Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, End of Watch
David Ayer's surprise critical and box office hit "End of Watch" offers some of the year's best chemistry in the work of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two Los Angeles cops who have to bend the rules to do their job. While that synopsis sounds far from original, both Gyllenhaal and Peña bring considerable emotional depth, humor and charm to types of characters that are often left as cardboard. Gyllenhaal as been nominated once before, but Peña has yet to be recognizied after steadily building a career as a character actor in films like "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" (which, as we know, took out Gyllenhaal's "Brokeback Mountain" at the Oscars) and "World Trade Center." "Watch" director Ayers wrote the script for "Training Day," which brought both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke Oscar nominations. It's a long shot, but hopefully it can do the same for these two.
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Quvenzhané Wallis is very likely to nab a best actress nomination for her role as Hushpuppy in Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," but the film was by no means a one-girl-show. Dwight Henry's performance as Hushpuppy's deteriorating father is a riveting -- and, at times, terrifying -- achievement that definitely deserves Oscar consideration. And Henry wasn't even looking for the job. He owned a New Orleans bakery across the street from Studio 13, where the film was being developed. He was encouraged to try out for the part, but the filmmakers couldn't find him to tell him he got it because he was busy opening a new bakery. He initially declined the role so he could focus on his business, but the filmmakers wanted him so bad they worked around his schedule. An Oscar nomination would clearly be a lovely end to that unique story, though an Independent Spirit nod is the much more likely outcome.
Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Films geared toward teenagers are pretty much Oscar poison, but Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own novel, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," is not just for teenagers. It's a remarkably sincere film that could easily be appreciated by folks of any age, particularly due to the performances of Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller. Though the film's ensemble cast is exceptional across the board (particularly Emma Watson, proving she's not just Hermione), Miller steals every second of screen time he has as the hilarious, seemingly self-assured Patrick (a performance that starkly contrasts his equally admirable work as a psychotic teenager killer in last year's "We Need To Talk About Kevin"), while Lerman anchors the entire film with his heartfelt work as the Charlie, the eponymous wallflower. But even if neither end up receiving any awards heat for their work, "Perks" has at least made clear both actors have healthy careers ahead of them.