Last year's Supporting Actor race was one of the most interesting races. The critics loved Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike, but he was ignored at all of the "major" award shows. Tommy Lee Jones got some recognition from critics groups, and the Screen Actor's Guild Awards (SAG). The eventual winner was Christoph Waltz who also won at the Golden Globes, and BAFTA, for what is largely refereed to by many as a lead performance. What made this category interesting last year was the fact that every nominee was a previous winner, the other two nominees were Alan Arkin for Argo, who won for Little Miss Sunshine, and Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook, who has two Oscars one for The Godfather Part II, and one for Raging Bull.
What makes this year just as interesting? The fact that only Tom Hanks who will compete for Saving Mr. Banks has the most history with Oscar with 5 nominations, and 2 wins in the lead category. This category has a lot of unknown factors. Many of the performers within this category have never received Academy attention, or have only been nominated once before. See the the list of major contenders listed below:
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club (never nominated)
Pro: Method performance, many actors eat up a performance like this, and why shouldn't they? Leto is great and I would argue is the front runner.
Cons: Does the slight homophobia which exists in Hollywood understand this performance, the more conservative voters. Will they get this role?
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks (two time Oscar nominee, 5 time nominee in acting)
Pros: Enter Tom Hanks who is getting rave reviews for playing Walt Disney, the man who has the most Oscar nominations, and basically beloved. A beloved actor playing a beloved Oscar winner, Hollywood eats that up!
Cons: Hanks has 2 Oscars, is that enough? Some may think yes
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave (only nominated for Golden Globe)
Pros: Oscar loves their bad boys in this category, and Fassbender is the baddest!
Cons: Is he too bad? I do not think he can win, but a nomination is likely. He has also said that he will not campaign.,
Barkhad Abdi-Captain Phillips (never nominated)
Pros: Hanks is going to champion Abdi to a nomination, and he has a lot of friends. I have heard a lot of celebrities talk about how impressed they were with this relative unknown.
Cons: His unknown status, are people going think only about the titular Captain Phillips aka Tom Hanks.
Daniel Bruhl, Rush (never nominated)
Pros: Great performance about overcoming and affliction, and achieveing even further greatness, the classic success story Oscar likes to see.
Cons: No one saw this film, and unless Bruhl gets major love from the critics he could be all but ignored, if he shows up at the Critics Choice and Globes this could telling.
Harrison Ford-42 (nominated for 1 Oscar)
Pros: The only performer who could seen as that underrated performer in this category this year; he has only one Oscar nomination, and is vastly overdue for consideration.
Cons: Solid performance in a decent film, it has happened many times before, but 42 is not going to be considered in any other categories, which again has happened before, but does he deserve it for this?
John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis (never nominated)
Pros: Goodman has been on the radar of Oscar the last few years turning in great scene stealing performances in Argo, and Flight. Goodman is a Coen regular, could this be the role that finally gets him on Oscars radar?
Cons: Is Davis going to be one of those Coen movies Oscar voters "do not get?" It could, but prestige may win out, and help sneak in this category.
Matthew McConaughey, Mud (never nominated)
Pros: He is going to get attention for Dallas Buyers Club, which could make others tune into this film as well; he also gives a great understated performance.
Cons: McConaughey a double nominee in one year? The film did better than Take Shelter, but are people/voters going to tune in, or make this happen?
David Oyewelo, The Butler (never nominated)
Pros: The film has the Weinstein Co. on its side, and they know how to get nominations, see Silver Linings Playbook last year. Oyewelo is great in the film and deserves consideration. People are underestimating the two men in this film.
Cons: Another unknown, and while I am certain Harvey will do a major push for The Butler at the moment its an out sight film.
Jake Gylenhaal, Prisoners (nominated for 1 Oscar)
Pro: Like with his previous nomination Gylenhaal could get a nomination for a lead role, did they really campaign him supporting for Brokeback because he was the bottom? "Leads" do well in this category
Cons: Prisoners seems out of sight out of mind, one of those forgotten films that just was solid and well made, but will never hit Oscars radar.
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle (nominated for 1 Oscar)
Pro: He was nominated for an O. Russell film just last year.
Cons: No one has seen the film, hard to say.
This is of course not every possible contender, but these appear to be the strongest at the moment. The nominees will be centered around a combination of which films people "love" and performances they admire, except for Hanks none of these men have been "major" players for Oscar more than once. Only Ford fits in the overdue category, like Christopher Plummer, James Coburn, and Morgan Freeman, but he is on the low end of most predictions. I am excited to see how this category turns out, there are so many great supporting performances out there.