Let us have a moment for Albert Brooks. Despite winning a slew of critics’ group prizes, including the New York Film Critics Award (the first given out all season) and short-listed for Critics Choice and the Golden Globe, he was not nominated for an Oscar. Without him, the competition just got a little duller as he was one of the main challengers for the award and delivered one of the very best performances in the last ten years on film, only to be left unnoticed by the Academy.
With that in mind, let’s assess this category with the five performers who did make the list.
Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn
For him: The versatile writer-performer has often been compared to Sir Laurence Olivier in his career, and now he plays him in this film! In all seriousness, this is Branagh’s fourth career nomination, having been shortlisted before for acting, writing and directing. He’s distinguished himself by appearing in small independent productions, Shakespeare adaptations and big-budget Hollywood films. Branagh is also notable as being one of the few performers who can comfortably transition behind the camera and appear as a journeyman director, while still leaving his artistic credibility intact.
Against him: His work here has been overshadowed, despite his being shortlisted for all the important guild prizes, by his co-star Michelle Williams, one of the Best Actress front-runners. He’s also up against two very respected veterans, each of whom makes a more compelling case for being rewarded for an Oscar, performances aside. It may not be his time, at least not yet.
Jonah Hill for Moneyball
For him: Famous funnyman turns serious actor and is rewarded with a nomination. He appears alongside Brad Pitt in a Best Picture nominee and, if that film pulls off a mini-sweep, he may be swept up along with it.
Against him: His body of work to date. Known as a comedy star appearing in Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Academy members may not take him seriously due to his previous work in comedy. It’s unfair of course, but voters may wish to wait a while until he further proves his versatility in other dramatic roles before rewarding him. He’s up against some tough competition, mainly longtime veterans with considerable support in the Academy’s ranks.
Nick Nolte for Warrior
For him: Now on his third nomination, Nolte has long been respected for his work and it may finally be time for him to win an Oscar.
Against him: Unfortunately, it may also be time for two other veterans – namely Plummer and von Sydow – to also win Oscars for their performances in films that are more widely seen. Nolte needed critical prizes to boost his campaign, and he is his film’s sole nomination, indicating perhaps a lack of support for Warrior.
Christopher Plummer for Beginners
For him: One of the juiciest roles of the year, Plummer plays a father who comes out of the closet and finally lives the life he wanted after half a century in the closet. This role requires him to deliver heartfelt speeches, take on a unique character and have a death on-screen. Plummer won the lion’s share of critics’ awards that Broos didn’t pick up, plus awards from SAG, BAFTA, Globe and Critics Choice to boot. Plummer’s role may have been in a comedy, but it’s of the dramatic variety and that’s somehow OK to Oscar voters than a raucous laughfest. Plus, the Academy might just enjoy the tantalizing opportunity to reward Captain von Trapp of the beloved Sound of Music. A win here could give the previous nominee de facto career victory. So how could he lose?
Against him: He could lose to another veteran with a career as long as he’s had, that’s how. He could split the beloved veteran vote with Max von Sydow, and given that he represents Beginners’s sole nomination, there may not be enough widespread support for the film overall to give him the big win.
Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
For him: With a long career including roles in Ingmar Bergman’s most iconic films, Hollywood classics such as The Exorcist and prestige projects like Pelle the Conqueror, for which he received his only previous nomination, von Sydow could pull a surprise win here as the equivalent of a career victory, much like Plummer. His advantage over Plummer is that he’s appearing in a Best Picture nominee, much like Hill, and could be the film’s only legitimate shot at an Oscar win.
Against him: His film, despite the nomination, was widely panned and didn’t gain the traction at the box office many predicted. Voters may also consider that this particular film, measured against his other works, may simply not measure up in stature and may not be the appropriate vehicle to give him an Oscar. Even Plummer’s film was met with enthusiastic critical response and wasn’t a box office flop like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
It’s going to be a tight race between Plummer and von Sydow for the award, and only Branagh has a real shot to come between them. Nevertheless, I’m betting that all that talk of an Oscar for Plummer since his film opened last summer will be realized on February 26.
The Oscar will go to: Christopher Plummer for Beginners