The Oscars are Coming! The Oscars are Coming!

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With the Academy Awards less than a week away, a lot of film-related conversations of late have revolved around the event. Most award bodies, such as the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, have already revealed their picks for 2011. Oscar pundits across the internet are taking final stabs at predicting the winners as well as presenting their own ballots with rationale behind their picks.

As for the Daily Cal, some of the critics from the Arts and Entertainment section will be getting together later this week for a podcast to give you their own take on the Oscars and tell you who they think will walk home with a golden statue this Sunday — be sure to tune in and contribute to the conversation. Starting today, I’ll be devoting a blog post every day to an Oscar category, giving my own insight into who will/should win as well as sharing my own picks. I’ll cover the four acting categories throughout the week and finish up with Best Picture on Saturday. Today, let’s talk about Best Supporting Actor.

And the nominees are:
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Who will win? What started out earlier in the season as a two-horse race between Christopher Plummer, un-Oscared veteran, and Albert Brooks, the enduring showbiz player, now seems all sewn up and ready to go. But with Brooks not even in sight on the Oscar shortlist to pose a threat and with no real momentum forming around other nominees, Christopher Plummer seems to have this one in the bag. He’s got a lot of things for him, including “over-due” status, industry love and respect, a long career of acclaimed work, and, not to mention, a performance that ranks among his best.

Potential spoiler: Many Oscar pundits have made a case for a possible upset from Max von Sydow. Many of the things I mentioned above that Plummer has going for him, von Sydow also has; on top of that, Sydow’s movie earned a Best Picture nod, whereas Plummer is the only element recognized from his film, so there could be more support for von Sydow than some people think. Still, Plummer has his lion’s share of critic prizes, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a BAFTA to his name, and von Sydow didn’t even make any of those shortlists. Von Sydow seems more of an illusory threat than a possible spoiler.

Who should win? Christopher Plummer. Not to undermine the other contenders’ works, but Plummer’s performance is miles above those of his fellow nominees. Rather than sell his character into cutesy comedy or diminish him to a one-dimensional bore, Plummer builds on his skills as an established performer and crafts an enduring portrait of a dying man rediscovering himself at an old age. Few things brought me more delight than watching Plummer learn about house music over the phone with his son; and few things are more heart-breaking than seeing him listen to the doctor delivering bad news as a wave of emotions come across his face. Even if the Academy sees this more as a career-appreciation award than an award actually based on merit, I’ll be happy to see Plummer take this.

Who got shafted? Apart from Plummer, the rest of the four slots were pretty much up in the air until the Oscar nominations were announced. Even Albert Brooks, who started out the season very well with a handful of critic awards, missed several major shortlists. So there were no surprise omissions, but only surprise inclusions … anyway, Brooks stole all the thunder from “Drive”, but Bryan Cranston and Oscar Isaac more than held up their own. “Bridesmaids” absorbed a lot of attention for its female ensemble, but almost no one seemed to single out Chris O’Dowd, who serves as the audience’s vessel into balancing our admiration and frustration with Annie (Kristen Wiig). Both Kiefer Sutherland (“Melancholia”) and Bruce Greenwood (“Meek’s Cutoff”) contribute much of the drama and tension their films seek. Patton Oswalt outdoes Charlize Theron in “Young Adult,” and Corey Stoll stands out from the pretty comedy that is “Midnight in Paris.” Viggo Mortensen does more than puff his cigar in “A Dangerous Method.” But the saddest omission from this shortlist is Brad Pitt’s performance in “The Tree of Life.” Most people forget he topped himself TWICE this year.

My ballot: Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”; Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”; Albert Brooks, “Drive”; Viggo Mortensen, “A Dangerous Method”; and Chris O’Dowd, “Bridesmaids”.

Who do YOU think deserves to win on Sunday night? Have at it in the comments…