John Young
January 01, 2009 AT 11:00 PM EST

Just try to recall the four Best Supporting Actor nominees who lost to Tim Robbins at the 2003 Academy Awards. If you can’t, your memory isn’t entirely at fault. It’s not that the other actors didn’t deliver quality performances — far from it. Rather, they had to go up against the 6’4″ Robbins, who was such a favorite to win the gold that the other nominees should have skipped the show and headed straight to the after parties. Robbins turned in a mighty fine performance in Mystic River as Dave Boyle, a depressing blank of a man haunted by memories of being molested as a child. Robbins managed to make Boyle both sympathetic and condemnable; our hearts ached for him and all the suffering he endured, and yet wasn’t it about time left his troubled past behind and got on with his life?

But voters weren’t about to leave Robbins behind, who gave him his first Oscar (he had previously been nominated for directing Dead Man Walking). The question we’re asking you is did Robbins deserve the award over fellow nominees Alec Baldwin (The Cooler), Djimon Hounsou (In America), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai)? We’ve been asking the entertainment industry the same question in our Recall the Gold survey of all the major Oscars from 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago, and now, PopWatchers, we want to know what you think.

Baldwin’s performance as Shelly Kaplow, a suave yet sociopathic Vegas casino boss, was one of the year’s most delightful surprises. The nomination, Baldwin’s first, signaled a career rejuvenation that led to prominent roles in The Aviator, The Departed, and 30 Rock. But Kaplow is a completely villainous dude, and Oscar voters tend to shy away from characters they wouldn’t want to have over for a tea party. Also in the derby was Hounsou, whose dynamic presence as the AIDS-afflicted neighbor of an Irish immigrant family provided In America its poignant impact. Yet after movies such as The Green Mile, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Family Man, voters may have grown weary of “magical black men” roles.

Del Toro was as fiery and fascinating as ever as Jack Jordan, an ex-con whose entire life is shattered when he accidentally kills two people in a hit-and-run accident. However, Del Toro had won the Supporting Actor Oscar just three years prior for Traffic. The Academy wasn’t about to honor him again so soon, and especially not for the melancholic 21 Grams, which had just as many detractors as supporters. Finally, The Last Samurai was Japanese actor Watanabe’s English-language debut. As the contemplative warrior, Katsumoto, Watanabe managed to continually steal the spotlight from Tom Cruise. But Watanabe may have been too unknown to garner enough support.

So, PopWatchers, take out your Oscar pens and tell us whom you thought should have won in our poll below. If you need a reminder of each performance, check out clips from each film after the jump. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. Tomorrow, we’ll recap our Recall the Gold surveys and give you one last chance to vote. Also, you can check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.

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