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by Peter Knegt
November 5, 2013 1:53 PM
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For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors That Deserve Oscar's Attention This Year

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.

"Before Midnight"

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.

"Fruitvale Station." TWC

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.


  • Joe H. | November 20, 2013 1:34 AMReply

    Everything about Spring Breakers should just be forgotten.

  • John McCartney | November 7, 2013 9:39 PMReply

    Anybody in Fruitvale Station is new and exciting

  • Jason | November 6, 2013 6:17 PMReply

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

  • ECP | November 6, 2013 4:06 PMReply

    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."

  • Vikki | November 6, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    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.

  • Phill | November 6, 2013 11:32 AMReply

    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.

  • Phill | November 6, 2013 11:33 AM

    *"Not much ACTING brilliance" was what I wanted to say..The movie(s) itself is(are) brilliant

  • Franco | November 5, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    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 | November 5, 2013 9:15 PMReply

    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.

  • Keith Stanfield | November 22, 2013 1:10 AM


  • Herb Stratford | November 5, 2013 7:47 PMReply

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

  • DUDDI | November 5, 2013 6:01 PMReply

    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.

  • Chris L. | November 5, 2013 10:15 PM

    Magnolia released The Hunt, not Weinstein, and they've never placed a nominee in the top categories that I can remember. But you are certainly right about Mikkelsen. Best work I've seen this year. Maybe a Foreign film nod could still happen.

  • Bertram Julius Krogh | November 5, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    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 | November 5, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    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.

  • vandywisky | November 5, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    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.

  • Steve | November 5, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    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

  • Chris L. | November 5, 2013 3:44 PM

    It's considered adapted from the previous two films. "Sunset" was nominated in the same category. Doesn't make intuitive sense, but neither do a bunch of their category decisions...

  • Shad | November 5, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    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: