Oscars: The Hollywood Reporter's Guide to the Actor Categories

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"

Alas, in a year of exceptional performances, only 20 can be awarded come nomination morning Jan. 16, as THR offers one way to judge in this role-by-role comparison of talent in similar pictures.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Actors will insist that it's folly to try to judge performances, one against another. After all, how can you compare the work that animates a gripping drama to that which lightens up an evanescent comedy? But then awards season is all about comparing and contrasting. To make that job a little easier -- while also offering a sense of the sweeping range of performances that have lit up the screen in 2013 -- why not attempt to separate the performers into groups? So here's a look at contenders for best actor and actress and those who will be aiming for best supporting actor and actress accolades as another hotly contested season gets underway.

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This year, a lot of movies -- and performances -- drew their inspiration from real life. The list includes Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips, the kidnapped captain of the Maersk Alabama in Captain Phillips; Matthew McConaughey as reluctant AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club; Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, shot and killed by transit police in Fruitvale Station; and Daniel Bruhl as Formula One racer Niki Lauda in Rush. The work of Phillips' Barkhad Abdi, Fruitvale's Octavia Spencer and Dallas' Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner adds a further air of authenticity.


The mood surrounding other families is pretty grim. Without any of the powers of the Wolverine, Hugh Jackman searches for his missing daughter in Prisoners, which also features Jake Gyllenhaal as a troubled detective and Melissa Leo as a woman who might hold the key to the mystery. In Out of the Furnace, Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers living in a decaying Pennsylvania steel town who turn to bare-fisted boxing and drugs as their lives go from bad to worse. And fathers visit their problems on their sons in The Place Beyond the Pines, which kicks off with Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stuntman who starts robbing banks.

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The Weston family of August: Osage County might have its share of dark secrets and bitter memories, but with Meryl Streep sitting at the head of the table as its sharp-tongued matriarch, it delivers a healthy dose of laughs. And the supporting cast led by Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale all give as good as they get. Something similar takes place in Nebraska: Bruce Dern, who already has earned best actor laurels at the Cannes Film Festival, has his comic moments as an addled and cantankerous old man who is convinced he somehow has won the lottery. As his wife, veteran actress June Squibb plays a character who's equally ornery and feisty as she tries to set him straight.

Cate Blanchett also suffers from delusions of grandeur in Blue Jasmine -- she plays something of a modern-day version of Tennessee Williams' Blanche DuBois, a former member of the 1 percent who is forced to depend on the kindness of relative strangers as she moves in with her working-class sister, played by Sally Hawkins. And Judi Dench also has more than her share of funny quips in Philomena, in which she portrays a woman looking for the son she gave up for adoption.

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