Jared Leto stars in 'Dallas Buyers Club.' (Andrew Cowie / Getty Images)
The likely winner of this year’s Academy Award for best supporting actor would seem to be Jared Leto, Jared Leto, Jared Leto and Jared Leto.
After all, Leto, who hadn’t acted in five years before playing the transgendered Rayon this year in “Dallas Buyers Club,” has already won awards for the role from critics groups in Detroit, Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Florida, Las Vegas, New York and probably Outer Mongolia. He won a Golden Globe (but don’t hold that against him) and far, far more importantly, he won the Screen Actors Guild award.
So why should anybody else bother showing up?
Well, there are a few reasons. For one, Leto hasn’t exactly been a dedicated thespian over the past decade. He’s made his money as frontman for the pop band 30 Seconds to Mars and only acted intermittently. And his acceptance speeches haven’t been reminiscent of Olivier either.
Also, he’s up against two very popular former nominees in Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper, and — perhaps the year’s most unique nominee in any category — a Somali refugee from Minnesota, Barkhad Abdi, in his first acting performance.
Beyond that, if either “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle” ends up sweeping the awards, they could bring Michael Fassbender (“12 Years”) or Cooper (“Hustle”) right along with them.
So let’s break it down. The nominees are:
Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street”: Previously nominated for “Moneyball,” Hill is obviously loved, but his chances of winning seem somewhat diminished by the wild-and-crazy party boy limitations of his role. It’s the sort of part he does in many films (here comes “22 Jump Street”), so it almost looks too easy for him.
Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave”: Fassbender (“Shame”) is known for his intensity and provocative roles, and his abusive, crazed slave owner in this film certainly has those qualities. But there’s a mad meanness to the character that offers little in the way of shading, and the role may come off as one-dimensional to some. Still, if there’s a sweep ...
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”: Again, if there’s a sweep ... Cooper was a best actor nominee last year for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and his stock has (rightly) rocketed recently. The big drawback here is that “Hustle” is seen as — and is — such an ensemble work. Which is why it has a nominee in every acting category — and none of them might win.
Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”: Talk about an actor making a movie. Tom Hanks did fine work in this film, but the movie was brought alive, and given great depth, by Abdi’s chilling-while-painfully-human portrayal of a Somali pirate who’s simply in over his head, in the situation and in life. Some voters may think it’s a fluke performance by a novice. That’s what some thought of Anna Paquin in “The Piano” as well. This guy delivered.
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”: Then again, this guy also delivered. Plus the Academy has a long history of rewarding physical transformations, and Leto took himself down to a dangerously thin place to play the AIDS-stricken Rayon. But it was the tenderness, as well as the hot messiness, that he brought to the role that made his performance special. For Leto — who has also been in “Fight Club,” “Panic Room” and “Requiem for a Dream,” not to mention “My So-Called Life” — this may have been the role of a lifetime.
Who should win: Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club”
Who will win: Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club”
The 86th annual Academy Awards
8:30 p.m. March 2