If We Picked the Winners 2014: Best Supporting Actor

"Captain Phillips"

In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Omer Mozaffer makes the case for the best supporting actor of 2013: Barkhad Abdi in "Captain Phillips". Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choice for Best Picture on Friday.


This is the performance of the year. In “Captain Phillips,” Barkhad Abdi storms into frame and you know everything and nothing about him. You have never before seen a Somali pirate. You might not identify his nation on a map. But, he is exactly what you would expect.  Add messy hair, sharp triangular face and stinging, blank eyes to blunt, terse English.

Abdi’s “Muse” has intensity and unpredictability that recall Joe Pesci’s “Tommy DeVito” from “GoodFellas” (1990), Gary Oldman’s “Jackie Flannery” in “State of Grace” (1990), and Heath Ledger’s “Joker” in “The Dark Knight” (2008). They attract you as they stand at edge of a pensive cliff, ready to jump off and take us with them. You know he is thinking something, but you don’t know what it is. You know he has nothing to lose. You know that even when he releases moments of softness, he might burst in fury. In Muse, there is desperation, motivating opportunism, overtaken with renewed desperation. His every minute is a pressure cooker salted with insane circumstance. You fear him. It is such a joy to watch a character whose choices we cannot immediately predict.

But his performance is something far above those great achievements. Here, you do not see an actor acting. The actor is invisible; he never existed. We only have Muse. Consider Chris Cooper in “Adaptation” (2002) or Anna Paquin in “The Piano” (1993). These are performances where the actor becomes selfless, overtaken by the character. We do not see acting in these roles because they do not look like they are acting; they look like they are being themselves. That is an accomplishment that happens once a decade.


Click here for our winner for Best Supporting Actress and come back tomorrow for Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Omer M. Mozaffar

Omer M. Mozaffar teaches at Loyola University Chicago, where he is the Muslim Chaplain, teaching courses in Theology and Literature. He has given thousands of talks on Islam since 9/11. He is also a Hollywood Technical Consultant for productions on matters related to Islam, Arabs, South Asians. 

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