Best Supporting Actor
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Hawkes was on my list last year for his multi-faceted performances in Winter's Bone. He's really good at playing creepy father figures, and here he gradually unveils the terrifying center of his egomaniacal cult leader. He's so terrifying you can't look away.
Shahab Hosseini, A Separation
In this brilliant Iranian film (which won Best Foreign Film), Hosseini plays what is, on paper, the least sympathetic of the major characters, a man tied to his anger and his religious fundamentalism. His performance is so good because he shows the desperation and pain underneath all of his characters' actions.
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
With The Tree of Life and Moneyball, what a year Brad Pitt had. Here Pitt plays a father trying to do the best for his family, yet stuck in the trappings of 1950s social norms. Pitt has to both represent a worldview (authoritarian, strict, undbending) and a believable human being we can sympathesize with. He odes both with aplomb.
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Plummer became the oldest acting Oscar winner ever in his absolutely delightful and moving performance as Hal, a father who comes out as gay just as his life is ending. With humor, sly intelligence, and a deep sense of honesty, Plummer gives the performance of his career.
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's movie was filled with actors playing famous folks, and almost all of them were delightful. None were as thrilling and hilarious as Stoll's Ernest Hemingway. He perfectly captures the macho cadences and self-seriousness of the famous writer. I can't wait to see what Stoll will do next.
My pick: Brad Pitt
Runner-Up: Christopher Plummer
Matches with Oscar: Just 1 (Christopher Plummer). I enjoyed both Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), but didn't find them particularly Oscar-worthy. Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) was solid in a limited role, and I didn't see Nick Nolte in Warrior.
Best Supporting Actress
Sarah Bayet, A Separation
As a fundamentalist woman caught in an incredibly complex situation, Bayet makes her character believable and relatable to all viewers. The movie is filled with her moral quandries, and she does an incredible amount just with her face and body.
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
This immensely enjoyable movie would not work without a true charmer in the role of Peppy Miller, the ingenue who becomes the star. Bejo has star quality written all over her, and she easily takes on the silent-actor persona as her own.
Jessica Chastain, The Help
When making this list, I really deliberated over which Chastain performance to put in. It has truly been her breakout year. She was sympathetic and complex in Take Shelter and a perfect earth mother character in The Tree of Life. I finally picked The Help because, along with Viola Davis, Chastain shines brightest amongst an all-star cast and adds depth and complexity to the role of Celia Foote. She knows exactly when to hit the comedy and when to hit the drama. I am tremendously excited to see Chastain's future in movies.
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
It's pretty rare that comedic performances make it to Oscar nomination morning, yet even the stuffy Academy couldn't deny the delight of McCarthy's Bridesmaids character. Every time she opens her mouth, the audience is guaranteed a master class in comedic timing.
Carey Mulligan, Shame
As Sissy, a troubled sister of a sex addict, Mulligan plays a part completely different than her breakout performance in An Education. Unstable, fragile, and with sexual issues of her own, this is a deep and fearless performance. I could give her the award just for her rendition of "New York, New York."
My Pick: Carey Mulligan
Runner Up: Melissa McCarthy
Matches with Oscar: 3 for 5 with Bejo, Chastain, and McCarthy. I liked Octavia Spencer in The Help, but her part was sometimes overly broad. I didn't see Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs. A nice year for the supporting actresses, though.
Stay tuned for my picks for the leads!