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Could 'Jobs' Star Josh Gad Be a Sleeper Awards Contender? (Analysis)

The Steve Jobs biopic has been poorly reviewed and hit theaters with a whimper -- but influential industry audiences, including Academy members, have taken notice of the 32-year-old comedian's portrayal of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Jobs Kutcher Gad Still - H 2013
Open Roads Films
Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad in "Jobs"

Joshua Michael Stern's $12 million indie Jobs, which stars Ashton Kutcher as the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was released last Friday by Open Road Films and was greeted over the weekend with poor reviews (only 25% leaned positive according to RottenTomatoes.com) and disappointing box-office (just $6.7 million). The one element of the film that most critics and industry insiders -- including several members of the Academy's acting branch with whom I spoke -- agree is excellent is the supporting performance of Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, the sweet and sensitive nerd who cofounded Apple with Jobs in the Jobs family's garage. Some are even suggesting that the 32-year-old actor, who is best known for his appearance in the Tony-winning Broadway play The Book of Mormon, and who plays the part wearing a wig, deserves to be seriously considered for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.

"You're insane, but very generous," Gad responded via Twitter to a journalist who publicly suggested as much to him. And he may be right. Any actor would have to be considered a long-shot for awards recognition for a film that was positively reviewed by only 25% of the 87 reviews, as documented by RottenTomatoes.com. Two of the biggies -- the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times -- were particularly rough on the film. A few others -- including Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone -- were much more positive. But most -- such as The Hollywood Reporter and Variety -- were mixed-leaning-negative. And yet each found something nice to say about Gad -- "a sympathetic, sensitive performance" (New York Times), "the most compelling figure [in the film" (Los Angeles Times), "the most relatable note in the movie" (Entertainment Weekly), "skilled" (Rolling Stone), "[he made] the strongest impression" (Variety), etc.

But when the credits for the film rolled at the conclusion of its official Academy screening in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the members-only crowd reserved the loudest applause for Gad's name.

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Gad's function in the film strikes me as not unlike Jonah Hill's in Moneyball (2011), for which Hill received a best supporting actor Oscar nom: he's largely there to be his usual witty self and provide comic relief, via quick one-liners, nervous stutters and cutaway-shots -- but he also has a few dramatic scenes that allow him to show off some real dramatic acting ability. He takes the air out of the room on the two somber occasions when his character quietly and emotionally confronts Jobs about the ways in which he has changed (not for the better), the second one tearfully.

Prior to seeing Jobs I knew that Gad was talented and and smart (check out his recent USA Today op-ed about DOMA), but I didn't know that he had this sort of a perf in him.

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Tom Ortenberg, the CEO of Open Road Films, who helped to guide Crash (2005) to a best picture Oscar during his tenure at Lionsgate, tells me he's a big believer in the film and its future prospects. He said in an email, "Jobs is a terrific film, with both Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad giving outstanding performances. We are currently evaluating our strategy as it relates to the upcoming awards season."

At the end of the day, Gad's biggest impediment to awards recognition might not be his film's poor reviews -- which I, as someone who has now seen the film twice, think are generally very unfair, particularly to Kutcher, who also does career-best work here -- but rather public statements about the film by the real Woz. Over the weekend, Wozniak took to the message boards of the tech website Gizmodo to share his review of Jobs. While even he acknowledged "the acting throughout was good," he also said, "I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie."

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Those associated with the film say that Woz's reservations are probably attributable to the fact that he is a paid consultant on another as-yet untitled and undated Jobs film that Aaron Sorkin -- who won an Oscar for writing another film about the controversial birth and leader of another major tech company, The Social Network (2010) -- is now writing and will also direct for Sony. Gad told USA Today that Wozniak had refused to even meet with him, and added, "You have to appreciate that in the context of his criticisms." Woz, however, counters that he could have been a paid consultant for either film, but that the Jobs team was not open to making alterations to Matt Whiteley's screenplay, so he saw little reason to work with them. "I was turned off by the Jobs script," he acknowledged in his Gizmodo posting. "But I still hoped for a great movie."

Anyway, we report, you decide.