At this point on the derby track, with many films like "Invictus" and "The Lovely Bones" still unseen, it appears that there are three Oscar front-runners for best supporting actor: Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds"), Christopher Plummer ("The Last Station") and Alec Baldwin ("It's Complicated").
Waltz has been ahead for the last few months and may remain there, but remember this category is notoriously known as the veteran's achievement award (Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine," James Coburn in "Affliction"). Two notable veterans stand out.
Plummer starred in Oscar best pictures "The Sound of Music" and "A Beautiful Mind" and won many industry honors (three Emmys plus several film critics' awards), but he's never been nominated by the academy and wasn't even invited to join as a member until 2007. Now here comes a big chance to make things up to Plummer, who also has another plus: He portrays a real, heroic person (Leo Tolstoy).
"It's Complicated" hasn't been screened to the media yet, but I hear that Baldwin steals the show. He's not only a veteran overdue to win, but this year he'll co-host the Oscars (with Steve Martin), and he may even have the Helen Hunt Emmy juggernaut factor going for him, too. (Baldwin just won best comedy actor at the Emmys two years in a row.) If he wins the Oscar for supporting actor, his kudos trajectory will very much follow Hunt's when she won an Academy Award for "As Good as It Gets" soon after sweeping the Emmys year after year (four consecutive times) for "Mad About You."
But Christoph Waltz is a formidable contender who's going to have another strong plus in his favor -- the same one that helped Javier Bardem win this category for a diabolically evil role two years ago. They both star in films that win best picture. Oscar voters love to bestow one acting award to a best-picture champ and Waltz could benefit from that voting pattern.
Yes, I'm predicting "Inglourious Basterds" will win best picture. Here is part of my explanation for that forecast. I'll write more soon.
Below is how I see the race for best supporting actor at this point. Bullets on the list below note the contenders who I believe will be the five nominees. Read my inside track on the best actor race here and on the best picture contest here.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
• Alec Baldwin, "It's Complicated"
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Paul Giamatti, "The Last Station"
Jude Law, "Sherlock Holmes"
Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker"
• Alfred Molina, "An Education"
• Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Peter Sarsgaard, "An Education"
• Stanley Tucci, "Julie & Julia"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
• Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"
Robert Duvall, "Crazy Heart"
Robert Duvall, "The Road"
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brothers"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Nicholas Hoult, "A Single Man"
Richard Kind, "A Serious Man"
Steve Martin, "It's Complicated"
Christian McKay, "Me and Orson Welles"
Peter Capaldi, "In the Loop"
Rupert Friend, "The Young Victoria"
Brian Geraghty, "The Hurt Locker"
Timothy Spall, "The Damned United"
Photos: Weinstein Co., Sony Pictures Classics, Universal