In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

The Best Supporting Actor Oscar race was in flux throughout much of the season. Three of the names were more or less settled for a while but a few names kept popping up to keep those last couple of slots interesting and up for grabs. In the end, the line-up the Academy's actors branch settled on was a very solid one. And all five actors star in Best Picture nominees, which goes to show, among other things, just how dense with talent the year's cream of the crop really was.

At the end of that day, though, one actor has been dominating this race.

The nominees are…

Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
The truth is, Barkhad Abdi's haunted, pressured, ultimately soulful turn as a Somali pirate in Paul Greengrass' exciting "Captain Phillips" may well be the best performance in the category this year. The circuit has been mostly dominated by the likely Oscar winner, but it was nice to see Abdi pop up with a surprise win at the BAFTA Awards recently (following on the heels of the London Film Critics' Circle's similar choice). His has been a Cinderella story this year, from Minneapolis limo driver to Oscar-nominated first-time actor opposite Tom Hanks in a big Hollywood production. Maybe the BAFTA win forces some to give him another look, which would be a win itself, because the inherent naturalism he brought was lovely. (Check out our interview with Abdi here.)

Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"
All four of the principal cast members from David O. Russell's latest landed Oscar nominations this year. We could have written the same sentence last year and indeed, Russell's films clearly have support from the actors branch as of late. The bulk of the attention this year has been going to Jennifer Lawrence's showy work in the corresponding supporting actress category, but Cooper's might be my favorite of the quartet. He goes off the rails but his is a character that sort of desperation fits like a glove, as it's a portrait of anguish every step of the way. The requisite amount is going on under the hood to keep it from being pure caricature, but I don't know. I loved Cooper in this movie.

Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Michael Fassbender took the season off, so to speak, this year as early on he said he wouldn't be campaigning for awards. Of course, he was here and there so it wasn't silence, and one couldn't blame him after such a strong push on behalf of "Shame" that went nowhere a couple of years ago, but whatever the case, it's possible that decision cost him in the long run. This was a performance that could have potentially gone the distance, in a film that needed all the help it could get in a very tight race. This is a category without veterans for a change this year and all of these younger actors had a play on the race at some point, I should think. (Check out our interview with Fassbender here.)

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