It’s the most wonderful time of the year—when we movie lovers try to second-guess the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Step one: Guess who’ll get nominated in the acting categories (announced Wednesday, Jan. 25). I will do you one better and point you in the direction of other films demonstrating how riveting these could-be-nominated performers are.
Viola Davis is probably a shoo-in for a nomination for her exquisite performance in The Help as a maid in the 1960s South. She was previously nominated (in the supporting category) for an equally lovely turn in Doubt. Also worth a look is her work in another parable of bigotry, Far from Heaven.
If Meryl Streep is onscreen, she’s probably a contender, as she is for her spot-on embodiment of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Check out two of her previous nominated performances—also, coincidentally, for impersonations—in Julie & Julia, in which she joyously portrays Julia Child, and in The Devil Wears Prada, a thinly disguised take on Anna Wintour. Michelle Williams put on a famous face this year, too, in an acclaimed performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. See her in a very different light as a tough pioneer traveler in Meek’s Cutoff, and as an unhappy wife in Blue Valentine.
Tilda Swinton brings the chilly again as a distant mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin. She won Best Supporting Actress for a similarly icy character in Michael Clayton; it’s an abundance of emotion that gets her into trouble in I Am Love. Finally, Kirsten Dunst may be looking at her first Oscar nod for Melancholia, but she’s no stranger to awards-baiting flicks. She played the young monarch in Marie Antoinette and a Golden Age starlet in The Cat’s Meow.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Though comedy doesn’t tend to attract nominations in the lead categories, it can sometimes bubble through in the supporting arena, as with Octavia Spencer. Her turn in The Help is more dramatic than most of her past work, like small but memorable appearances in The Soloist and Drag Me to Hell.
Breakout 2011 star Jessica Chastain might be nominated for her own highly amusing spin through The Help, or for much more serious performances in The Debt. Or The Tree of Life. Or Take Shelter (all except the latter already on DVD).
If Janet McTeer is nominated, it will be for an Oscar-traditional dramatic role in Albert Nobbs—though one with a funky twist, like her other Oscar-nominated performance in Tumbleweeds as an oddball mom.
Michael Fassbender is almost certainly looking at his first Oscar nomination for his provocative portrayal of a sex addict in Shame—though he’s just as deserving of a nom for the complexity he brought to mutant Magneto in X-Men: First Class and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre (also from this awards year but already on DVD). And he’s dark and dangerous as the intriguing older man to the teen heroine of Fish Tank.
George Clooney brings his unique combination of pathos and humor to The Descendants, which may well bring him his fourth acting nomination. None of his previous nods have been for his comedic work, though, which includes the glorious Burn After Reading and the even more glorious O Brother, Where Art Thou? Jean Dujardin burst onto the Hollywood scene this year in The Artist (my pick for the year’s very best lead male performance); discover why he’s one of France’s highest-paid comic actors in the 1960s spy spoofs OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio.
Michael Shannon is distressing in Take Shelter as a man who may be having a nervous breakdown—or may have foreseen the end of the world. He brings that same edgy energy to his hilarious appearance as a ’70s rock manager in The Runaways, and as a man spiraling into a different kind of madness in Bug.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christopher Plummer is overdue for Oscar glory, and he may finally get it thanks to his charming performance in Beginners as a man who learns he’s dying only as he just starts to live. Check him out as newsman Mike Wallace in The Insider, and in his iconic role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
Kenneth Branagh turned in an excellent impersonation of Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn, more humorous work than he’s better known for, such as his enthralling Hamlet or the banally evil bureaucrat in Rabbit-Proof Fence. If John Hawkes is nominated for his chilling portrayal of a cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene, it’ll be his second nom, after the excellent Winter’s Bone. See him also in the working-class misery of Me and You and Everyone We Know. Albert Brooks, meanwhile, whips his regular-schmoe shtick into something terrifying as a small-time gangster in Drive. It cuts hard against his usual comedic-angst grain, so wonderfully on display in Broadcast News and The Muse.