Long before he delivered an über-classy acceptance speech at last night's Golden Globes, a speech that Oscarcast producers are surely hoping he has the wherewithal to repeat, Christopher Plummer had the Supporting Actor race all sewn up. For his tender turn as Ewan McGregor's late-blooming gay father in Beginners, the 82-year-old has been racking up the precursors, climbing toward a Kodak Theater standing O that's been in the cards since his movie dropped last June. If he were to lose, by the freak chance that voters were cool with slighting one of cinema's most beloved Oscar-less veterans, Plummer's trophy would go to Albert Brooks, who went way against type in Drive, playing a calculating Hollywood shitbag who cuts throats (Producers Branch? Check.). The third lock in this category is Kenneth Branagh, who hammed it up royally as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn (a knee-jerk candidate since his gig was announced, Branagh owes much to the casting director, whose thespian-as-thespian stunt exceeds the actual work).
Stoking one's cynicism over this category is the very real probability that Jonah Hill will be an Oscar nominee, joining his Moneyball co-star Brad Pitt as one of the Academy's 20 acting standouts for 2011. Hill is just fine as his number-crunching character, and it's something of an immense relief that he's made it to this stage before his crude pal Seth Rogen, but his nod will nevertheless come as a gut-punch, especially since he'll be beating out such worthy gents as Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method), Bruce Greenwood (Meek's Cutoff), Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), Robert Forster (The Descendants), and Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris). He'll be the only hopeful in his field under 50, as the fifth and final slot is sure to go to either Warrior's Nick Nolte, 70, or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close's Max von Sydow, 82. For giving some soul to a cloying quirkfest, von Sydow has been a strong possibility throughout the season, but his film is such a dismal underperformer, he's likely to go down with the ship. Expect Nolte to step forward and claim his third career nomination for playing an aging lush who brings to life that infamous '02 mugshot.