By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 7, 2011 at 6:56AM
In contrast to the Best Actor & Actress race, which we've examined in the last few weeks, the supporting categories are looking much more open. A-list movie stars like Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz and Cate Blanchett, who've all figured in recent years, are mostly absent from contention, and only a few performances have really planted a flag in the category, with some initially strong contenders already starting to slip away.
It's always the most unpredictable pair of categories, where little-known veterans like Ruby Dee or Jacki Weaver can win a nod, and it's always a more diverse mix than the leads. Those in contention this year range from 80-year-old stage veterans to a stand up comedian, and there's an impressive variety of roles. Head after the jump to see who's looking likely, and who are stuck as the outsiders.
"My Week With Marilyn" premieres Sunday night at the New York Film Festival, and Kenneth Branagh has long been touted as a contender for his portrayal of acting great Laurence Olivier in the film. With the success of "Thor," Branagh's had a good year back in the spotlight, and this would be a capper, plus having long been compared to the legendary Olivier, it's seemingly perfectly casting. But he didn't seem particularly impressive in the trailer, did he? Another veteran who's had something of a comeback year is Albert Brooks, whose turn in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" was something of a revelation. It's not an Oscar movie by any stretch, but it's the kind of villainous, against-type performance that voters like in this category, and Brooks has been working hard on the circuit to make it happen. We think it will, and he might be a good contender to win.
His biggest competition looks to be Christopher Plummer, who picked up his first ever nomination only two years ago for "The Last Station." He's much better than he was in that in "Beginners," as an elderly man coming out late in life, and while the film is too small-scale to get traction elsewhere, he's virtually a cert for a nomination here. At one stage, Nick Nolte looked to be similarly locked-in, but "Warrior" tanked at the box office, which has made things trickier. He's never won an Oscar, so it's still a possibility, if Lionsgate can get voters to watch the screeners, but others have a leg-up on him. A (relatively) late-breaking contender is Max Von Sydow, whose mute performance in Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" has won rave reports from test screenings. Considering, like Plummer, he's only had one nomination in the past, at the very least it'd be a fine acknowledgement of an extraordinary career.
As we discussed last week, Charlize Theron may be too unsympathetic to win a nod for "Young Adult," but the part with real awards potential in the script was always Matt, her character's cripped, wisecracking best friend. Jason Reitman cast stand-up star Patton Oswalt in the part, and we've always suspected he'd be a good contender. His previous dramatic performances haven't always been great, though, so we'll need to see the film to be totally convinced on it, but early word is pretty good. Another comedy star showed new depths, namely Jonah Hill in "Moneyball," and with the film looking increasingly likely to go the distance, he could certainly end up as a nominee here, as bizarre a suggestion as it that might have sounded two years ago.
Elsewhere, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has one major problem when it comes to this category; there are too many potential nominees from the film. Not a bad problem to have, necessarily, but it makes winning a nod more difficult. Tom Hardy's had some talk behind him (particularly after his turn in "Warrior" fell off), our pick of the bunch would be Mark Strong, who's heartbreaking in an against-type turn, but the most likely looks to be Benedict Cumberbatch, who'll also be prominent in December in "War Horse." It'd be a recognition of a rising star who's had a great couple of years, but it'll need the studio to pick him above his co-stars early, and that may not happen.
Elsewhere, we'd pegged John C. Reilly as a possibility for "We Need To Talk About Kevin," but few reviews have singled him out in the film (while youthful co-star Ezra Miller has been severely divisive in the film), and he'll also be campaigning (almost certainly in vain) for Best Actor for "Carnage." Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti were both people we'd had our eye on for "The Ides of March," and both are good in the film, but neither are doing anything they haven't done before. More likely is Viggo Mortensen, a surprisingly funny stand-out in "A Dangerous Method," or the ever-reliable Jim Broadbent in "The Iron Lady," although we have an odd feeling the character may be a little too similar to his Oscar-winning performance in "Iris." John Hawkes may face a similar problem; he got a surprise, and much-deserved nomination for a menacing performance in a difficult indie film last year, for "Winter's Bone," but pulling off the same trick two years on the trot is probably unlikely, however (incredibly) good he is in "Martha Marcy May Marlene."
