This is part one of our last-minute Oscar 2012 predictions, beginning with the Best Supporting Actor category. The 2012 Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Surprisingly, the only Best Supporting Actor shoo-in this late in the game is Christopher Plummer (the captain who romanced Julie Andrews in Robert Wise's The Sound of Music) for playing Ewan McGregor's gay father in Mike Mills' Beginners. Plummer has already won a Golden Globe, a series of critics' awards, and is up for a SAG Award.
Following a whole slew of North American critics' awards, Albert Brooks should have been a shoo-in as well for his gangster in Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller Drive. Brooks, however, has been left out of both the SAG Awards and the British Academy Awards. In other words, his Oscar nomination has become less of a sure thing.
Even so, our guess is that Brooks will be shortlisted. The Academy, after all, tallies votes according to the preferential voting system. Thus, if only a minority of Academy members – around 20 percent – places Brooks in first or second place in their ballots, he'll surely be in. We believe it shouldn't be too hard for him to get those votes. If we're right, that'll be Brooks second Oscar nomination; the previous one, also in the Best Supporting Actor category, was for James L. Brooks' Broadcast News (1987). That year, Brooks (no relation to his director) lost to Sean Connery in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables.
The third slot goes to SAG Award and BAFTA nominee Kenneth Branagh for playing Laurence Olivier opposite Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn. If our prediction is correct, that'll be Branagh's first Academy Award nomination in the acting categories since Henry V (1989), which he also directed – and got nominated for his efforts behind the camera, too. Branagh lost the Best Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis for Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot, while that year's Best Director winner was Oliver Stone for the Tom Cruise vehicle Born on the Fourth of July. (Curiously, Olivier also directed and starred in a 1946 version of Henry V that earned him a Best Actor Oscar nod. He lost to Fredric March's World War II veteran in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives.)
Slot no. 4 will likely go to veteran Nick Nolte for his alcoholic former boxer and father in Gavin O'Connor's little-seen Warrior, a family drama co-starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. Nolte's previous two Oscar nominations, both as Best Actor, were for playing other troubled men: in Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides (1991) and Paul Schrader's Affliction (1998).
Slot no. 5 is a tough one. SAG committee voters went for Armie Hammer as Leonardo DiCaprio/J. Edgar Hoover's co-worker/intimate companion in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. Though a nomination for Hammer isn't impossible, we'd say it's less likely than one for, say, Patton Oswalt for Jason Reitman's Young Adult or for Jonah Hill for Bennett Miller's Moneyball. Our pick for the no. 5 slot, however, is neither Oswalt nor Hill (or Hammer), but Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method.
Mortensen has already been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, for Cronenberg's thriller Eastern Promises (2007). The fact that he is a much bigger name than most of his competitors surely is no hindrance to him – much to the contrary. Think dubious supporting players such as Ethan Hawke (Training Day) and Julianne Moore (The Hours).
Besides Oswalt, Hill, and Hammer, other possibilities include: Ben Kingsley for Martin Scorsese's Hugo, John Hawkes for Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Brad Pitt for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Jeremy Irons/Kevin Spacey for J.C. Chandor's Margin Call, Christoph Waltz for either Roman Polanski's Carnage or (less likely) Francis Lawrence's Water for Elephants, and Max von Sydow (or Tom Hanks??) for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Critical praise or no, a nomination for Andy Serkis for Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be a major upset.
Goran Visnjic/Christopher Plummer/Beginners photo: Focus Features.