When the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor is a previously unknown Austrian character actor best known for his television work it makes you consider, "Why exactly isn't there a race here?"  Christoph Waltz received rave reviews for his role as the terrifying and hilarious Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's summer blockbuster "Inglourious Basterds," but was his performance so good there was absolutely no competition? Well, it's never that easy, but it may be the sad truth.

To be clear, Waltz is not slipping by.  He deserves all the accolades he's won including the Cannes Film Festival Best Actor honor, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and even the American Screen Actor's Guild Award.  What's surprising about this inevitable outcome is that Waltz's turn wasn't heralded as the second coming like other recent portrayals such as Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood," Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls," Helen Mirren in "The Queen" or Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men." But, unfortunately for those of us looking for a bit of Oscar drama, the field hasn't shaped up to challenge him.

Among the other nominees, Damon was very good in "Invictus," but his best role in 2009 was in "The Informant!" which he didn't get recognized for in the much more competitive Best Actor race.  And with a screenwriting Oscar already on the mantle for "Good Will Hunting" (don't get me started on that), he had no need to hit the campaign trail for his work in "Invictus."  It's just not his style (at least not right now). 

Harrelson arguably had a career year with his acclaimed work in "The Messenger" and the box office hit "Zombieland," but the backers of his small indie drama didn't feel the need to spend the money on a win that would be iffy at best. And considering the current economic climate, you can't blame them.

"Last Station's" Plummer has been doing everything possible over the past twenty years just to land a nomination. If the role has been more of a knockout Plummer could have challenged Waltz, but its hard when you're overshadowed in every scene by fellow nominee Helen Mirren.

The most disappointed contender has to be Stanley Tucci who gave a superb performance as the neighborhood serial killer in "The Lovely Bones."  Critics were mixed on Peter Jackson's latest (that's two strikes Mr. Jackson, watch out) and the Academy didn't even deem it worthy enough for one of ten Best Picture slots.  The stink of "Bones" made Tucci's first nomination the "win" the morning the Oscar nods were announced.  However, we're betting he'll be back in this circle again and soon.

As for Waltz, he's already embraced his new found Hollywood fame with roles in "The Green Hornet" and in the upcoming "Water for Elephants" alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.  So, unlike some European winners, Waltz won't be disappearing from moviegoers anytime soon. Yes, life is good for Waltz and will be even better the night of March 7.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees:

Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"


Who Will Win:
Waltz for "Basterds"
Who Should Win: Waltz for "Basterds"
Upset Contender: Really none, although out of the four Harrelson has the best shot.  Especially after having such a solid year with "Messenger" and "Zombieland." But, honestly, it ain't gonna happen.

Look for more stone cold lock Academy Award predictions over the next 10 days.

Best Original Score, Best Original Song

Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay

Supporting Actress
Friday, February 26

Live Action, Animated and Documentary Shorts
Saturday, February 27

Animated Film, Documentary, Foreign Language Film
Sunday, February 28

Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes and Make Up
Monday, March 1

Director, Editing
Tuesday, March 2

Actor
Wednesday, March 3

Actress
Thursday, March 4

Picture, Sound
Friday, March 5