1Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Updated (12/5/11 at 10:02 AM): Plummer was recently nominated at the Spirit Awards and continues to be the front-runner, though things could tighten up in the coming weeks.

One performance stands out from the first half of the year as a potential Oscar nominee for supporting actor, at least as far as the Oscars are concerned (I wish there was more attention being paid to Corey Stoll and Tom Hiddleston from Midnight in Paris). Plummer gives a great performance as a gay man in his seventies who comes out to his son following his wife’s death and ultimately dies of cancer. It’s got all the hallmarks of an Oscar performance and at this stage I’d be surprised if he wasn’t nominated.

#2Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)

Branagh’s Oscar achievements are a wide range of nominations from short films to screenwriting and this year he’s a contender as he plays Sir Laurence Olivier in Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn. There was early buzz concerning his performance, but nothing to hang your hat on. The film has yet to be seen to my knowledge, but it is set to play the New York Film Festival in early October so the lid will be lifted on this one soon enough.

#3Albert Brooks (Drive)

Updated (12/5/11 at 10:05 AM): A win from the New York Film Critics and Washington D.C. Critics is a bit of a boost and should the trend continue I think Brooks may be Drive‘s #1 and perhaps only Oscar contender.

Updated (9/29/11 at 8:24 AM): I can’t help but feel if any aspect of Drive is going to earn a nomination it will be Albert Brooks, but even that still seems like a longshot, especially given the film’s dismal box-office returns.

He’s a long shot, but wow is Albert Brooks great in Drive. Brooks hasn’t had a key role in a feature film since voicing Marlin in Pixar’s Finding Nemo and he couldn’t have chosen a role further away from the colorful clown fish. The last time Oscar came knocking on Brooks’ door was 14 years ago for his great role in James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News. Is the golden knight knocking once again?

#4Nick Nolte (Warrior)

Updated (12/23/11 at 11:55 AM): Nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics and the Screen Actors Guild tells me to wise up and take Nick Nolte’s chances for his performance in Warrior more seriously. I have listened.

I personally don’t see Nolte as an Oscar contender. I wasn’t overly convinced by his character and felt his character’s dramatic beats just didn’t work. Is that the fault of Nolte or the film? Either way, I’m not as convinced as others are that Nolte is much of a contender, that is unless the final months of the year don’t deliver any better performances than we’ve already seen.

#5Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Updated (12/23/11 at 12:01 PM): Overlooked by the Broadcast Film Critics, the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes? Wow, Max von Sydow’s chances for his silent performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close appears to be on the rocks. At the moment I’m calling him down, but not yet out.

There wasn’t any talk of Max von Sydow’s performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close until just before the trailer dropped on September 28 (watch it here), but a test screening in New York the Sunday prior started buzz as one person relayed an opinion to Kris Tapley at HitFix describes one specific scene calling it “a very expressive performance, lots of interesting shrugs and expressions… It’s a little master class in reacting.” Who am I to ignore early buzz?

#6Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)

Updated (12/23/11 at 12:00 PM): With the Broadcast Film Critics and Golden Globes overlooking Oswalt his chances continue to dwindle.

Updated (12/5/11 at 10:04 AM): Oswalt gives a great performance and could easily be among the five nominees, but I think he’s ultimately going to be overlooked by more veteran contenders.

Early buzz on Patton Oswalt’s performance in Young Adult was positive, but I held off on adding him to the chart for some reason. Now, comments are coming in from a West Hollywood screening of the film that had Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere saying, “Patton Oswalt, portraying a blunt-spoken, half-crippled fat guy who befriends Charlize Theron’s neurotic writer character, is now a Best Supporting Actor contender…definitely.”

Kris Tapley at HitFix felt the same and David Poland added, “Patton Oswalt could be a shock nom.”

#7Jonah Hill (Moneyball)

Updated (12/23/11 at 11:56 AM): A nomination from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes is huge for Jonah Hill who I assumed would be overshadowed in a great film by a great performance from Brad Pitt. Happy to have been wrong as Hill is now a major contender in this race.

