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Oscars: A Look At The Supporting Actor Field, Including Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto & James Gandolfini

Oscars: A Look At The Supporting Actor Field, Including Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto & James Gandolfini

So far, for the most part, a good chunk of the 2013 awards contenders have been seen but only by the high falutin’ critical types that frequent film festivals—as we saw last week. But that started to change last week with the release of two legit Best Picture contenders: Ron Howard‘s “Rush,” and Denis Villeneuve‘s “Prisoners.” So even those trying to stick their head in the sand and avoid Oscar season aren’t going to have much of a choice from here on out.

The two films, along with Nicole Holofcener‘s “Enough Said,” which also opened last week, are united by another thing: they all feature performances that could well be among the Best Supporting Actor contenders when nominations are announced in January. Daniel Bruhl, Jake Gyllenhaal and James Gandolfini are all very much in the running, and with their movies now hitting theaters, it felt like the perfect category to examine first in our week-by-week look at the awards season. Which performers are solidifying their buzz? Who could potentially surprise by shaking things up a few weeks or months from now?

Early Year Contenders

As is likely to be the case across most of the categories, there are only a handful of viable contenders coming from films released between the start of January and the end of August. A24 have already started a campaign for James Franco in “Spring Breakers,” but it’s more for fun than anything else: Franco’s certainly deserving, but few Academy members are likely to make it far enough into the film for him to turn up, let alone to watch his metal-faced, Lil’ Wayne-aping character fellate a gun. More viable is Matthew McConaughey in another 2012 festival holdover, “Mud.” The film was one of the biggest indie hits of the year and fits right into the McConaughey comeback narrative, with the actor already looking a dead-cert for a nomination for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Our gut is that he doesn’t do the double with “Mud”—it’ll feel like old news by the time voting comes around, especially given that it premiered at Cannes in 2012 and ‘Buyers Club’ will likely get the bulk of the publicity. But it is a film that we can see voters responding to, so you never know.

Another film released months ago that could be seen as being in the Academy’s wheelhouse is surprise hit “42,” and Harrison Ford is a very faint possibility for a nod; again, the film could end up getting a “Blind Side” kind of reaction from Academy members. That said, they likely saw it months ago and Ford’s turn is likely to be superseded by more recent ones. Ben Foster‘s turn in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is deserving, but the film doesn’t have much traction while some have suggested Andrew Dice Clay for “Blue Jasmine,” but we suspect that the comic’s public persona isn’t going to endear him to many. Finally, of the expansive cast of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,David Oyelowo, as the title character’s son, seems to have the best shot of the supporting players, but while the actor’s destined to be recognized at some point, this feels like a stretch to us.

Hot From The Festival Circuit

As we mentioned in the intro, this week sees a fair few possibilities arriving in theaters that have been picking up buzz since they arrived on the festival circuit. Perhaps the most potent, at least at first, is Daniel Bruhl, who’s been winning rave reviews for his portrayal of Niki Lauda in Ron Howard‘s “Rush.” The actor’s not a terribly familiar face to Academy members, but it’ll help that he’s also a key part of “The Fifth Estate” (it looked at one point as though he might end up competing against himself, but the latter has so little traction that it seems unlikely), and he’s winning new fans every time the film screens. 

Less certain is James Gandolfini for “Enough Said,” given that voters have so far resisted Nicole Holofcener‘s other work. But he’s certainly been warmly received in the picture and if the film does decently, Fox Searchlight could well end up pushing through to a nomination. Frankly, if Gandolfini is nominated then there’s a damn good chance he might posthumously win the award. It’s getting the film into consideration will be the greater challenge. A similar difficulty faces “Prisoners“—as one of the first films in contention to open, it has to keep up momentum throughout the fall without the benefit of a more gradual limited roll-out.

