• Zach Youngs

Academy of One: Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2013

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I don’t have a lot to say at the top here because I know I’m going to shock you later with something I’ve never done before. So, here are the nominees as they stand now.

  • Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips

  • Bradley Cooper - American Hustle

  • Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave

  • Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club

I love this list. I really do. One of the reasons is that only two of these guys are veterans and they’re the most unlikely veterans you can imagine. I’m writing of course of Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill. Yes, two men who started out in comedy and are continuing with their second nomination each for “comedic” or comic relief roles.

It’s so different and so very interesting to have a statistic like this as we often think of the Academy ignoring the comedic arts. Well, to call either The Wolf of Wall Street or American Hustle straight comedies is a little strange, but they’re most definitely lighter dramedies and I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.

Then we have two villains, one conflicted and one with racist conviction played with sinister grit by Barkhad Abdi and Michael Fassbender respectfully. As well as the transgender prostitute with a heart of gold played by Jared Leto.

Each brings their unique talents to the board, but I still found myself asking if there were others as deserving of a nomination in this category as well. I came up with two names and the first you’re going to wonder if I’m crazy, especially in light of last week’s decision.

  • Matthew McConaughey - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Lakeith Stanfield - Short Term 12

Yes, I know I just chided Matthew McConaughey in last week’s post and stole his award from under him, but this role, this role is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a bizarre, coke-fueled, business guru who is so against type that it’s brilliant. He steals the movie for me and I am enraptured by his odd, beautiful charisma. This is a role is the exception to the view I have of McConaughey as I outlined last week. I want more of this, all right (all right, all right)?

In contrast, Lakeith Stanfield has no mold from which to break as an actor he’s an enigma and it’s no more present than in his powerful breakout role as a young man in short term housing. He’s charming, heartbreaking, and a force to be reckoned with.

O.K., now here’s where I break from tradition, where I upend the status quo. I chose no actor to usurp any other actor on this list. They are not untouchable and I reserve the right to change my mind at any point, but as it stands now, I haven’t seen a supporting performance in a film from 2013 that I would put above these actors.

Now, here’s the list again to start with and then I’ll let you know what my thought process is for the rest of the post.

  • Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips

  • Bradley Cooper - American Hustle

  • Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave

  • Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club

So, this is how I’m going to play it as this is an unprecedented, but probably not outlying, event in the history of this blog. I’m going to do the final deliberations in rankings, starting from the bottom and working my way to the winner, but to give back a little of my old format, I ask with the field remaining intact and my coup over Dallas Buyers Club in the lead category, does Jared Leto still walk away with the supporting award? Short answer, no.

Starting from the bottom of my rankings, first up is Barkhad Abdi in a stunning debut. Yet, for all the nuance and reality he brings to the role, it’s no doubt he’s known men like this in his lifetime, the cracks are still there and there are points when we can tell it’s his first role in a movie. I think subsequent roles will validate this nomination, but on it’s own, Abdi’s performance is great, but flawed.

Jonah Hill’s been here before. He was nominated in 2011 for Moneyball for playing against type, but this role in The Wolf of Wall Street is very nearly on brand for him as the scheming, lecherous sidekick to Leonardo DiCaprio’sscheming, lecherous boss. It’s a bonkers movie and a bonkers performance, but it never seems to leave the kind of slight overacting that befalls many when they really get into a role as strange as this one.

Speaking of the bizarre, Bradley Cooper’s ambitious and often amoral FBI agent in American Hustle is so unique and strange, filled with joy and anger. It would be on the verge of overacting if Cooper hadn’t already proved himself in several screwball comedies. He’s deft in his handling of the material and especially the scene where he entertains a room of fellow agents with with his impression of one of their superiors. He’s the wild card when on screen, which can be a good thing or a bad thing at times depending on who he’s acting against. I write against because there is not a single scene he’s in where he’s not angling around every actor present to get a better foothold and the upper hand of the scene.

Next, we have Jared Leto in a heartbreaking and funny portrayal, but while I had empathy for the character and he truly disappears into his role, I couldn’t help, but remember, Leto is not transgendered. He is straight. No matter how good he is, this fact remains and as I have been exasperated by others doing it for other movies, this role in this movie should have gone to a transgender actor. They’re out there and they know this story, or at least its beats, better than any straight man could have researched.

I’m not going to fault Leto for the oversight. He saw an opportunity and took it. I just think it leaves a gaping hole in this film that all the capital A, Acting can’t remedy. I’m glad it exists to bring the transgendered community representation, but I feel, and I think others agree, that representation is nothing without those being represented present and involved.

And now we come to my choice of winner, Michael Fassbender. You’ve read me extol the virtues of Fassbender’s abilities before, but they’re on full display here.

As Epps, Fassbender rules his slaves with an iron fist. He’s despicable, unrepentant, and brutal in his tactics. He creates a bubble of hatred and ire that’s ready to burst forth at any moment. He’s the nightmare that haunts the past of the United States and everything we’ve attempted to shake our heads at in disbelief, but in our hearts we know is true.

I’m in awe of every scene he’s in and the physicality of his presence as he uses a small boy to lean on and gets very close to his slaves in a sort of faux intimacy. An intimacy of terror more like it.

It’s never so present as in a scene with Epps and Solomon as Epps, clearly after a few drinks, pulls Solomon aside and with the volatile whisper of a man with a hair trigger he asks Solomon questions and even presses their two heads together. As the scene goes on, an extra layer of danger lies in the fact that Epps’ knife is out and has been tracing a slow path up Solomon as the two of them speak. It’s a scene of great anxiety and menace and it’s played pitch perfectly.

The villain is often the juiciest part of any movie, but for this one, the villain is just a part of the whole that keeps the gears turning in this film. Fassbender’sguile and depravity fuel our wish for hope in the midst of all the despair he causes. It’s a staggering performance in a monumental film.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actress in a Leading Role nominees for 2013.

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