Dennis Quaid, Julianne Moore, ...

Our way early look at Best Supporting Actor contenders

Several of this category’s top candidates come in pairs. ”Far From Heaven” features Dennis Quaid (pictured) and Dennis Haysbert as the two men in Julianne Moore’s life, while Paul Newman and Jude Law appear as Tom Hanks’ father figure and would-be killer in ”Road to Perdition.” Leonardo DiCaprio eludes FBI agent Tom Hanks and his own father (Christopher Walken), in ”Catch Me if You Can,” Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman play Edward Norton’s buddies in ”25th Hour,” and Christopher Plummer and ”Billy Elliot”’s Jamie Bell could stand out from the Nicholas Nickleby ensemble. Then there’s ”The Two Towers,” for which New Line could launch no fewer than five supporting-actor campaigns, including ones for 2002 nominee Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Gollum voice actor Andy Serkis.

Reigning Best Actor Denzel Washington could land in this category (where he won for ”Glory” in 1990) as a psychiatrist in ”Antwone Fisher.” Other possible repeat winners include Robin Williams as ”Insomnia”’s hunted killer and Dustin Hoffman as ”Moonlight Mile”’s grieving dad. Three-time nominee Ed Harris’ two scenes as a dying poet in ”The Hours” could do the trick, while Willem Dafoe shoots for his third nom in this category as swinging pal John Carpenter in ”Auto Focus.” And five respected vets might score their first nods: John C. Reilly as the jilted husband in ”Chicago”; Chris Cooper as ”Adaptation”’s charismatic orchid thief; Ray Liotta as a temperamental cop in ”Narc”; Alfred Molina as painter Diego Rivera in ”Frida”; and mullet-headed Dermot Mulroney as ”About Schmidt”’s waterbed-selling groom.