But if it can get that far then Jake Gyllenhaal might well be a viable nominee—he’s arguably had the best notices of the film. It’d be a slight element of category fraud as he’s essentially the co-lead, but we believe that Warners are pushing Gyllenhaal to supporting and sticking co-star Hugh Jackman in Best Actor, and the “Brokeback Mountain” star arguably has a better chance in a less crowded-field after picking up some of the best reviews of his career. We’d place him outside the final five at present, but if “Prisoners” maintains over the next few weeks, that could change.

Otherwise, both Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Michael Fassbender for “12 Years A Slave” firmly staked their claims to a place in the race during Telluride and TIFF, and both look likely to end up among the final five. The former in particular might be the frontrunner at this stage, winning career-best raves for his first acting performance in four years as the transgendered business partner of McConaughey’s character. We stated a touch of skepticism about Fassbender last week—he’s less of a lock than co-stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o—but with an open field he could well follow the film if it’s the awards phenomenon most are expecting it to be.

Elsewhere, many are tipping newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays the lead hijacker in “Captain Phillips” for a nomination but we’d need to see the film for ourselves to really get behind the idea. We have seen “Gravity” and “Philomena,” and George Clooney and Steve Coogan are possible respectively for them, but aren’t home runs—Clooney’s great in Alfonso Cuaron‘s film but his most emotional moment is voice-only, while Coogan will likely find better luck with his screenplay for the Stephen Frears film. Meanwhile, if anyone breaks out of the “August: Osage County” ensemble in this category it seems most likely to be Chris Cooper, who’s had the best notices, but Benedict Cumberbatch has been mentioned by some critics too. Still, neither feel like dead certs after the film’s middling reviews. Similarly, buzz has cooled on Will Forte in “Nebraska” and John Goodman in “Inside Llewyn Davis” since Cannes, and never really got going on Josh Brolin in “Labor Day,” though again, there’s potential for the latter to be better received by the Academy than it was by critics.

Still To Come

Of course, it should go without saying that there are many more performances still to come that could upset the existing apple cart. One serious threat is Tom Hanks, who’s promising in Best Actor for “Captain Phillips,” but may be a better bet as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.” While his role is less emotionally potent than co-star Emma Thompson, playing such an icon might actually be a safer path to nomination that in the lead category, where he has tougher competition. Other Best Picture hopefuls that should provide potentials are David O Russell‘s “American Hustle,” where Jeremy Renner has the most colorful role but Bradley Cooper has the more attention-grabbing haircut (and, more importantly, a more significant part), and Bennett Miller‘s “Foxcatcher,” from which Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum could both compete.

We suspect that Matthew McConaughey‘s part in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” would be too small for him to be nominated even if he wasn’t already looking promising elsewhere, so Jonah Hill (or someone else lurking in the ensemble) may be the better bet here. There could be a heavy hitter lurking in the “Monuments Men” ensemble, with any of John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin potentials for a slot with the right role. And while he missed out for “Skyfall” last year, Javier Bardem could return to the category he won six years back with another colorful villain, in Ridley Scott‘s “The Counselor.”

All unknown quantities, but worth keeping an eye on, are Tim Roth and Frank Lagnella in “Grace Of Monaco,” Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson in “Out Of The Furnace,” Geoffrey Rush in “The Book Thief” and Eric Bana and Ben Foster in “Lone Survivor.” Lastly, James Gray‘s “The Immigrant“? Sorry, but it won’t be released until next spring, full details here.

If there’s any buzz you’ve heard on any additional year-end films, let us know in the comments section. In the meantime, our early Supporting Actor predictions, and our first Best Picture chart, are below.

Best Supporting Actor – Predictions 09/18/13

Daniel Bruhl – “Rush”

Michael Fassbender – “12 Years A Slave”

James Gandolfini – “Enough Said”

Tom Hanks – “Saving Mr Banks”

Jared Leto – “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Picture Chart: September 18th, 2013

1. “12 Years A Slave”
Front-runner status confirmed by picking up the TIFF People’s Choice award, suggesting that audiences are willing to embrace the tough material. But being a front-runner at this early stage isn’t always a good thing, and its biggest question is whether director Steve McQueen will be able to suffer fools gladly on the circuit for the next five months.

