Who will get Oscar noms for Best Supporting Actor? -- Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson, and Djimon Hounsou are likely to be chosen

By EW Staff
Updated January 12, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

The most maddening of this year’s main races boasts 10 top contenders gunning for five nominations. We don’t like that math one bit. The only certainty to speak of: With his volcanic performance as Dreamgirls soul singer James ”Thunder” Early, Eddie Murphy will follow in the footsteps of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack, and Robert Downey Jr. to become the latest Saturday Night Live cast member to catch the Academy’s eye.

After that, who knows? Of The Departed‘s many strong candidates, its riotous villain Jack Nicholson seems to have the best chances. Though his omission from the SAG Awards list suggests some voters may find him a bit too showy, nomination No. 13 seems a good bet. His castmate Mark Wahlberg, who delivered his one-liners with perfect comic brio, scored a Globe nod but may miss the cut solely because of a relative lack of screen time. Give the edge, then, to another Leo DiCaprio costar, Djimon Hounsou, fiery as Blood Diamond‘s father and jewel miner, along with Little Miss Sunshine‘s crotchety grandpa Alan Arkin, who, shall we say, makes his mark on the film even after he’s no longer on screen.

Three contenders appeared strong in the early laps of this year’s race but have faded in the home stretch: Adam Beach, as Flags of Our Fathers‘ alcoholic serviceman, and Ben Affleck, who earned some of the best reviews of his career as conflicted Superman star George Reeves in Hollywoodland, both failed to make the SAG short list, while character actor Michael Sheen, The Queen‘s unflappable Tony Blair, picked up five critics’ prizes but found himself overlooked by SAG, the Globes, and the Broadcast Critics. If Babel continues its run as an awards giant, its strongest male candidate, Brad Pitt, could sneak in, thanks to his affecting performance (complete with aging makeup) as the husband of a random-shooting victim. The Globes, however, remain the only major group to spotlight him so far. That leaves Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children‘s creepy yet sympathetic sex offender. At first he seemed to be merely a critics’ darling, having won seven prizes from various associations. But the former child star’s inclusion at the SAG Awards over Nicholson, Wahlberg, and Pitt indicates more widespread support. Meaning that after Tatum O’Neal, Haley could become the second member of the Bad News Bears to land an Oscar nod.

For Your Consideration

Okay, so we all adored Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. But let’s not overlook how Stanley Tucci turned the two-dimensional role of Nigel, Miranda Priestly’s loyal creative lieutenant, into a gay character who was both empathetic and snippy, instead of just another sissy-guy stereotype (like that irksome gallery assistant in The Break-Up). Plus, Tucci made even a plaid suit look good.