The acting races this year are overflowing with contenders. From the first half of the year on through, it is going to be competitive and will likely take a while before a consensus emerges, though there are already a few standouts that seem too big to ignore even at this early stage.
From previous Oscar winners to virtual unknowns, the early field of contenders features young and old, black and white, hailing from here in the US and from far reaching countries, 2013 is proving to be a very competitive year.
The film put in the frontrunner’s position right now is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, already predicted to win Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and more. But it’s early yet. The year’s films have not yet been seen. Shifts can still happen — after all, this is just the post-festival buzz. Toronto doesn’t often make the Oscar race, even if 12 years won the Audience Award.
Much of the enthusiasm for McQueen’s work is rooted in the casting choices, starting with Chiwetel Ejiofor, and on down to Michael Fassbender as the evil slaveowner, and the showstopping Lupita Nyong’o as Patsy, the favored female of Fassbender’s. For once, African American slaves and free black men and women portrayed as intelligent, thoughtful human beings rather than a unified wall of stereotypes.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is likewise so full of great supporting turns, starting with Oprah, who reveals her sexy side but also brings compassion and depth to the wife of the titular character. Playing her son is the magnificent David Oyelowo, the civil rights fighter to Forest Whitaker’s more passive character. Though they are the two most likely to earn nominations, the cast is full of wonderful portrayals, like John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and breakout star Yaya Alafia as the giant-afro-wearing Black Panther.
Octavia Spencer serves as one of the producers while turning in a moving supporting performance as Oscar Grant’s mother in Fruitvale Station. Spencer shows her versatility by playing a character the polar opposite of the her Oscar winning turn in The Help.
Next up there is Nebraska, an acting showcase with Bruce Dern heading up the cast, and June Squibb nearly stealing the show as his loudmouth wife. Inside Llewyn Davis has Oscar Isaac in the lead but Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman in standout supporting roles. Josh Brolin just gets better with each performance and this year he’ll have a lead in Spike Lee’s Oldboy, but he will also be up for Supporting Actor for Labor Day.
Not yet well known enough, Barkhad Abdi, the Somali actor in the upcoming Captain Phillips more than holds his own against Tom Hanks. The two men are on opposite sides and yet find a kind of kinship in an impossible situation. Abdi commands the screen in each scene he’s in, managing to bury his fear under a layer of menace. For his part, Hanks could be in the race for playing Disney in Saving Mr. Banks.
Woody Allen’s acting showcase, Blue Jasmine, features so many great supporting turns you could almost stuff both categories with actors from this film alone. The standouts are Sally Hawkins as the fragile sister of Jasmine. An actress like Hawkins could only have been mined from any country other than the US. We like them young and hot here – and if they can act all the better but it’s hardly a requirement, thus, we lack much diversity in our actresses. Smart of Woody Allen to find Hawkins for this, and the Australian Blanchett. Andrew Dice Clay is so raw and human – such a contrast from his public persona, not to mention Peter Sarsgaard and Louis CK and of course, Alec Baldwin.
One of the standout performances in the Supporting Actress category right now is Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both actresses turn in powerhouse performance, thanks to the taxing shoot — they were required to dig down deep and they both do. Seydoux is magnificent as the older, slightly more wiser of the two women. Whether she can crack the five is a question. At least we know Academy members will be watching that screener.
Prisoners is full of great supporting turns, though whether the Academy will be welcoming to this very violent film is another story. Hugh Jackman is probably lead, as is Jake Gyllenhaal but if Jackman goes supporting he would be a strong contender indeed. The supporting performances would be Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, who also turns in another unflinching performance in 12 Years a Slave. Will he get in for either?
August: Osage County seems to be a bit confusing regarding the supporting categories. Will Julia Roberts now go supporting if Streep is going lead? By all accounts Margo Martindale seems to be the name that will earn the supporting nod from that film out of Toronto.
It seems that the Supporting Actor category right now, before many of the bigger Oscar movies are seen, is down to Fassbender vs. Oyelowo vs. Leto. If I had to pick a winner right now I’d probably go with Leto for his heartbreaking, charming and unforgettable turn as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, but Fassbender is just frightingly good, and Oyelowo is practically lead in The Butler.
But there are many more supporting performances still to come. Jonah Hill in Wolf of Wall Street, Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks, Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, Channing Tatum or Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, or any other names that might catch the late-breaking buzz.
Best Supporting Actress Frontrunners
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler
June Squibb, Nebraska
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
If this happened, it would make Oscar history with three black supporting actresses in the race.
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Supporting Actor Frontrunners
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
David Oyelowo, The Butler
Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
Josh Brolin, Labor Day
John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis
Andrew Dice Clay, Blue Jasmine
Alec Baldwin, Blue Jasmine