The Academy's Picks
Russell Crowe - “Noah”
Ralph Fiennes - “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Colin Firth - “The Railway Man”
Tom Hardy - “Locke”
John Turturro - “Fading Gigolo”
Taken just as a list of actors, without considering the actual movies, this would be a pretty plausible roll-call for any year’s Best Actor nominations: two prior winners (Crowe for “Gladiator” along with two other nominations, Firth for “The King’s Speech” plus a nod for “A Single Man”); one two-time nominee who has bizarrely never won (Fiennes, nommed in support for “Schindler’s List” and in the lead for “The English Patient”); a character actor of long-standing reputation and popularity (Turturro); and a rising star whose meteoric ascent to bankable leading man suggests his Oscar is only a matter of when, not if (Hardy).
But of these, it’s maybe Fiennes who has the best chance of surviving the onslaught of competing performances that will crowd in thick and fast come fall: his turn in Wes Anderson’s loving Lubitschian homage is pivotal to the film, and crucially shows a whole new side to an actor/thespian already so respected we have to keep reminding ourselves that he hasn’t actually yet won. Still, in our thought-experiment narrower field, it’s easy to suggest that prior form would carry Crowe through for Aronofsky’s divisive but certainly interesting and epic “Noah,” and while we’d all roll our eyes at “The Railway Man” getting in, it could certainly earn the “obvious Oscar bait is obvious” place. “Fading Gigolo” is probably the biggest dice-roll, as any of several small films featuring favored, under-awarded performers could go here, but 'Gigolo''s modest success, and actor-friendly bent makes Turturro certainly as worthy as any.
“Locke,” meantime, is probably the most interesting case in point. Hardy’s buzz is such that if only more people had seen this amazing one-man-show from director (and Oscar-nominated screenwriter) Steven Knight, we’d say it would have a good chance of landing a nomination for real, but it’s a really minuscule film, and Hardy himself has two more higher profile movies due to hit before the year is out (“The Drop” and “Child 44”). So while either of those could well actually see him figure in January’s list, as of releases this moment, it’s his titanic, riveting performance in “Locke” that we feel would get some love. Any way you cut it, it looks to be a big year for Hardy.
The Playlist's Picks: Jesse Eisenberg in “The Double”/“Night Moves,” Ralph Fiennes in “Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jake Gyllenhaal “Enemy,” Tom Hardy in “Locke,” Tom Hiddleston in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Best Supporting Actress
The Academy's Picks
Laura Dern - “Fault In Our Stars”
Nicole Kidman - “The Railway Man”
Tilda Swinton - “Snowpiercer”
Emma Watson - "Noah"
Penelope Wilton - “Belle”
The Supporting Actress category is always a harder one to call, and this is no different, especially considering our pool only contains one eligible Jennifer Lawrence performance, and even we can’t see the Academy’s crush on J-Law extending to a nod for an “X-Men” movie, even within the fantasy parameters of this feature. It’s a category where even the notoriously conservative Academy have been known to push the boat out a little, but the new faces it sometimes features (last year’s winner Lupita Nyong’o, for example) tend to need to break out in an otherwise recognized, buzzed film (like “12 Years a Slave”) and even those picks are often offset by nods for established actresses who either deserve a consolation prize or who in general feel like they haven’t ever really been given their due. Kidman is the obvious bet for consolation prize: it feels like she’s moving into the Grande Dame phase of her career in which every major role she takes has one eye on the little gold fella, and if a lot of the time she’s going to aim and miss (the specter of “Grace of Monaco” hovers on the horizon, not eligible here yet, but still its stinking word of mouth and distribution troubles are already part of the narrative), in general the Academy loves a trier, so a nod for something as unexceptional-but-prestigey as “The Railway Man” would not be out of the question.
“Belle” ’s period trappings and clever counter-programming slot make it a fertile ground for performance nominations at this stage, even if it feels in reality almost destined to be totally engulfed by the award season slate. So right now it might be Penelope Wilton’s turn on the Judi Dench/Brenda Blethyn train: she’s a very respected British actress whose face is familiar to “Downton Abbey” viewers and basically anyone who’s turned on a TV in Britain at any point over the last 40 years. Tilda Swinton’s showy, hilarious turn in “Snowpiercer” has probably caught enough attention and positive notices, despite no distributor push, to figure in the current mix, and Laura Dern is terminally undervalued so it’s nice to think she’d get some love, even if was for the sappy “The Fault In Our Stars.”
As to the last spot, it’s especially hard to hypothesize, because while we’d love to believe that Rose Byrne in “Neighbors” could score a Melissa McCarthy-in-“Bridesmaids”-style surprise our heads say she’s a step away from that level, and it would be more likely to go to the less deserving, but more traditionally Oscar-y performance from Emma Watson in “Noah,” especially as Watson feels like the kind of actress the Academy might be anxious to anoint, and “Noah” is distinctly not a comedy.
The Playlist's Picks: Jillian Bell in "22 Jump Street," Rose Byrne in "Neighbors," Melanie Laurent in "Enemy," Tilda Swinton for "Snowpiercer," Mia Wasikowska in "Only Lovers Left Alive"/"The Double.