Elsewhere, Armie Hammer impressed more than his bigger co-star Leonardo DiCaprio in that "J. Edgar" trailer, and the part's a good one, so that shouldn't be ruled out. We've had our eye on Tom Hiddleston in "War Horse" for a while, while Ben Kingsley could emerge out of "Hugo." Finally, British actor Simon Russell Beale is allegedly terrific in "The Deep Blue Sea," but he's not a big enough name to make an impact without a big push, and the film's with a small distributor, so he'll probably be overshadowed. Not to mention his role in the film is quite small and less showy than Weisz.
Albert Brooks -- "Drive"
Jonah Hill -- "Moneyball"
Patton Oswalt -- "Young Adult"
Christopher Plummer -- "Beginners"
Max Von Sydow -- "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
As for Supporting Actress, people have been talking about Vanessa Redgrave's performance in Ralph Fiennes' "Coriolanus" since the start of the year, and she's pretty much a lock here, especially as the six-time-honored actress hasn't won in nearly 35 years, or been nominated in twenty. Meanwhile, "The Help" has a wealth of nominations to draw on, but virtual unknown Octavia Spencer looks like the best bet to break out, and she's almost assured a ticked to the Kodak as well, at this point.
The question is if the film can bring another one of its ensemble along too. We have a feeling that it could have a good chance with Jessica Chastain, who's been omnipresent this year, without quite having another performance to seriously threaten; "Take Shelter" a long shot, "The Debt" not strong enough (although it was a modest surprise hit), "The Tree of Life" too airy. A nod for "The Help" would serve as a recognition of her general achievement, and the category has a history of allowing multiple nominations, like Amy Adams and Melissa Leo for "The Fighter" last year. It'll be a pinch, but it's possible, should Disney & Dreamworks get behind her.
Elsewhere, things are pretty much wide open. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts are possibilities for "J. Edgar," depending on the quality of the film, although neither are obvious oscar-bait performances in the script. As we said last week, Keira Knightley may be keen to go supporting for "A Dangerous Method," but the performance is hated by as many as love it, while Sandra Bullock's in a similarly open category. Carey Mulligan is deserving for "Shame," but doesn't have the critical momentum in the same way as co-star Michael Fassbender does, and considering how tough the film is, it'll be a stretch.
Someone could break out of "War Horse" or "Hugo" -- possibly Emily Watson for the former, and maybe Chloe Moretz in the latter. Janet McTeer has some buzz for "Albert Nobbs," but we imagine the Academy will stick to the one woman-disguised-as-a-man-per-movie rule, and Glenn Close will take priority. Kathy Burke is the only woman of any consequence in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," but isn't terribly well known in the U.S, even more so after a lengthy hiatus from acting, and the part isn't terribly big.
If "50/50" really took off, either Anna Kendrick or Angelica Houston could feature, but disappointing box office makes that unlikely, while if anyone emerges from "Midnight in Paris," it's more likely to be Marion Cotillard than Rachel McAdams, but we can't see it happening. Universal are said to be planning an awards run for "Bridesmaids" break-out Melissa McCarthy after her Emmy victory, but, while the supporting categories are kinder to broad comic turns than the leads (e.g. Robert Downey Jr in "Tropic Thunder,") a few years back, the film, and character, are probably too vulgar for recognition this time around. And when momentum builds up again around the film, Berenice Bejo from "The Artist" could make her way in too.
We'd love for Jennifer Ehle to sneak in for "Contagion;" among a cast of much bigger names, she's the definite stand-out. Word is that the film's playing well with Academy members, but even so, we're not sure she'll leap out. So our picks for the two most likely to make it in are relative youngsters. Evan Rachel Wood is terrific in "The Ides of March," as probably the most sympathetic character in the film, and having also picked up praise and an Emmy nomination for "Mildred Pierce," this could be her year for a nod. And it looks like Fox Searchlight are planning a push for 20-year-old newcomer Shailene Woodley for "The Descendants," and with the film being so well-liked, we reckon she'll ride the wave to a nomination too.
