And the Oscar for weakest category of the year goes to…Best Supporting Actor. I can’t recall another instance when an acting race had so few worthy contenders at this point in the year. Inglorious Basterds breakout Christoph Waltz became an instant frontrunner at Cannes, and Alfred Molina is a decent bet for his first career nod as An Education‘s strict dad. Ditto Stanley Tucci, who should score either for his killer role (literally) in The Lovely Bones or as Meryl Streep’s hubby in Julie & Julia. And…well, that’s basically it. The problem seems to be that many of the top overall contenders—Precious, Up in the Air, Nine—simply don’t have any meaty supporting male roles. (Up in the Air‘s Jason Bateman and Precious‘ Lenny Kravitz both do a fine job in tiny parts.) The supporting actress race, meanwhile, has an embarrassment of riches, thanks to the Precious triumvirate of Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey (seriously), and Paula Patton and Up in the Air‘s supporting standouts Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga; and though no one has seen Nine yet, it’s hard to imagine one or two of its cast won’t have a strong shot at making the cut.

So who could fill out the supporting actor ballot? Maybe Matt Damon for Clint Eastwood’s Mandela drama Invictus? George Clooney for the goofy Men Who Stare at Goats? Indie faves like Bright Star’s Paul Schneider or The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie? Bill Murray is a classic scene stealer in the Toronto hit Get Low, but Sony Pictures Classics is planning a 2010 release for the film. That’s too bad: There will never be an easier path to an Oscar nomination again.

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Photo credit: François Duhamel