2. “American Hustle”
David O. Russell’s felt overdue for a while, and he’s essentially gathered together the O. Russell All-Stars for this, which looks like “Silver Linings” by way of “Argo” and Scorsese. As such, this looks to be a major, major contender, even if it turns out to be one of the last films to screen.

3. “Gravity”
Rave reviews out there, and the best chance at the big commercial 3D visual extravaganza slot, a la last year’s “Life Of Pi.” But more than most films here, it’s dependent on box-office —if it tanks, it could get forgotten

4. “Saving Mr. Banks”
Fitting nicely into the movies-about-movies niche that worked so nicely for “The Artist” and “Argo,” but does its more partisan feel—a Disney movie about Disney—mean it could be more divisive. Early word is pretty good, for what it’s worth—we know one person who walked out and immediately put on a bet for it to win Best Picture.

5. “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
Scorsese is obviously an awards magnet more often than not, and the trailer looks terrific. There are rumors out there that Paramount, swamped with product including “Anchorman 2” and “Jack Ryan,” are considering moving the film into first quarter of 2014, and it’s unclear if that would include a qualifying run. Does that suggest the film’s a more commercial proposition, or even not very good? Or is it just a studio exploring some options.

6. “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”
Fox is sticking closely to the “Life Of Pi” playbook for this, from wowing audiences with CinemaCon footage to a NYFF bow to get the buzz out early. 

7. “Captain Phillips”
Warmly received by those who’ve seen it, and has Scott Rudin’s might behind it. That said, this feels like the kind of movie that’ll get lots of second and third choice votes, but fewer in first place, but we’ll find out for sure when the film opens NYFF next week.

8. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
The film has the critical support, and, despite a young cast who may be relatively unfamiliar to Academy voters, has built-in prestige thanks to the Coens. Our big question all along has been if CBS FIlms are up to an Oscar campaign, but we suspect quality will win out, whatever happens.

9. “August Osage County”
“August: Osage County” was received fairly tepidly at TIFF, but until we become more convinced by “The Butler” (see below), it remains the Weinsteins’ biggest bet, and that in itself is reason enough to keep it in the mix Plus, its extensive and starry ensemble is the kind of thing that attracts the votes of the actors’ branch, who are by some way the most significant voting block. Not yet a home run, but not to be counted out.

10. “Foxcatcher”
Somewhat under the radar at this stage (there’s still no trailer), but Bennett Miller is two-for-two for Best Picture nominations, and he’s got some potent material here. It’s a tough year, so if the film disappoints in the least, it may fall outside the main nominees, but it’s still a hot prospect.

11. “Dallas Buyers Club”
We were always expecting this to be a serious proposition when it came to Matthew McConaughey’s central performance, but it was surprising the extent to which people really seemed to dig the film as well. It’ll need some of the films above to fall out of favor to crack the final nine/ten, but certainly worth keeping an eye on.

12. “Monuments Men”
Are we underrating this one? Possibly. From the glimpses so far, it seems to be a principally commercial proposition, to the extent that Sony were at one point alleged not to even be planning an awards push. But the latter’s subsequently been denied, and with George Clooney directing and starring, and an “Argo”-ish WWII vibe, only a fool would dismiss it completely.

13. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
Other prognosticators rate The Weinstein Company’s summertime sleeper much higher than we do, but we can’t quite see this one lasting the distance. That said, we said that about “The Help” back in the day, and “The Butler” can only be helped by the relative weakness of the rest of TWC’s slate.

14. “Nebraska”
Some touted this as a potential Best Picture winner back during Cannes, but it seems to have lost traction temporarily, in part because it skipped TIFF, ceding the floor to others. It still feels smaller-scale and more minor than “The Descendants,” but Academy voters could respond to it more positively.

