[EDITOR'S NOTE: Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is watching every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. She has completed the category for Best Supporting Actor and now surveys the competition. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
Not much of a race here, I'd say; one guy's had it sewn up for months now. Doesn't mean we can't discuss it, though.
Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn): At first, I didn't really get this nomination, but Branagh is forced to play some on-the-nose and lechy character beats and he does it like a pro. While wearing lipstick. He won't win anyway, so, fine.
Jonah Hill (Moneyball): I still don't get this nomination. Understand: it's perfectly fine. It's a good performance. …And? Again, I like Jonah Hill, but this is not the best anything. Jonah Hill does what he does, the same way he does, and he's taking the spot from someone else. More on that later.
Nick Nolte (Warrior): The only guy who has any shot at taking the statue from Plummer at this point, Nolte gives a nice, steady performance in Warrior, and he has to fight the script to do it in a few spots. That said, I think it might be a hair overrated, but I have no issue with the nom, and wouldn't be mad at a win either.
Christopher Plummer (Beginners): The presumptive heir, and I'm fine with it. I wish it had come in a better story, but the performance did a lot to redeem a movie that was mostly tiresome.
Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close): Ditto, and the degree of difficulty here is probably higher than Plummer's given the cutesy crap von Sydow has to work with. But that can bring out some highlights sometimes; a few of the looks The Renter gives Oskar have whole novels in them.
Who shouldn't be here: Jonah Hill. Could also live without Branagh.
Who should be here, but isn't: The role maybe isn't big enough, but I think Dench picked up hardware for being onscreen eight minutes or something like that, right? So: John Goodman. He has one scene in The Artist that is gorgeous. I'd like to see him get more credit for playing serious (he had a few scenes with Darlene on Roseanne just nailed "baffled dad of thundercloud adolescent girl").
And where's Kevin Spacey? Part of what drove me so nuts about Margin Call is that, when Spacey was onscreen, I bought it…and then something inconsistent or poorly researched would happen and I'd be disappointed all over again. (Ditto Tucci, just as good in a smaller role.) I think we're finally out of the dark tunnel of "Spacey = Leading Man," and it's nice to see him doing his thing again.
Who should win: You know what, the hell with it: von Sydow. Again, no issue with Plummer, but when I think about it, I'm more impressed with this one.
Who will win: Plummer's BAFTA is the end of that, pretty much. You could bet Nolte if you're feeling frisky.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.