Christopher Plummer is a veteran actor whose career spans decades, but nevertheless he has only once before been nominated for an Oscar: two years ago for his role as Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station." In "Beginners" he plays the father of writer-director Mike Mills, who came out as gay in his 70s before succumbing to cancer. The Best Supporting Actor category often favors veteran actors, so Plummer may receive votes not only for this performance but as a de facto career achievement award.
Kenneth Branagh is a multiple Oscar-nominee, with previous bids for writing, directing, and acting. This is only his second acting bid, and he has the advantage of playing a real-life screen legend, Laurence Olivier, in whose footsteps Branagh has followed by adapting works of Shakespeare for the screen.
Jonah Hill achieved fame in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy "Superbad" and has since developed a career in similar comedies like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Get Him to the Greek," and "Walk Hard." His performance as a emotionally stunted young man in the dark comedy "Cyrus" was a departure for the actor, and he has received further acclaim for his performance in "Moneyball." This is his first Oscar nomination.
Nick Nolte is an acting veteran who has been nominated twice before (for "The Prince of Tides" and "Affliction") despite legal troubles and substance abuse problems. He gives a standout performance in "Warrior," a well-reviewed film in which he plays the father of duelling mixed martial arts fighters, but despite being embraced by critics, the film underperformed at the box office.
Like Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow is a legendary actor who has only been nominated once at the Oscars: for Best Actor in "Pelle the Conqueror." The Swedish actor is famous for his many collaborations with iconic filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and steals scenes in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as the mute neighbor of a grieving boy.
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