From a bounty hunter and a football obsessive to a US politician and a domineering sect leader, the best supporting actor category is a truly mixed bag.
The nominees list features some of the more distinguished actors working in Hollywood today - at 45, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), a four-time nominee, is the youngest contender in the category.
"This year, it's a collection of very familiar faces in the best supporting actor category," Fairfax film critic Philippa Hawker says. "They have all won Oscars before."
According to the bookies, though, it's a close race between Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). Both have collected trophies in the lead-up to the Oscars this year.
We asked Fairfax's film critics to share their views on each of the five performances.
Alan Arkin, Argo
Veteran actor Alan Arkin, 78, had more than 90 screen credits (film and TV) to his name when the curtain went up on Ben Affleck's patriotic spy thriller.
Cast as one half of a double act (with John Goodman), Arkin provides comic relief to the story of a real-life operation to rescue a group of American diplomats during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Arkin plays film producer Lester Siegel, a composite character based on multiple individuals.
"Believe me, it's not easy playing a composite," Arkin told The Hollywood Reporter last year. "I had to play four people at the same time. You ever try doing that? It's not easy."
Fairfax film critic Jake Wilson, whose two-and-a-half-star review of Argo can be read here, gives a favourable assessment of the performance.
"Arkin, like the character he's playing, is a total pro and gets maximum value from some ancient jokes," Wilson says.
Craig Mathieson, whose review is available here, offers his view.
"It's a juicy, enjoyable role, with Hollywood bravado offset by some pathos, but it's hardly a stretch for Arkin or anyone else of his ilk," Mathieson says. "I would have loved to have seen Warren Beatty play Lester."
Arkin won this award in 2007 for his turn as Grandpa Edwin Hoover in the feelgood indie hit Little Miss Sunshine and notches up his fourth Oscar nomination.
He also earned Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild nominations for this role.
What the bookmakers say: According to the bookies, Arkin doesn't stand a chance. We spotted odds ranging from $31 to $51 on the Australian market, making him the clear outsider.
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
After an 11-year hiatus, Robert De Niro is back in Oscar contention with his turn in David O. Russell's comedy-drama about a former teacher who moves in with his parents after being released from a mental institution.
De Niro stars as the patriarch of the family with obsessions of his own.
For Jake Wilson, it is an "oddly touching performance".
"De Niro's stubborn, sealed-off persona is well suited to a film where each character is gripped by a separate obsession," he says.
Ed Gibbs, who praised the film in his review, believes De Niro is due to pick up another statue - he last won an Oscar (his second) in 1981 for his arresting turn as boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull.
"It's easily his most committed performance in years, and far from the phone-in showings we've grown accustomed to," Gibbs says.
Craig Mathieson, however, argues that De Niro's is a "perfectly serviceable performance and no more".
Perhaps tellingly, De Niro failed to earn a Golden Globe or BAFTA nomination. The Screen Actors Guild did recognise his efforts, but chose to honour Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln).
Still, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is clearly smitten with Silver Linings Playbook; it is the first film to earn nominations in all four acting categories since Reds at the 1982 awards. It is also up for best picture, best director, best editing and best adapted screenplay.
What the bookmakers say: Consider him a very rough chance. We spotted odds ranging from $7 to $11 on the Australian market.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master generated plenty of interest ahead of its release last year: was Philip Seymour Hoffman's character a stand-in for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard?
In the film Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a sect known as ''The Cause'', who brings a troubled war veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), into his fold. That act sparks a destructive battle of wills.
It is a performance that has earned wide praise from our film critics.
Philippa Hawker believes Hoffman is "probably the worthiest winner", while Sandra Hall declared it an "outstanding" performance in her four-star review.
"Hoffman is an expert at evoking characters who like to cultivate an air of mystery and he leaves plenty of room to make up your own mind about what he sees in Freddie," Hall wrote.
Jake Wilson, who reviews the film here, noted that Hoffman played the role with "an abject overflow of Santa Claus benevolence".
"It's a performance to make your skin crawl: hard to watch, impossible to forget," he says.
Craig Mathieson, meanwhile, offers this assessment: "He plays a man of grand intentions and conviction, and there's a grandness to Hoffman's performance that takes the film out of the present day. He shows so many sides to this character, and they all fit together in ways that not even Paul Thomas Anderson may have anticipated."
It is Hoffman's fourth nomination in a distinguished career; he won the Oscar for best actor with his first nomination in 2006 for Capote.
What the bookmakers say: In betting circles, Hoffman is another rough chance. We spotted odds ranging from $6 to $7.50 on the Australian market.
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
The 66-year-old actor walked away with a Screen Actors Guild award for his turn in Steven Spielberg's historical epic.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist and ally of President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Philippa Hawker says "the impetus seems to be" with Jones on the back of the Screen Actors Guild win.
Giles Hardie says Jones's performance in Lincoln "is one of the real standouts and this may be one of the awards that film genuinely deserves".
In his four-star review, Ed Gibbs offered collective praise for Jones and other supporting players.
"Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader and Hal Holbrook all shine as chief ringleaders in the political house, where Lincoln's bills are challenged, discussed and finally voted on," he wrote.
Paul Byrnes, meanwhile, noted that while Jones "dons a ridiculous wig", his role was developed for "good reason, apart from the obvious fact that Jones makes any movie better. Stevens embodies the film's greatest political compromise".
But perhaps the greatest praise came from Spielberg himself.
"Tommy is not just a subtle solo instrument," Spielberg told the Los Angeles Times. "There is an entire symphony orchestra inside that man, and I knew this when I cast him in the hope that he would represent the Thaddeus Stevens that history tells us was flamboyant, volatile, radically determined and, to some, even tender-hearted. Tommy gave me everything I asked for and much, much more."
Jones's first and only Oscar victory was in this category 19 years ago for his memorable performance alongside Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. He notches up his fourth nomination here.
What the bookmakers say: If we're to believe the bookies, Tommy Lee Jones is in the box seat. We spotted odds ranging from $1.95 to $2.05 on the Australian market.
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Cinema history is littered with some astonishing actor-director pairings: John Wayne and John Ford; Jean-Pierre Leaud and Francois Truffaut; Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese; Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa. Will Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino eventually be added to that list?
Waltz won this category in 2010 for his audacious performance as the cruel and calculating Nazi officer Colonel Hans Landa in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and wisely teamed up with the director again for this revisionist epic.
In Django Unchained, he plays Dr King Schultz, a bounty hunter who mentors Django (Jamie Foxx) after freeing him from the chains of slavery.
Waltz, 56, has already collected a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his work here.
Philippa Hawker, whose review can be found here, notes that Waltz delivers a "bravura performance that helps define the film".
Paul Byrnes was also taken with the actor's performance, stating in his four-and-a-half star review that the role was "played superbly".
"Tarantino is lucky to have discovered Waltz, an ideal 'cultured European' who is enormous fun to watch (and listen to)," says fellow critic Jake Wilson.
It's interesting to note that Waltz also won the Golden Globe and BAFTA before going on to win the Oscar three years ago. An omen, perhaps?
What the bookmakers say:Waltz is a real contender and, looking at the odds, is almost neck and neck with Jones. We spotted odds ranging from $2.40 to $3 on the Australian market.
So, who do you think will win the Oscar next Monday? Which actor is the most deserving? Vote and leave a comment below.
The story Who should win the Oscar for best supporting actor? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.