[EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play presents "Should Win," a series of video essays advocating winners in seven Academy Awards categories: supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture. These are consensus choices hashed out by a pool of Press Play contributors. We'll roll out the rest of the series between now and Friday. Follow along HERE as Press Play decides the rest of the major categores including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Documentary. Important notice: Press Play is aware that our videos can not be played on Apple mobile devices. We are, therefore, making this and every video in this series available on Vimeo for these Press Play readers. If you own an Apple mobile device, click here.]
Almost all the nominees for Best Supporting Actor do terrific work in roles that feel tailor-made to highlight their strengths. Kenneth Branagh's early work as director/star on stage and screen earned him comparisons to Laurence Olivier; he fulfills his destiny by actually playing Olivier in My Week with Marilyn. Nick Nolte reminds us why he's one of the last great tough guys as the hard-ass recovering alcoholic father in Warrior. Jonah Hill gets the MVP award as a baseball-loving numbers cruncher in Moneyball. And in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Max von Sydow gives a master class in "less is more." But Christopher Plummer does something extra in Beginners. As Hal Fields, who at 75 becomes a widower and decides to come out of the closet to his sad-sack son, Plummer masterfully avoids bad laughs and cheap sentiment. Instead, he uses his experience in life and as an actor to wipe away the dignified fad that was the hallmark of his acting. In a relatively short amount of screen time, Plummer allows us to experience a man's life in full, from the regret of not being more courageous, to the casual cruelty that a father can inflict on his son, to the passion to not let a little thing like death prevent you from enjoying life. It is such a classic example of an actor and a role being perfectly matched that you realize that you've seen something more than Plummer's best performance – he's just getting started.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of Press Play. He is also a film critic and award-winning filmmaker. San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host of “Back at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.