Last week in our category spotlight, we took a look at the relatively thin Supporting Actress field, so it feels only natural to head over to the Supporting Actor boys this time around. And of all the acting categories, it might be the most interesting: it's not as locked-up as the leading men (which has six or seven heavy hitters battling it out for five slots), and not as sparse as the actress categories, with multiple contenders any of whom could win or fall out altogether.
Right now, the big heavyweight, and essentially the lock in the race is probably Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master." It's widely assumed by now that he'll be campaigning in Supporting Actor, with Joaquin Phoenix taking lead, and even if the part's not quite the Daniel Plainview-type career-defining role we thought it could be, the actor's so good in the film that a nomination is pretty much assured. Is the award already his? Certainly not, with many, many others still in the mix.
Elsewhere, William H. Macy's priest in "The Sessions" has a fair bit of buzz (the actor only has one prior nomination for "Fargo," so could be seen as overdue), but the film's slipping a little, so a nod isn't assured as it once seemed. As far as fellow Sundance films go, baker-turned-actor Dwight Henry has been building buzz for "Beasts Of The Southern Wild," while some have floated the possibility of Nick Offerman for "Smashed," though it's a minor, comic relief role and we'd guess he won't get much traction, as much as we love him. For other early-year fare, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy both had good parts in "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" -- the former a vibrant, gay man late in life, the latter a wisecracking husband in an unhappy marriage. Nighy's never been nominated, but Wilkinson probably has the better role.
Some are pushing Guy Pearce for his eyebrow-free villain in "Lawless," but we think it's unlikely to happen; James Gandolfini probably has a better chance for "Killing Them Softly," but even that may be a bit of a stretch. But probably the best chance of a film from the summer is Matthew McConaughey in "Magic Mike." The actor's having a hell of a comeback year and pretty much everyone has been calling him out for a nomination since Steven Soderbergh's movie hit theaters -- expect WB to push this one hard.
Meanwhile, "Silver Linings Playbook" gives Robert De Niro his best chance in a long time for his first nomination since "Cape Fear" in 1991. Indeed, given the swell of love for the film, he probably has the best chance of anyone at beating Hoffman to the prize. Meanwhile, of the other big awards hopefuls, there could be a few possibilities in Ben Affleck's "Argo," including Bryan Cranston and Scoot McNairy, but it's Alan Arkin who has the early momentum, while his co-star in Ben Affleck's film, John Goodman, is said to have a good part in Robert Zemeckis' "Flight."
There are a few possibilities in "Anna Karenina," including Jude Law, Domnhal Gleeson and Matthew Macfadyen, but this film is looking more like a tech and costume category movie than anything else. And while some have mentioned Irffan Khan in "Life Of Pi," acting nominations are probably unlikely for Ang Lee's film. At one stage, it felt like Ewan McGregor might be in for "The Impossible," but it's more Naomi Watts' show. One performance that is gathering a little buzz is Michael Peña in "End Of Watch," although we still feel the film's awards chances are slim. And speaking of slim chances, could Bruce Willis be recognized for starring in two of the best movies of the year in "Looper" and "Moonrise Kingdom?" Probably not, but it's not entirely inconceivable.
Later in the season brings a number of heavy hitters as nominal villains, namely Leonardo DiCaprio in "Django Unchained" and Russell Crowe in "Les Misérables" (in theory the latter might have campaigned in lead, but Hugh Jackman's being given the only non-supporting push for the film, wisely). His co-stars Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen could also be in the running, although probably not. Word is that David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones, as William Seward and Thaddeus Stevens, are the ones to look out for in "Lincoln," most notably the latter.
Also worth keeping tabs on: Hal Holbrook in "Promised Land," and maybe James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins in "Hitchcock." Finally, we doubt that Ian McKellen will repeat his Gandalf nomination for "The Hobbit," but don't rule out a make-up nomination for Albert Brooks after the actor missed out for "Drive" -- assuming he stabs fewer people in the eye in Judd Apatow's "This Is 40," it looks like a nice little role, if the film delivers.
If we had to pick five right now, they'd be the ones below. Who of the hopefuls do you think has the best chance? And who would you vote for if you were an Academy member? Let us know in the comments section below.
Russell Crowe - "Les Misérables"
Robert De Niro - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman - "The Master"
Matthew McConaughey - "Magic Mike"