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Four veterans and a rookie vie for Supporting Actor

Thursday - 2/23/2012, 6:43am  ET

Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic

WASHINGTON - In our "Countdown to the Oscars," WTOP listeners predict Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") will win Best Actor, Viola Davis ("The Help") will win Best Actress, and Octavia Spencer ("The Help") will win Best Supporting Actress. We now turn to the Best Supporting Actor category, where two 82-year-old screen veterans are hoping to bag the first Oscars of their illustrious careers.

Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")

Who Will Win: Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")

Christopher Plummer - "Beginners"

Nearly 50 years after "The Sound of Music" won five Oscars, Captain Von Trapp is still waiting for his own. Christopher Plummer waged a prolific career that included "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975), "The Insider" (1999), "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Up" (2009) before earning his first Oscar nomination for "The Last Station" (2009). Now, at age 82, it appears he has his best shot.

In "Beginners," a semi-autobiographical tale by writer/director Matt Mills, Plummer plays an elderly man who reveals two massive secrets to his son (Ewan McGregor): (a) he has terminal cancer, and (b) he has a young male lover. Plummer juggles both flawlessly, exploring his character's long repressed homosexuality as he approaches death's door. There's a sequence where McGregor discusses "historical consciousness" and paints graffiti of current events with their date of occurrence. After wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTA Awards, just one bit of graffiti remains: "2012: The Year Plummer finally wins his Oscar."

Max von Sydow - "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

The same goes for fellow 82-year-old screen legend Max von Sydow, nominated for just his second nomination after "Pelle the Conqueror" (1987). While Plummer may be more deserving in this particular year, von Sydow has had the more impressive career. Who can forget his chess match against Death in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (1957), his title character in William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973), or his founder of pre-crime in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" (2002)?

Like Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo ("The Artist"), von Sydow earns his Oscar nomination without saying a word. In "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," he plays a mute old man, who must talk via notepad and messages written on his palms. This makes for both funny and complex interactions with the film's child protagonist, weaving a subplot of mystery that's quickly unraveled. Von Sydow's performance is one of the few redeeming qualities of the film, overshadowing past Oscar-winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. If it's based strictly on performance, Plummer will win. If it becomes a "Career Oscar," von Sydow has a chance.

Jonah Hill - "Moneyball"

Unlike Plummer and von Sydow, Jonah Hill's career is just getting started. So far, he's rattled off comedies like "Knocked Up" (2007) and "Superbad" (2007). In "Moneyball," he hits the film equivalent of baseball's "sac fly," putting his comedic power-hitting away for the good of the team.

He plays Peter Brand, a young baseball statistician who convinces Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to build a roster not on star power, but by a computer-generated analysis of "on base percentage." Their goal is not only to build a winning baseball team, but to undo years of traditional thinking and change the way success is measured. Don't expect Hill to win, but it may be the start of testing himself in more mature roles. As he gets older, he'll only be able to carry the sophomoric, coming-of-age schtick for so long.

Kenneth Branagh - "My Week with Marilyn"

Entering this category with the most nominations is Kenneth Branagh with five, including two for actor and director in "Henry V" (1989), one as director of the short film "Swan Song" (1992), and another for his adapted screenplay of "Hamlet" (1996). Fittingly, his latest nomination comes playing the man who played so many of those Shakespeare roles, Sir Laurence Olivier, in "My Week with Marilyn."

Branagh portrays Olivier during his frustrating experience directing Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957). The two suffer opposite problems: he's the respected actor trying to become a movie star; she's the movie star trying to become a respected actress. This makes for a number of believable clashes between he and Michelle Williams. What a ruse it would be if he won and she didn't. Unfortunately, they both suffer the same fate: great performances lost to an undisciplined director, breakneck editing and an average script.

Nick Nolte - "Warrior"

Rounding out the group is the always good Nick Nolte, nominated twice before for "The Prince of Tides" (1991) and "Affliction" (1997). In "Warrior," he plays a father who trains his alcoholic son to compete in mixed martial arts. The film is essentially the MMA version of "The Fighter" (2010), which paid big Oscar dividends last year for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Don't expect the same for Nolte.

Check out our predictions for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Join WTOP for an in-depth look at all nine Best Picture nominees every Wednesday and Friday until the Academy Awards on Feb. 26.

Read more from WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley by clicking "Fraley on Film" under the "Living" tab above, and check out his blog, The Film Spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)