By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 5, 2013 at 1:53PM
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
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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