The list of nominees for Best Supporting Actor 2013 could not be more impressive than it is: Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones and Christof Waltz.  These five men have all been the recipient of the coveted statue in previous years and deservedly so.  There are no “whoopsies” here. Each nominee is a formidable talent and the Academy is probably hard pressed to choose an ultimate winner.

This race is difficult to predict. The awards to date have been spilt among the crowd: Waltz won the Golden Globe, Hoffman the Film Critics, and Jones took home the SAG award. Even still, Robert De Niro seems to have a strong push behind him to take home his third Oscar. The only prediction that can be given with any degree of certainty is that Arkin is the least likely victor in this auspicious group. Below are the nominees in their order of probability, least to most likely to win.

Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel in Argo

Is there any movie lover who hasn’t been blown away by Alan Arkin’s talent? His long and dazzling career has spanned decades and produced many unforgettable moments in film. Six short years ago Arkin won the hearts of millions in his textured and darkly hilarious performance as the unforgettable Grandpa Edwin Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine. His work earned Arkin his first ever Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, hard to believe with his abundant talent. Arkin’s performance in Argo is dynamite.

His in-your-face energy and bold, curmudgeonly attitude is Arkin at his loveable best. However, it’s highly unlikely that Arkin win another Oscar six years since his first simply because the role itself cannot challenge the more fleshed out and meaty story lines of some of his fellow nominees. His chance of winning is probably the lowest of the pack.

Robert De Niro as Pat, Sr. in Silver Linings Playbook

Robert De Niro does something that is essential to the craft of any actor and he does it better than most.  De Niro defines what his character needs and wants and he pursues those goals with fierce determination. He is always on his own side and completely unapologetic in such a way that he becomes almost involuntarily empathetic in each role that he plays. De Niro is a master of the craft and his work as Pat. Sr. is mesmerizing.  It is utterly heartbreaking to watch this character make horrible life choices while at the mercy of his mental illness. DeNiro peppers the character with such truth that, while DeNiro is always a bit DeNiro on screen, Pat Sr. is able to emerge as totally fleshed out character from behind the mask of a legend. 

All praise aside, it is still unlikely that DeNiro win in 2013 for the simple reason that he has been largely recognized with his several Oscar nominations and two wins. DeNiro took home his first Oscar statue in 1975 for Best Supporting Actor in The Godfather, Part II and then the coveted Best Actor was awarded to DeNiro in 1981 for Raging Bull.  DeNiro has received four additional Best Actor nominations for Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings and Cape Fear.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd in The Master

Philip Seymour Hoffman is such a distinctive looking person that it is difficult to believe what an utter chameleon this man is in his craft.  Hoffman has been nominated twice before for Best Supporting Actor in Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War. His only nomination in the category for Best Actor in a Leading Role resulted in Hoffman’s first Oscar win. No one could deny the astonishing power of Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote in the biopic about the author during the time that he wrote the classic In Cold Blood.

Hoffman is so nuanced in his work that his performances are almost always worthy of critical acclaim. From the pathetic and naïve Scotty J. in Boogie Nights to the smarmy Lester Bangs in Almost Famous and then to Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman may be counted among the very best actors of our time. His work in The Master is on par with his best performances. He is determined, powerful and real. Despite the fact that this performance has earned Hoffman some film critic’s awards including Chicago, it seems unlikely that he take home the Oscar largely because the film itself did not seem to dazzle the Academy, neither the film nor its lead actor Joaquin Phoenix were nominated.

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones is nothing short of a bonafide movie star. Jones is a crowd pleasing, no nonsense stand up guy with a touch of the bad boy. These are qualities that have earned this wonderful actor some of the amazing roles he has played. From The Fugitive to No Country for Old Men, Jones has brought his searing wit and honest vulnerability to his characters.

As Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, Jones turns in a rare performance in a rather dry and intellectual period piece that would otherwise seem to reject the utterly contemporary nature of Tommy Lee Jones in favor of a more “classically adept” actor. But the choice of Jones in this role was alarmingly wise on director Steven Spielberg’s part. Jones brings the ‘fight’ to the film He is spirited and sound and his journey as the character is beautifully rich and layered.  Although Jones could take home the Oscar this year (he won the SAG award for this performance) the Academy might likely shy away from it as a means to avoid having history repeat itself.

The Academy took a bit of backlash when they honored Jones in 1994 for his work as Best Supporting Actor in The Fugitive. Jones’ performance was worthy of acclaim, however he was nominated against the young and upcoming Ralph Fiennes for his portrayal as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. Fiennes turn as Goeth was astonishing and critics everywhere were not in accord with the Academy’s choice. But part of winning the Oscar has something to do with the politics of Hollywood and Jones is much loved in the community. If he wins on the 24th, it will not be totally surprising but it may be still prove to be an upset.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained

Christoph Waltz may not be a name familiar to every American film fan, but he is quickly becoming a press darling in this country through the films of the incomparable Quentin Tarantino. Austrian born Waltz has had an abundant career abroad and in recent years he has become an international star earning his first Oscar in 2010 for Inglorious Bastards. And Waltz was certainly one of the inglorious in that raucous film, his character was utterly despicable, brilliantly brought to life by a brilliant craftsman. 

This year, Waltz turned in the bastard hat to become Dr. King Schultz in Tarantino’s uber-controversial film about a freed slave’s quest to rescue his wife with the help of a German dentist turned bounty hunter.  Waltz is irresistible in this film. Utterly hilarious, sympathetic while carrying the weight of a role that is arguably larger than can be defined as “supporting”, Waltz’s genius is completely unleashed as he makes the craft of acting look easy. Having already been awarded the Golden Globe, it is entirely possible that the Academy follow suit and send Waltz home with his second statue.

This contest ranks among the most difficult to call in recent years and it may just be anyone’s guess.  The two front-runners are surely Waltz and Jones, followed closely by Hoffman, DeNiro with Arkin trailing in the distance. Waltz’s most likely upset would come from a Jones’ win. Odds makers seem to be at odds themselves, attempting to call it for either of these men. In the end, it will be one of the more exciting moments of the night and whoever walks up to the stage to accept the Oscar will be hard pressed to express thanks without recognizing his fellow nominees.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards