There is an unfortunate perception among people who closely follow the Oscars that the Supporting Actor category is more about rewarding veteran actors who are due for recognition than they are about giving the prize to the best performance in a given year. It could be argued this was the case early in the 2000s when actors like Jim Broadbent, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin won the award, but recently this category has been used to reward individuals who are doing something particularly unique and exciting. In recent years some of the most interesting actors of the here and now took home the prize including Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, and Christian Bale.
This year’s crop of potential nominees offers a nice variety of contenders for the Best Supporting Actor prize including previous nominees and first-timers. It is likely that this category will pit film legends up against relative newcomers, which is fantastic. Part of what makes the Oscars so enjoyable is the ability to celebrate new movements in the art form while still embracing the roots of cinema. Let’s take a look at these potential nominees, starting with the legends.
After appearing in over 150 movies, Christopher Plummer received his first Academy Award nomination two years ago at the age of 80 for playing Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station. Since then he has been incredibly busy with nine movies since the beginning of 2009 and numerous voice acting performances for video games. Plummer might be back to win the prize this year for his deeply moving performance in Mike Mills’ Beginners. Plummer plays Hal, an elderly man who comes out as gay after his wife passes away. The performance is not as showy as recent winners have been, but it does have a lot going for it. Primarily he comes across as incredibly sympathetic but still flawed. It’s a difficult tone to pull off, but Plummer does so marvelously and should have enough respect from the Academy to at least score a nomination and he is the closest thing we have right now to a lock.
Thanks in large part to his collaborations with Ingmar Bergman, legendary actor Max Von Sydow has appeared in some of my favorite movies of all-time. Criminally he has only been nominated for an Oscar once for his leading performance in the forgettable Pelle the Conquerer. This is largely due to the Academy’s unspoken bias against Foreign Films. This year the multi-lingual Sydow is performing in English and in a film by Stephen Daldry, the most Oscar friendly director since William Wyler. The film is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Sydow plays one of the characters that young Oskar meets during his search for clues about his father. Nobody has seen Sydow’s performance yet, but those familiar with the book suggest that he will have a lot to work with.
Kenneth Branagh could receive an Oscar nomination for doing what he’s already been doing his entire career – imitating Laurence Olivier. Branagh literally plays Olivier in Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn and his performance is one of the few things about the film getting praise. Albert Brooks is probably the best hope that Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive has at getting a major Oscar nomination. It would be the second nomination for both Brooks and Branagh.
The aforementioned Jim Broadbent could be back once again for his performance in The Iron Lady, which no one has seen yet. George Clooney is also a name that is difficult to ignore, especially because he has two performances that will be pining for the Academy’s attention. The smaller of the two is his self-directed role in The Ides of March where he stands out among an incredibly star-studded cast. Two-time winner Tom Hanks could also find himself back in the Academy’s favor for the first time in 10 years for his performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
There are also some new faces that could join the veterans in this year’s Oscar race. The most likely of these is Jonah Hill who surprised everyone with his most restrained performance to date in Moneyball. The role is unlike anything Hill has shown us before, and it could make it in as a nomination if the popularity of Moneyball persists and it scores in multiple categories. Armie Hammer gave my favorite supporting performance of last year for his dual role in The Social Network. He is back this year for Clint Eastwood’s film J. Edgar wherein he plays Clyde Tolson, close friend and suspected romantic interest of Hoover himself. That is another performance that is yet to be seen, but has Oscar-friendly written all over it.
A few other names that could sneak in include John Hawkes, who could receive his second nomination in three years for his performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Nick Nolte, who was well-liked in the quickly forgotten movie Warrior, or Brad Pitt/Sean Penn/Hunter McCracken for The Tree of Life.
Here is how my top five looks right now:
1) Christopher Plummer – Beginners
2) Max Von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
3) Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn
4) Albert Brooks – Drive
5) Jonah Hill – Moneyball
Check out the complete Best Supporting Actor charts and let me know your thoughts on the race!