And the nominees are...
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
For gifting the movie with an equal mix of humor-masked sadness and shell-shocked gravitas that only he could provide.
Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker
As the even-keeled Sgt. Sanborn, Mackie carries the tough task of being our portal into a world and characters we scarcely understand. Renner's impressive lead performance can't work without a reliable screen partner to react and give greater emotional context. Amazing work.
Fred Melamed in A Serious Man
As Sy Ableman, the disturbingly earnest adulterer, he does wonders. Much of the film's humor and sadness relies on his unwavering and (above all) offensive insistence and interest in the most superficial aspects of Larry's well-being. He never breaks or falters.
Paul Schneider in Bright Star
Not just for the accent, which he masters quite well. His portrayal of Charles Armitage Brown is a specific thing of wonder. The humor, mixed with anger, resentment and flourishes of chauvinism provide the movie with a much needed counterbalance to all the lovin' going on. There's so much to keep track of here.
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Hans Landa is finely hewned here, from the inside out. Waltz knows that the courtesy is never meant to overshadow the monstrous leanings as he navigates around the tongue-twister that is a Tarantino script. He was natural, fully-realized and deeply terrifying.
Brian Milligan is quite good in Hunger, but suffers from a purposefully unrealized character arch. Dominic Cooper and Peter Sarsgaard do fine work in An Education. The best performances often look effortless.
Brian Geraghty has scared and timid down to a science in The Hurt Locker. Stanley Tucci has very little to do in Julie and Julia, but does just fine in a fluffy role, in every way superior to his grating and maddeningly lauded turn in The Lovely Bones.