February 26, 2014

OSCARLAND: Why and Why Not? – Best Supporting Actor

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The votes are in, and all that’s left is the counting.  The Calendar section of the LA Times has returned to normal size, the pop-up website ads have subsided, the screenings and Q&As have finished, and the talent can take one deep breath before heading into the frenzy of this coming weekend.  In these last days before O-Day, let’s take a last look at the reasons to expect–or not to expect–each nominee in the major categories to win.

This is not a judgment of merit.  In fact, let’s say upfront that the first Why for each nominee is their excellent work.  But if merit alone told the tale, Oscar history would be very different.  The question here is not who deserves to win, but who’s likely to.  Also, there are plenty of places to tabulate precursor awards, letting you know how many times the BAFTA,  Costume Designers Guild and USC Scriptor Awards have coincided to accurately predict Best Picture–this won’t be one of them.


BARKHAD ABDI, Captain Phillips

WHY:  A great Hollywood story–the immigrant cabbie plucked from obscurity to star opposite Tom Hanks.  A film just about everyone respects, and which was a surprisingly wide popular hit.  A genuine multicultural choice for an Academy that has a shortage of them.  A big part of the campaigning season, and unfailingly personable.

WHY NOT:  The Academy can’t love Captain Phillips all that much if it failed to nominate Hanks or director Paul Greenglass.  Since this was his first movie appearance, it’s not clear if the performance is great acting or simply great casting.  The least recognizable nominee of the group.

BRADLEY COOPER, American Hustle

WHY:  A movie star taking a smallish role (see, e.g., George Clooney and Christian Bale) for love of the material and the filmmaker.  Part of a cast that was nominated down the line–surely one of them has to win.  Not just a performance that stretched perceptions, but one without vanity.  A sterling reputation in the business.

WHY NOT:  He’s got plenty of time.  Comedy roles don’t win Oscars.  The women dominate the film.


WHY:  This is the category where villains win:  Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem.  Has shown enormous range over the past few years.  Another putative leading man in a supporting role.

WHY NOT:  Didn’t campaign–in fact, said he wasn’t going to campaign and wasn’t kidding.  A cartoon villain in an over-the-top action context is one thing, but the Academy won’t want to reward an actor for playing a loathsome plantation owner (while probably not awarding the film’s hero).  Has plenty of time.

JONAH HILL, The Wolf of Wall Street

WHY:  A big performance in a big movie.  Constantly overperforms expectations.  If Scorsese thinks he’s a real actor, who’s the Academy to say he isn’t?  Campaigned vigorously.

WHY NOT:  People who don’t love the film mostly hate it.  It’s an essentially comic performance.  Still hasn’t proven himself with a big-league dramatic role.  Plenty of time.

JARED LETO, Dallas Buyers Club

WHY:  A straight actor playing a true-life transgender character who dies of AIDS is the dictionary definition of “Oscar bait.”  A very well-regarded film with a worthy message that’s not winning Best Picture.  Has campaigned like a demon, and with an appealing backstory, having disappeared from the business for years before this.

WHY NOT:  It’s past time for Hollywood to stop casting straight actors in gay and transgender roles, or at least to stop treating those roles as Oscar bait.  His Golden Globe acceptance speech wasn’t sufficiently socially conscious.  It shouldn’t be a selling point that he couldn’t get a part for years.  The movie did very little business, and its director wasn’t nominated.


JARED LETO.  Oscar bait is Oscar bait.


Also, you might want to read about the Best Supporting Actress, Best ActressBest Actor, Best Director and Best Picture races.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."