In this authentically grounded performance as the pirate ringleader Muse, Abdi goes nose to nose with veteran A-lister Hanks with a ferocity underlain by sheer desperation. When Phillips suggests to him that there must be more to life than fishing and kidnapping people, one can't help but feel a sort of sympathy as Muse mutters in defeated response, “Maybe in America... Maybe in America.”
No, don't adjust your monitors. I honestly do think Cooper gave one of the finest supporting turns of the year, but not the one which the Academy has recognized. Rather, it's his convincing work in Derek Cianfrance's triptych saga that impresses the most. He commands his third of the film as a rookie cop disillusioned by corruption and haunted by his "heroic" actions, smoothly transitioning into the man we meet in the final act.
I certainly didn't care for the acting in this film on the whole, but Cooper develops an earnest, humble everyman persona that shines like an oasis in the desert. In a movie full of loud performances being drowned out by other loud performances, his steady reservedness and warmth allows his one emotive moment of righteous frustration to truly register; A lesson in building an impact performance on subtlety.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER in 12 Years a Slave
Epps' wickedness might seem cartoonishly over-the-top were it not for Fassbender's artfully unhinged performance. He spews empty “truths” from the Bible to justify his immorality, but his eyes suggest an even more deep-seeded self-loathing that manifests itself in every heinous act of abuse. The layers of Fassbender's work reveal Epps to be not a monster, but a human being, and that's the most frightening thing about him.
At first glance I felt that this transgendered performance came across as a bit broad, but after no time at all it really sings. The evolving relationship between Rayon and Woodroof is one of the film's biggest sources of humour and of heart, largely thanks to Leto. He's droll, charismatic, and finally heartbreaking as our hero's unlikely business partner and even more unlikely friend.
BRADLEY COOPER in American Hustle
JAMES FRANCO in Spring Breakers
JONAH HILL in The Wolf of Wall Street
MICHAEL SHANNON in Man of Steel
KEITH STANFIELD in Short Term 12
*As much as I'd love to include Jake Gyllenhaal for fleshing out an underwritten role in Prisoners, I simply can't bring myself to consider him anything less than a co-lead. Ditto Daniel Bruhl in Rush.