2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Supporting Actor (Sept. 16)

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Universal

It’s amazing how little we still know about the Oscar race in the post-Telluride/Venice/Toronto landscape. Sure, films like Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ made strong showings on the fall film festival circuit. But with so many films yet to screen – from ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ -- the overall picture remains murky, at best.

Here’s where I think we stand at this early stage in the race. We’ll have more movement as the New York Film Festival ramps up on Sept. 27. And movies like ‘Rush’ and ‘Prisoners’ have a chance to screen for mainstream audiences. Large box-office openings can only help their causes. For the moment, here are the leaders in the Best Supporting Actor category:

  • 1

    Jared Leto, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    Last Week: 4
    Focus Features

    ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is Matthew McConaughey’s show, through and through. He shines incredibly bright as a Texas redneck who contracts the HIV virus. But McConaughey has outstanding chemistry with co-star Jared Leo who creates an actual character out of what normally devolves in caricature. Rayon (Leto) is an unfiltered voice, a portal into the gay community for McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof. It is a risky performance, but never a showy performance. The scene Leto gets with James DuMont, playing Rayon’s father, should cement his nomination this year.

  • 2

    Tom Hanks, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

    Last Week: 2
    Walt Disney Pictures

    Iconic actor Tom Hanks playing iconic Hollywood entertainer Walt Disney in a behind-the-scenes expose on one of the industry’s most-beloved films? Why don’t you go ahead and take all of the Oscars, ‘Mr. Banks.’ Ironically, Hanks might see himself contending in multiple categories this year. It’s all but guaranteed that the actor will add at least one more acting nomination to his already illustrious resume. But whether it’s for John Lee Hancock’s ‘Mary Poppins’ movie, or for Paul Greengrass’ harrowing ‘Captain Phillips,’ remains to be seen. Will Hanks make it into two categories, or only one? Place your bets.

  • 3

    Michael Fassbender, ‘12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: 3
    Fox Searchlight

    Fassbender reunites with ‘Shame’ director Steve McQueen, and while ‘Slave’ is a vehicle for the always excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, Fassbender emerged from the Telluride and Toronto film festivals as a legitimate Best Supporting Actor contender. There were many who believed Fassbender deserved an Oscar nom for his searing portrayal of a sex addict in ‘Shame.’ The Academy often recognizes people late, so I’m banking on them honoring Fassbender here.

  • 4

    Daniel Bruhl, ‘Rush’

    Last Week: 1
    Universal

    Universal has been screening Ron Howard’s Formula-1 drama ‘Rush’ early and often. The buzz on the street is that the studio is confident in what it has, and from what we’re hearing, Bruhl’s performance as arrogant racer Niki Lauda is the real deal. (He’s also generating headlines for Bill Condon’s ‘The Fifth Estate.’ This could be a busy awards season for Bruhl.) ‘Rush’ is racing into the fall festival circuit, and will be in theaters before you know it. Based on expectations, we might be moving Howard’s latest into multiple categories, from Picture and Director to this slot for Bruhl.

  • 5

    George Clooney, ‘Gravity’

    Last Week: --
    Warner Bros.

    A thin choice, but I have a feeling this fifth slot will change often as the race progresses. I’m slotting Clooney in based on the amount of heat ‘Gravity’ generated at recent film festivals in Telluride, Venice and Toronto. Some are arguing it could climb to the top of the Best Picture race. Possible. And if it happens, Clooney could be rewarded with a nomination for his limited screen time in Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. He’s excellent at what he does on screen in ‘Gravity.’ But does he do enough to warrant consideration in this category? Maybe. For today, I’ll say yes … with reservations.

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