Jessica Chastain -- "The Help"
Vanessa Redgrave -- "Coriolanus"
Octavia Spencer -- "The Help"
Evan Rachel Wood -- "The Ides Of March"
Shailene Woodley -- "The Descendants"
1. "War Horse" (3)
That trailer look pretty potent, Oscar-wise, with plenty of viewers saying it brought them to tears on its own. We can't see a scenario where this doesn't at least get a nomination.
2. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (1)
We were negative about the trailer last week, but let's not forget that Daldry's first film, "Billy Elliot," was another kid-led one, and that's easily his best. If it's anything close to that film, this could be much better than we're expecting. Was strongly rumored to be the NYFF secret screening, but that's been denied by the studio.
3. "The Artist" (2)
In a quiet phase now, but that's the game the Weinsteins are playing here. Arguably a more likely winner than War Horse, but we'll see.
4. "Moneyball" (5)
Held up reasonably well in its second week, but has it captured the zeitgeist in the same way as "The Social Network" did?
5. "The Descendants" (4)
If "The Ides of March" gets real momentum, it's possibly the only possible situation in which this looks to fall out, but we'll see more about that in the next couple of weeks.
6. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (=)
Continuing to be a big box office hit in the U.K. The big question is, is it a threat to win? We'd bank on it more than, say The Descendants, to be honest.
7. "The Ides Of March" (11)
You may have noticed we've been skeptical about its Oscar chances, but some big fans have emerged in the week of release, not least Harvey Weinstein, who knows a thing or two about awards-chasing. But, it's not tracking particularly well, box office wise.
8. "The Help" (9)
Still hanging about the conversation, and Disney/Dreamworks will get it on DVD in December which will definitely help its chances.
9. "Hugo" (7)
One of the rumored possibilities for the New York Film Festival secret screening on Monday, we'll know a lot more about how it plays if that's the case.
10. "Midnight In Paris" (=)
Stronger candidates continue to emerge, but if The Artist doesn't connect with wider audiences, its chances improve.
11. "My Week With Marilyn" (13)
Muted response to the trailer, although Michelle Williams looks like a lock. Premieres at NYFF on Sunday, and those first reactions will be crucial.
12. "Young Adult" (=)
The trailer finally arrived yesterday, and Paramount aren't selling it as particularly Oscar-baity, although Theron and Oswalt continue to be strong possibilities.
13. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (8)
Another NYFF possibility, although our heart says it's unlikely, despite Fincher's history with the festival. Suspect it'll be December before we find out if has the goods.
14. "The Tree Of Life" (17)
We don't think it's Malick's year, but it's hitting DVD and Blu-Ray shortly, so it may find its way back into the conversation.
15. "The Flowers Of War" (-)
For some reason, the Christian Bale starrer is our hunch for the NYFF screening; Zhang Yimou certainly fits the description of a 'legendary director' better than Stephen Daldry. Still without U.S. distribution, but if it does screen Monday, that could be a sign that it's more than a foreign-language contender, as some have suggested.
16. "Shame" (-)
More ecstatic reviews out of NYFF, and the start of Fox Searchlight's campaign reminded us that they managed to get the similarly difficult "Black Swan" a nomination last year, so maybe we'd ruled it out prematurely. Still a tricky uphill battle, though.
17. "J. Edgar" (14)
Bad buzz has started to leak out, seemingly confirming what we'd suspected; that it's another miss from Eastwood. Another one mentioned for NYFF on Monday, but surely its announced premiere at the AFI Fest rules it out?
18. "The Iron Lady" (16)
We've spoken to people who've spoken to people who've seen it in London, and the word isn't good. If that's true, it probably won't rule Streep out of Best Actress, but we continue to think it's not happening.
19. "The Wettest County" (=)
October rolled around and there's still no date on the calendar for this one, long-rumored to get a platform release before the end of the year. If there's no announcement before next week, it drops off the list. If there is one, it shoots right up it.
20. "Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene" (-)
This writer finally caught it this week, and it's our favorite film of the year so far. Feels too small and unnerving to follow in "Winter's Bone"'s footsteps, but we wanted to make sure it was in the conversation.