien is Franco’s finest creation. The ultimate multi-hyphenate Franco surely offered us a good dozen or two major projects in 2013, but Alien is the crown jewel. Under corn-rows and metal teeth, Franco is an absolute riot in a role that reminds us just how entertaining Franco can be (as did “This Is The End,” for that matter, which deserves some consideration of its own). And Oscar nomination or not, it’s gonna be Alien we remember 10 years down the line, not Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

James Gandolfini, Enough Said
While posthumous nominations can be argued as driven by sentiment as opposed to merit, James Gandolfini’s work in “Enough Said” is certainly worthy of consideration with or without the tragic news of his passing earlier this year. Gandolfini — a true gentle giant — sees his underlying sweetness finally gets its due in the film, portraying a middle aged divorce man who falls for Julia Louis-Dreyfus (he’s so adorable in the film it’s almost hard to take given awareness of his death). If Gandolfini ends up getting his first Oscar nomination for “Enough Said” — and he is perhaps the most likely to do so of any actor on this list — let’s hope people can view it not for a culmination of his career but for successfully going in a different direction.

Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Julie Delpy has tended to get most of the acting kudos for the “Before” trilogy, and there’s no denying she’s worthy of it (she made the female version of this list last week). But Ethan Hawke has managed to step up to Delpy’s wholly impressive plate time and time again during the series, perhaps more than ever with its suggestive final act “Before Midnight.” The film — which Hawke and Delpy co-wrote with director Richard Linklater (the three of them seem likely to end up with an adapted screenplay nod) — finds Hawke’s Jesse in his early 40s, navigating a (spoiler alert) now long-term relationship with Delpy’s Celine. Delpy gets the showier scenes as the two have a mini-meltdown, but Hawke inhabits his less dramatic character with just as much conviction. Together, the two have created one of the most interesting couples in contemporary cinema, and if there was any justice they’d both be getting Oscar nominations for it.

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers have a pretty good track record as of bring their actors Oscar nominations, from Javier Bardem to Jeff Bridges to Hailee Steinfeld. But while their latest “Inside Llewyn Davis” has received some very strong critical notices and seems like a good shot for a best picture nomination, the film’s greatest acting asset — Oscar Isaac — seems unlikely to follow suit. With a lead actor category that’s stacked with the likes of Bruce Dern, Robert Redford and Tom Hanks, relative newcomer Isaac seems likely to be shut out despite for his lovely, retrained turn as the film’s titular folk singer. It’s simply a case of too crowded a house, though Isaac deserves to be there just as much as his more established colleague.

Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Speaking of Oscars, Michael B. Jordan plays one in Ryan Coogler’s story of 22 year old Oscar Grant, the Bay Area resident who was shot by a police officer at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009 after an altercation that most definitely didn’t call for it. Like Oscar Isaac, Jordan offers a performance of exceptional and powerful restraint. But also like Isaac, Jordan is someone who probably would have easily taken a slot in the best actor race in less crowded years. But “Fruitvale” — which followed in the footsteps of recent best picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “Precious” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” when it won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize earlier this year — needs a serious boost of support to get back in a race that has grown exceptionally heated. It’s not impossible, but as a result Jordan will probably have to be content with his recent Gotham Award nom, a likely Spirit nod to follow and, well, a very promising career.

Mads Mikkelson, The Hunt
Thanks to its delayed release, Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” gives us two consecutive winners of the Cannes’ best actor prize in this year’s Oscar race. The aforementioned Bruce Dern (who won Cannes this year for “Nebraska”) is a near-lock, but his Cannes predecessor Mads Mikkelsen is far from it. But the Danish is mesmerizing in the film, the story a man who becomes the target of mass hysteria after being wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child in a small Danish village. It’s an extraordinarily difficult role that Mikkelson pulls off with so much humanity. Bruce Dern is lovely in “Nebraska” and all, but this is the Cannes best actor winner most deserving of an Oscar nod this year.

Tye Sheridan, Mud
In a nice switch from the norm, Tye Sheridan is being rightfully submitted in the lead actor category for Jeff Nichols’ fantastic coming of age story “Mud.” Typically, even when child actors are the true leads, they get submitted in supporting. But Sheridan’s co-star Matthew McConaughey is going supporting, meaning Sheridan is forced to battle, while, Matthew McConaughy (this time for “Dallas Buyers Club”) in lead. There’s no way Sherdian will end up in the mix, but the 16 year old has emerged as one of the best young actors around, and “Mud” is significant proof of that (as was “The Tree of Life” a few years back). His heartfelt, naturalistic performance is a complete match for McConaughey (also doing some of his best work), and plays a key role in making “Mud” one of this year’s somewhat unheralded gems.

Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
In his debut feature performance, 22 year old Keith Stanfield offers perhaps the most memorable moment in Destin Daniel Cretton’s very memorable “Short Term 12.” As nearly 18 year old Marcus, he’s about to be released from  a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers when he offers a heartbreaking acapella rap number to one of the facility’s workers. The song he sings — “”So You Know What It’s Like” — is actually in serious contention for what will likely be the only Oscar nomination that “Short Term 12” receives. But its the man behind who’s more deserving.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Writer and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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Joe H.

Everything about Spring Breakers should just be forgotten.

John McCartney

Anybody in Fruitvale Station is new and exciting


These choices all represent most acting not best acting. We shouldn't see how hard an actor is trying.