Jonah Hill didn’t really surprise me with his performance in Moneyball, but the character that was written for him did. Hill is a solid actor, though we haven’t seen much dramatic acting out of him outside of Cyrus, but that was enough to prove there is something there. The problem I see at the moment is that he may not be a big enough name and this role may not be quite “big” enough to earn Academy status.

He’s great opposite Brad Pitt in this film as the two work nicely off one another, but he may end up overshadowed by the bigger name actor in the end, but it’s certainly a great start.

#8Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)

Updated (12/23/11 at 11:57 AM): The most surprising precursor nomination came from the Screen Actors Guild when they nominated Armie Hammer’s performance for Best Supporting Actor. Not that it’s a bad performance, but one of the best of the year? I’m not biting on this one.

Armie Hammer had his coming out party last year as the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s The Social Network. However, he appeared to be more of a curiosity there to me whereas just the first glimpse of his performance in the trailer (watch here) for J. Edgar tells me we may be looking at something special.

There hasn’t been any buzz surrounding his performance yet, so it’s an unknown quantity right now, but as of now I like what I see.

#9Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Updated (12/23/11 at 11:59 AM): With six nominees instead of five, Serkis landed a nomination from the Critics Choice Awards, but it’s a nomination I don’t imagine will be replicated by the Academy. After all, the critics were the ones tooting Serkis’ horn from the get-go, trying to spur the Academy on. I don’t see it happening, though I appreciate the sentiment.

I am on record saying, “No,” Andy Serkis will not score an Oscar nomination for his performance as the lead ape in Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Yet, I feel to not include him in my predictions would be wrong considering it’s a top notch performance and a sign of things to come. Perhaps if we get more performances like this “Best Performance Capture” will need to become a new category. This year films such as The Adventures of Tintin and Mars Needs Moms would actually join Rise in contending for that category…. Avatar 2 in a few years as well.

#10Ben Kingsley (Hugo)

Updated (12/23/11 at 12:02 PM): Just as von Sydow was overlooked by the Broadcast Film Critics, the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, so was Kingsley for what I thought was the best performance in Hugo. Then again, my opinion on a performance doesn’t matter when it comes to Oscars.

Oscar winner Ben Kingsley gives a spectacular performance in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. It was a performance I described in my review saying he portrays “a weathered man that has given up on the world, but in an instant exhibits a sparkle of life in his eyes so recognizable it’s as if it was there the whole time.”

He is going to need some support from the precursors along the way, but Kingsley is definitely one to keep in the hunt.

#11Kevin Spacey (Margin Call)

It’s been 11 years since Kevin Spacey was nominated for an Oscar, but both times he’s been nominated he’s gone on to win? Will he make it three in a row with his performance in Margin Call, a film that has been lighting up the awards circuit as of late with plenty of praise heaped on its rookie writer/director J.C. Chandor? Time will only tell, but there does appear to be a certain amount of growing support.

#12Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)

Brad Pitt certainly gives the best performance in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of LIfe, but the film itself is not much of a performance piece. I guess the one thing going for Pitt in this case is the film is so much of a thinker, Academy members may forget the film altogether and just come away thinking, “You know, Brad Pitt was pretty good though.”

#13Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method)

Updated (12/23/11 at 12:00 PM): A nomination from the Golden Globes is a nice sentiment, but I don’t see it taking Viggo too far.

Re-teaming yet again with his Eastern Promises and A History of Violence helmer, David Cronenberg, Viggo Mortensen slips into the shoes of Sigmund Freud and early reviews out of Venice were quite flattering.

Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a bit of unexpected casting that proves entirely successful” and Justin Chang at Variety says Mortensen’s Freud “calmly steals the picture.” Sounds like a contender to me.  

#14Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

You all know Tom Hanks right? Sure, he may have had a bit of a misfire with Larry Crowne earlier this year, but he’s still Toy Story‘s Woody and he’s got a September 11th themed drama coming around the corner from director Stephen Daldry. With five nominations to his name and an Oscar bait feature such as this it’s hard to think he won’t be a major contender.


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