Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
For the first time in Oscar history, Academy members have the chance to give three of their four acting awards to performers who were virtually silent in their nominated films: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist and von Sydow as the mute neighbor in Extremely Loud. (Fun fact: In 1929, when the Oscars began, silent films were still being made, but Supporting statuettes weren’t handed out until 1937. More obscure fact: Walter Brennan won three of the first five Supporting Actor awards.) Von Sydow was the surprise entrant this year, displacing several plausible contenders: Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method and Albert Brooks in Drive. At the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner, when he took the Supporting Actor citation, Brooks opined that Plummer was sure to win the Oscar — unless, he added roguishly, word were to get around that the distinguished old Canadian star kept an 11-year-old boy locked in his basement.
Not true! that Plummer is a creature out of a Thomas Harris novel. True, that he’s so much the front-runner here, he’s lapping the competition. For the record: Nolte plays a broken but determined dad, Hill a nerdy stats man for Brad Pitt’s baseball team, and Branagh the great Laurence Olivier furious and timid before the aura of Marilyn Monroe.
Just the shorthand description of Plummer’s role in Beginners could be enough to win him the prize: he plays a man who, just before his death, reveals to his shocked son that he is gay. (Writer-director Mike Mills based the character on his own father.) Add that the actor, 82, has been a conspicuous presence in movies for a half-century — he played Julie Andrews’ husband in The Sound of Music, which at the time he dismissed as “The Sound of Mucus” — but was not Oscar-nominated until two years ago, for The Last Station. Plus he gets to wear an oxygen tube (as he did in his other big 2011 film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and die with dignity. All that, and the grace and gravitas he brings to the role, will lead the Academy to Plummer’s deathbed, allowing him to spring to lithe life and accept the award. Validation and resurrection, all in one vote.