15. “Rush”
Ron Howard’s had his best reviews in years for this F1 drama, and audiences seem to be really responding too—it’s already a big hit in the UK. Universal are probably going the right direction by rolling it out more gradually, but we wonder if the film’s opening too early—it’ll be tough to keep up this early momentum, no matter how much people like it.

16. “Philomena”
Stephen Frears’ film is principally going to be a push for star Judi Dench, but if Venice and TIFF proved anything, it’s that audiences are going to eat this right up, with the film proving the runner up to “12 Years A Slave” for the People’s Choice Award (last year’s runner up? “Argo”). As such, don’t be surprised to see this sneak up the roster as/when other films fall out of favor.

17. “Prisoners”
The other runner up at the TIFF People’s Choice Award, which suggests that for all the film’s darkness and grimness, it’s connecting with audiences. But it’s a long, long road to nomination for a movie that opens wide this weekend, though strong box office will help no end.

18. “All Is Lost”
It’s a mark of the strength of competition that this one is all the way down here; J.C. Chandor’s film has been picking up raves since Cannes. Star Robert Redford’s locked in, but the film will need to work hard to appear more than just a one-man show, especially since “Gravity” has come in and somewhat stolen its thunder.

19. “Fruitvale Station”
Three of the last four years have seen a Sundance graduate among the Best Picture nominees, and Ryan Coogler’s film is by far and away the most likely of this year’s crop. That said, it’s in third position among the Weinstein’s slate, and might struggle to get a foothold among starrier competition.

20. “Her”
There’s no film we’re looking forward to more in the last few months of the year, but Jonze has never been a major awards favorite, and it feels like the film might be too hip and offbeat for Academy tastes. But all that said, Warner Bros have some faith in it, and have been teasing it at the LA and Toronto Film Festivals ahead of a high-profile NYFF slot, so this could turn out to be a major player.

21. “The Book Thief”
The film lurking quietly on the calendar that doesn’t really care what critics think (it’s skipped festivals entirely), this could be a secret weapon of the series, or it could be another “Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.” But Fox must have had a reason to move it up from 2014, so it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on for now.

22. Out Of The Furnace”
Given that it’s done for nearly a year (there was talk of a qualifying run in 2012 at one point), Relativity are bringing the picture to the Rome Film Festival in what will likely be a late season push for this Christian Bale-starring thriller. There’s a solid cast in place, and director Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” was an awards season surprise, but this looks from the trailer mostly like a commercial proposition, albeit one with some potential for acting nods.

23. “The Counselor”
Similarly, there’s Ridley Scott’s all-star Cormac McCarthy project, which Fox seem to be positioning more as a commercial thriller than awards bait (again, it’s skipped the festivals). Plus we’ve heard some slightly troubling buzz from test screenings, and the script was so violent and uncompromising that we wonder if the Academy will stomach it. Still, this cast get the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

24. “Blue Jasmine”
Cate Blanchett’s certainly a lock for a nomination and maybe more, but a Best Picture nomination for Woody’s latest feels like a longer shot—it’s a little less accessible than “Midnight In Paris” was, and may be seen as more of a performance showcase. That said, ‘Midnight’ outlasted much of the other competition, so it wouldn’t be totally absurd.

25. “Lone Survivor”
Universal moved this up so it gets a limited release before the end of the year before going wide in January, exactly mirroring the release of “Zero Dark Thirty.” The true life story is emotionally potent, certainly, but Peter Berg is no Kathryn Bigelow, even if the film might benefit from being the last one to be seen. Our gut says that technical nominations like “Black Hawk Down” (which also had a similar rollout) might be the best case scenario, but we’ll see.

Bubbling Under, Or Basically Non-Starters: “Before Midnight,” “Grace Of Monaco,” “Frances Ha,” “Labor Day,” “Mud,” “The Past,” “The Place Beyond The Pines,” “The Spectacular Now’

Not Happening: “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “The Fifth Estate,” “The Invisible Woman,” “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” “The Great Gatsby.”

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