Sheridan and Stanfield definitely talents to watch, and glad to see them mentioned.
But my high hopes are on Miles Teller for "The Spectacular Now." I thought he owned that role. Surprised, moved, and satisfied me in ways that recalled how I felt watching Joaquin Phoenix in "Two Lovers" and Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate."


The Hunt will most certainly get a Best Foreign Film nomination and should be the winner in the category. It would be spectacular if Mads Mikkelsen gets a Best Actor nomination, he was brilliant in The Hunt. He is a world class actor and the US is just getting a taste of him now so I'll be curious to see how the Oscar voters react.


How can Mads Mikkelssen be an underdog in anything regarding acting, including the Oscars?
On the other hand, Ethan Hawke (one of my favorite actors, mind you) should NOT get one.. At least not now, not for "Before midnight". There's not much brilliance in the "Before-trilogy", not because of the lack of capacity of the actors though, but simply because of the films. They're like that, deep and "philosophying" , yet light and simple, not requiring what some might call strenuous acting… BUT! The whole crew, led by Linklater of course, should get some life-achievement award, because that trilogy is ,in my opinion, the best thing movie industry ever produced..The story itself, the "9 -year-span", the chemistry between the two and the painfully realistic, yet still romantic third part…Linklater's magnum opus, a masterpiece.


James Franco should have been nominated for Pineapple Express, Milk and Howl.

Also, should have won for 127 Hours. This role as Alien was epic and will be remembered for years to come as you said "And Oscar nomination or not, it's gonna be Alien we remember 10 years down the line, not Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.".

Remember the Academy huge mistake with Al Pacino in Scarface and Gary Oldman in True Romance, well let's see, if they're stupid enough to go for three. Hopefully, not and Franco gets the nomination and win.

Charles Barclay

Keith Stanfield is incredible. He, and his song from Short Term 12, (and the rest of film too) deserve recognition. But he'll never get their attention. Being in an indie film is bad enough. But being black, too…well…Oscar ain't color-blind, I'm afraid.

Herb Stratford

I'd add Woody H. from OUt of the Furnace…he is amazing in the role.


IMO, the most deserving actor (on this list) to get a nod in this year's Oscar race is Mads Mikkelsen. His performance is simply "brilliant". But odds are against him, I think he will not get any major recognition from Hollywood, since he got very little push from the Weinstein, who released The Hunt, for the best actor campaign. Other picks on the list look smart choice, but it's up to the competition how they chances will be, but Forest Whitaker & Michael B. Jordan look like the ones with better chances.

Bertram Julius Krogh

Loved this article. Mads Mikkelsen is the actor of the year, in my humble opinion – and all the picks are brilliant. An article like this is much more interesting than one that compiles the frontrunners over and over again.

Spring Break Spring Break Spring Brrreeeakkkk

I find it shocking that James Franco's iconic character performance as Alien in the now, let us be honest cult classic Spring Breakers is even considered as an underdog in terms of the Oscars.

Franco should make the top 5 as Best Supporting Actor list at the very least, if not win and more websites should respect Franco as a contender, as well as the movie as Harmony Korine deserves something also.

For Halloween, how many people dressed up as Alien, it was one of the top costumes for this year. That means although some people didn't like the movie, Franco's performance hit home hard and some audiences were willing to dress up as Alien for Halloween.

How many people who make the final voting cut for the Oscars can say that?

A further argument can be made that if a guy like Riff Raff is willing to insult Franco on twitter or via other means for more than 6 months (even though without Franco most would not have heard of him anyway) because he thinks the character of Alien was based on him (he should be so lucky) but in fact based on Dangeruss (who should be getting more credit and media attention) who actually starred in the movie, plus more importantly black culture in terms of Alien's style.

Then again, Franco did enough to make even Riff Raff jealous that should generate an Oscar for his performance as Franco nailed it (I actually thought Franco looked like Sean Paul or Kevin Federline).

Anyway, I truly hope he gets nominated and possibly win.

I would also like to point out the Scott Haze should also be nominated for the Best Actor lead in Child of God as well as Franco for Director also.

I know this years list of nominees is extremely difficult because of so many wonderful performances this year but Franco must make this list, if we ever live in a fair society. This year Franco's has undertaken so many successful movies that he deserves some serious awards recognition for his performances and I hope he gets them.


I don't consider Franco, an actor who gets tons of work and has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar already, an "underdog" actor. I agree, however, that Spring Breakers makes him an underdog to get nominated even though all films should be judged equally (oh, only in a perfect world). I feel similarly about Ethan Hawke. Michael B. Jordan will get heavy consideration but it's gonna be tough with two of the five nominations under lock and key: McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave). That leaves three spots for a slew of actors that includes Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street- I don't think he'll get nominated), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Christian Bale (American Hustle)(Out of the Furnace), and Forest Whitaker (The Butler). That's a hell of a crowd featuring previous Oscar winners and nominees. And I'm gonna throw this out there: Phoenix should've won Best Actor for The Master over Day-Lewis last year. Most people thought that The Master was disturbing and unjustifiably set it aside when award season came along.


Just a small mistake, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Before Midnight is an original script, so it should be nominated for best original screenplay, not adapted


The link about deserving underdog actresses currently goes to last year's article, not this year's. Here's the correct link to this year's list:

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