As opposed to the Best Supporting Actress category, Best Supporting Actor usually follows a fairly predictable pattern. Whoever's won the lion's share of awards in the category can usually be counted upon to repeat the feat at the Oscars. With that in mind, let's handicap this year's Best Supporting Actor nominees...
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
They’ve been talking about Waltz as the favorite in this category since before the film opened, and he’s taken home just about every award possible. His sly performance was easily the film’s best, on the male side at least.
PROS: The Academy loves to prove how “international” it is by occasionally rewarding a non-English performer (as anyone who remembers the Life Is Beautiful farrago can attest). Seems like a genuinely humble guy in his speeches, and given that he’s taken home a dozen or so awards already, that’s saying something.
CONS: A possible Tarantino backlash is always a threat, and the old saw about how QT “reinvigorates” careers hasn’t really proven true. Travolta’s gone on to mostly make the same kind of dross he did pre-Pulp Fiction (though with a bigger budget); the big Kurt Russell revival promised after Death Proof never materialized; and have you seen Uma’s career lately? Nevertheless, this looks like Waltz’s year.
ODDS OF WINNING: 2 to 1.
Matt Damon, Invictus
In which Damon unveils a not-bad South African accent and a putty nose to serve as the only name star besides Morgan Freeman in Clint’s would-be epic. He hits all the notes he’s asked to by the film’s trite script, but this nomination feels more like a begrudging obligation than something particularly well earned.
PROS: They’re never going to give him an Oscar for Bourne, so maybe this will encourage him to take on more character parts like those of The Informant! and Syriana.
CONS: Invictus has pretty much come and gone without gaining much in the way of awards momentum. Probably stands a better chance with upcoming projects like the Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake or the Liberace biopic.
ODDS: 100 to 1.
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
His is the only performance in the Peter Jackson misfire to get any attention, which is saying something when you’re dealing with a murdered girl and her bereaved parents.
PROS: That Tucci’s the only one getting attention for what was expected to a Nominations-For-Everybody picture says something about his ability to disappear into a character. Nice to see him play something besides the good-hearted nebbish.
CONS: His physical appearance in the film, which alone should have had that neighborhood watching him closely. That the film overall is considered such a failure won’t do him any favors.
ODDS: 50 to 1.
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
There's always a Grand Old Man Who's Never Won at the Oscars, and this year it's Plummer's turn. Never exactly a film star, he's always provided work that's at least solid, if not always strong. Playing Leo Tolstoy has got to be one of those dream gigs.
PROS: Historically this category has been the Academy’s chance to redeem itself for having ignored aging actors’ past performances. Plummer’s been on an amazing run of indelible character parts for the past dozen years: The Insider, Inside Man, The New World, Syriana, and this.
CONS: Everyone considers Waltz a shoo-in. Still, if anyone’s going to upset Waltz in this category, it’s Plummer.
ODDS: 10 to 1.
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Well into the third stage of his career, following his bumpkin routine on Cheers and his Owen Wilson-prefiguring White Men Can’t Jump/Natural Born Killers era, Harrelson is now proving he can actually act via well-observed turns in everything from No Country for Old Men and Zombieland to this. A welcome return to pop culture consciousness.
PROS: Has effectively gotten past the “pothead whose Dad might’ve been involved in the JFK assassination” angle that haunted him for years, and seems poised for a bona fide comeback.
CONS: The year’s “other” major Iraq War flick was perceived as too depressing for audiences; the Academy’s not yet ready to bestow an award on any Woodys other than Allen.
ODDS: 30 to 1.