Welcome to the inaugural installment of If I Had a Ballot! In this short series, I am going to break down the top categories (maybe the below the line stuff) to reveal who I would check off on my ballot if someone was crazy enough to let me make a decision. The performances have some really great stuff this year, so let's start with Best Supporting Actor! Oddly, there are only two previous nominees in this category, and they are relatively new as well. Bradley Cooper was nominated last year as Lead for Silver Linings Playbook, and Jonah Hill grabbed his first nomination for Moneyball. Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, and Barkhad Abdi are all newcomers. Welcome!
Abdi makes a killer performance in Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips. Not very many actors could get cast opposite Tom Hanks and hold their own. Or even steal the movie. A Cinderella tale fit for Oscar, Abdi was a limo driver before Greengrass cast him as Muse, a Somalian hijacker who goes toe to toe with Hanks' Richard Phillips.
One would think that Abdi has been working in the film industry for a while. He has a dangerous ease on screen, a presence that only enhances the uneasiness you feel watching the film. Muse's already iconic line "I am the Captain now" was actually improvised on the spot by Abdi.
Abdi has been a presence on the awards circuit this year, but he hasn't been winning prizes as much as he should have been. Even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, Bardi took home his first major award a few weeks ago when he won the BAFTA.
I didn't realize how much Abdi's performance stuck with me until I wrote this. His anger and his desperation for the American dream linger even though I haven't seen the film since its initial October release. I am anxious to see his Muse on the big screen again this weekend with the second Saturday of the Best Picture Showcase. He would be a great choice for the Oscar, but another performance wins my vote.
I'm sorry...but the only thing I really remember from Bradley Cooper's performance in American Hustle is when he dry humps Louie CK at the end. I haaated that part, and I think I am the only one who does. I know that's not what his performance is about. His Richie DiMaso is trying to really make a name for himself, and in the entire mess of a movie, you want him to succeed.
I hate Jonah Hill, but I love him in The Wolf of Wall Street. Between this and This is the End, he has had a pretty great year.
As Donnie Azoff, Hill is able to play a character that would probably be a really good guy to party with. This is also the guy that you would regret opening your home up to. With that doughy face and Chicklet grin, some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth (ok...maybe the majority of it) is pretty damn shocking. Listening to Donnie talk about how he married his cousin and had kids made me laugh so uncomfortably during Wolf. The mixture of amusement and awfulness makes him feel surprisingly unpredictable.
One of my favorite things about Wolf is the bromantic chemistry between Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort. After they smoked crack together, I was hooked. Hill gives a hell of a fun, twisted performance, and I never thought I would say that I liked him in a movie.
Evil is manic by Biblical proportions in Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. To be honest, I responded to Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o more the first time I saw 12 Years. It's not that I doubted Fassbender's ability or thought he was bad by any stretch of the imagination. He didn't shake me the first time I watched him like I thought he would. I think my expectations were too skewed. I don't know.
Upon second viewing, I could feel Epps pressing in on me. When a bully closes in on you, you instinctively want to take a step back or move away from them, but you can't do that in a movie theater. Fassbender's Epps prides on how he treats his slaves. The inhumanity is unspeakable. He and his wife (played by Sarah Paulson) dance a macabre Macbethian tango around each other the entire film, and you could conceivably have an entire portrait of that marriage up on screen.
Edwin Epps is the embodiment of man's contempt for his fellow man. It's riveting and terrifying in how immovable he is. I go back and forth between him and Leto for my vote.
Honestly, I think Rayon is fabulous. I have a soft spot in my heart for characters that refuse to be anything but themselves, and Rayon is that ideal.
The thing I admire most about Dallas Buyers Club is the film's ability--and permission--to let Matthew McConaughey embrace his macho anger. Leto's Rayon, on the other hand, is the face of the disease that is ravaging both of them. Rayon is the kind of tragic character whose fate is already sealed. We weep over characters like this. We love them. Rayon's sass and genuine heart make him so easy to love, his heart so accessible.
He's not a saint, though. While one may smile at Rayon's one liners or warm to his gentle sensibility, one may become angry at his character's drug addiction, something we learn after we fall in love with him. I am not condemning Rayon whatsoever. People's opinion of addiction is rather ugly, and when Leto shows Rayon shooting up, it's ugly.
There is one scene, however, that you cannot deny its power. Rayon visits his estranged father to ask for money. To be a father in 1986 and have your child admit to you that he has AIDS must have been absolutely heartbreaking and scary. Leto stands across from his seated father, his hair pulled back how a man would tie a simple ponytail and his suit jacket a little too big. Broke my heart when I revisited Dallas.
I love Fassbender and Leto...but if I had to choose, I would pick the latter. But, who knows? I might switch at the last minute.