With less than four weeks to the Academy Awards, we're launching a series of loose and laid-back discussions of key races. For our first in 2013:Is Tommy Lee Jones a lock for best-supporting actor in "Lincoln" -- or not? With every contender a previous Oscar winner, could any other actor -- Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master"), or Alan Arkin ("Argo") -- beat TLJ, and why?
Carla Stockton (freelance writer): "Supporting actor" implies that we are recognizing the best collaborator, the best ensemble support. In which case, TLJ is probably not the right choice. He is in his own movie, acting in a world that the rest of the "Lincoln" crowd are kind of outside of, which works, in a way, because of the nature of the character he embodies in the film. His work was great, but was it supporting? On the other hand, Philip Seymour Hoffman's work -- and the generosity of his work -- helped to evoke some really beautifully crafted moments from Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. That's a supporting actor, one who could carry the film but has made the ensemble work in perfect harmony.
Michael Hogan (Huffington Post): Our statistical dashboard gives Tommy Lee a 65.2 percent chance of winning this category and places Hoffman second with 20.2 percent. Writing on HuffPost, Chris Rosen and I have complained about Waltz and Hoffman performing "category fraud" with their nominations -- both are arguably leading roles.
Thelma Adams: I love that term "category fraud," Michael. That eliminates Waltz and Hoffman.
Michael Hogan: Still, I thought Waltz was incandescent in "Django" and deservedly beat out the favored Leo DiCaprio for a nod. And I think either Waltz or Hoffman could win, if there's a protest vote by Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson fans.
Carla Stockton: I am sure Waltz was great. I won't see "Django." And so far, as much as I admire Waltz, I think he's generally overrated. There's a kind sycophancy around him that I don't get. Alan Arkin never fails to support, and he never fails to excel. But I would back Robert De Niro because his work is more subtle and more believably poignant than anything he's done since, oh, "Deer Hunter." Here's a huge star, and here he puts his screen family in the spotlight and creates an aura around them because of the energy he exudes.
Michael Hogan: I'm surprised we aren't seeing a campaign for De Niro mirroring the one for Meryl Streep last year in "The Iron Lady." It seems like a simple case to make: De Niro is a national treasure, and it's been decades since he was last nominated. This is also his best performance in ages, and, as Carla says, it's a true supporting performance. I don't know if Harvey [Weinstein] thinks De Niro can't win, if De Niro asked Harvey to stand down, or if they all decided it would be unseemly to actively campaign for this category, but it's been bizarrely quiet.
Thelma Adams: One look at De Niro at the SAGs and you know he is not interested in the dog-and-pony show. For that matter, neither is TLJ, but the "Lincoln" team is tenacious. I would also imagine that he would like to work with Spielberg again ... or DDL.
Jan Lisa Huttner (writer/activist): The only person who moved me in "Lincoln" was TLJ. His final scene with S. Epatha Merkerson is a gem, so on this one I'm in the TLJ camp. That said, Michael is right: Waltz definitely was "incandescent" in "Django Unchained," so much so that once he's offscreen, "Django" becomes a total snooze. I also agree with Michael about the category mess. Hoffman in Supporting? No! The film is called, duh, "The Master"!
Nathaniel Rogers (The Film Experience): The fact that they're all previous winners robs the category of much drama, though I do think that Tommy Lee Jones has the slight edge. We'll take the drama where we can get it, since they passed over the slyest, most film-elevating supporting performance of the year in Magic Matthew McConaughey.
Jonathan Crow (Yahoo! Movies): I gotta say, I think that this year, this is the dullest of the acting categories. Tommy Lee Jones, Alan Arkin, Christoph Waltz, and Robert De Niro are all being rewarded for basically playing roles that they've played before. TLJ plays a cranky grump. There's a stretch. Arkin plays an enjoyably slimy senior citizen. Didn't he do that in "Little Miss Sunshine"? Waltz plays an enjoyably slimy German. Only in this go-round, he's the (nominal) good guy. De Niro is, well, De Niro. Even though I wasn't a huge fan of "The Master," Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was charismatic, complex, and different from his other performances. But to answer your question: TLJ will probably win, delivering an acceptance speech that will be so dour and joyless that it might be kind of funny.
Thelma Adams: TLJ is currently doing a commercial for retirement planning, and it is the most monotone line reading I've ever seen. It's almost a hologram of Jones, he's so absent. And yet, like Jan, I feel like his was one of the performances I enjoyed the most in "Lincoln." And I've got to hand it to the man, off-camera he doesn't pander to the red-carpet machine, even if that makes him the butt of jokes on "SNL" and beyond.
And, so, let's wrap this week's chat fest in Yahoo! Movies' run-up to the Academy Awards, to be televised on Sunday, Feb. 28. Up next: Is Anne Hathaway already singing her victory song for best-supporting actress or is she in for a big surprise? If you'd like to join the discussion and you have the Oscar chops, DM me @thelmadams on Twitter.