Let’s pretend, for a second, that Jared Leto, a vain campaigner who can’t even be bothered to remember the names of critics groups that honor him, won’t be the Supporting Actor strutting to the podium on Oscar night, and making some jokey, offensive gesture like daintily tossing his hair back. Who, then, is next in line to overtake Leto for his turn as a trans woman—or, as Katie Couric would call her, a “transgender”—in Dallas Buyers Club? Methinks it won’t be fellow lock Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave, who’s fine but unexciting as a pathetic slave owner, but one of two damn-near-locks who represent foreign underdogs: Daniel Brühl in Rush and Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips.
Rush is a dud of a film that really stomps on whatever faith was left in Ron Howard’s filmmaking virtues, but Brühl is reason enough to see it, and his nominations from SAG and BAFTA, whose memberships significantly overlap with those of the Academy of Motional Picture Arts and Sciences, prove that voters are. Brühl’s commanding and unsentimental performance will be bolstered by the fundamental traits of his character, Niki Lauda, an Austrian racer who brims with Hollywood-friendly merits, overcoming alienation, “ugliness,” lack of funds, and a horrific accident, the disfiguring (and humanizing) effects of which will clinch Brühl’s nod. Meanwhile, Somali native Abdi, who proves the perfect foil to Tom Hanks’s eponymous American in Captain Phillips, and whose sensitivity aids director Paul Greengrass’s tricky charting of politically volatile waters, has the benefit of being a knockout first-timer.
The fifth spot in this race seems to belong to one of three men: James Gandolfini from Enough Said, Bradley Cooper from American Hustle, or Jonah Hill from The Wolf of Wall Street. While a Gandolfini nod certainly has the posthumous sympathy factor, I’d hate to be so cynical as to think the Academy would nominate on those grounds. Gandolfini is lovely in Enough Said, and he surely has support from the TV-actor crowd, but his turn isn’t indelible a la Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, and it’s in fact offensive when artists’ untimely deaths start hoisting their laudability. So let’s count out Gandolfini with a smidge of logic and a dash of confidence. And let’s also (reluctantly) pull the plug on Cooper, who certainly grabs attention in American Hustle, but ultimately feels more knee-jerky a pick than Hill, another recent nominee poised to cash in on his movie’s deafening late-game buzz. While I find it unfair that many doubt Hill’s acting chops, I, too, am guilty of it, and I never thought I’d see the day when he had two Oscar nods. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when Christoph Waltz had two Oscar wins either.
Our ballot here will look much different from Oscar’s. Ed Gonzalez and I are both rooting for the hidden-in-plain-sight James Franco from Spring Breakers, the better-than-ever Casey Affleck from Out of the Furnace, and, especially, John Goodman, whose fleeting, ethereal appearance as a bitchy dandy in Inside Llewyn Davis is some of his finest work in years. I’d also hold out hope for the great Keith Stanfield from Short Term 12 (who may still have a shot at performing his character’s rap if it’s recognized by the music branch), but then, he didn’t starve himself in a dress.