Who Are These Guys You Keep Seeing in All of This Year's Oscar Favorites?

It's rare but not uncommon to see movie stars in multiple Oscar-bait movies in the same year. But it's been a good end of 2012 for those guys who you recognize from somewhere but can't always place. Here are your character-actor MVPs.

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It's rare but not uncommon to see movie stars in multiple Oscar-bait movies in the same year. Let us not forget the Academy Awards of 2005, when host Chris Rock quipped thusly: "Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I've seen, the last four years?" And this latest award-season homestretch struck us as an especially good time not just for movie stars but for character actors. With ensemble pieces like Lincoln and Argo, it's been a good end of the year for those guys (and, yes, they're pretty much all guys) who you recognize from somewhere but can't always place. There are, of course, more familiar faces than we've listed below (two words: Scoot McNairy), but here are some of the Character-Actor MVPs of Oscar* Season 2013.

*Not all the films the actors appear in are guaranteed Oscar contenders, but most have at least some buzz around them, even if that buzz has fallen on deaf ears.

Kyle Chandler

What's he in? Argo 
What else? Zero Dark Thirty
Which characters does he play? In Argo he's Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter's chief of staff. In Zero Dark Thirty he's CIA station chief Joseph Bradley. Both movies are about spies and the Middle East. In both movies he's a doubting higher up. 
How do you know him? Chandler, of course, played Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights.
Why should you like him? As with most of these guys, Chandler is a reliable familiar face turning in a solid performance that helps move along the course of the film. That said, in both of these films Chandler dutifully moves along the action as foils to our heroes, while still playing not entirely unlikeable guys. Chandler—perhaps because of Coach—has a hard time being entirely unlikeable.

Jeremy Strong

What's he in? Lincoln
What else? Zero Dark Thirty
Which characters does he play? In Lincoln he's John Nicolay, Lincoln's private secretary. In Zero Dark Thirty he played "Thomas." Not to be confused with Mark Strong, who is also in Zero Dark Thirty
How do you know him? Well, he's a friend of Katie Holmes.
Why should you like him? We're not quite sure yet. Strong is a newcomer in this group, but he's a solid if not remarkable presence in two of the most talked about movies of the year, so we're planning on keeping an eye on him.

John Hawkes

What's he in? Lincoln
What else? The Sessions
Which characters does he play? Hawkes is anything but a supporting player in The Sessions, where he gives a remarkable performance as a man nearly entirely paralyzed. In Lincoln he's one of the movie's three stooges: a team employed to convince congressmen to change their votes.
How do you know him? He's previously excelled at chilling you as the kind-of nice uncle in Winter's Bone and the cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Why should you like him? Though up until now you've probably felt threatened by him, Hawkes is a true chameleon with the ability to be at different times menacing, sweet, and even bumbling. And this time he might get nominated for an Oscar.

Lee Pace

What's he in? Lincoln
What else? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and, if you want to count it, The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn - Part 2
Which characters does he play? Pace is one of the Lincoln bad guys—a Democrat opposing the Thirteenth Amendment—but in the other two films he gets sparkly as Thranduil, Legolas's father, and the vampire Garrett. He's not onscreen for very long in The Hobbit but there are two more movies coming. 
How do you know him? He was the that pie-maker with the ability to wake the dead on the fantasy series Pushing Daisies.
Why should you like him? A Julliard guy, Pace brings that actor's actor polish to a variety of roles. And while he can be completely unappealing—see Lincoln—he also has the ability to make you swoon—see Pushing Daisies.

Walton Goggins

What's he in? Lincoln
What else? Django Unchained
Which characters does he play? In Lincoln he's a conflicted congressman ultimately coerced into voting in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. In Django he's our hero's torturer.
How do you know him? He was on The Shield and Justified.
Why should you like him? Goggins has a habit of playing unpalatable men with racist views, but Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress said he's the "he is the common human element of two very disparate movies about the South" creating thoughtful characters out of what could be stereotypes.

Hal Holbrook

What's he in? Lincoln
What else? Promised Land
Which characters does he play? He's the Republican elder statesman Francis Preston Blair, Sr. in Lincoln and a teacher described by A. O. Scott as a "wise, almost magical geezer" in the fracking drama Promised Land.
How do you know him? He's been working since the 1950s. You've probably seen him in something. 
Why should you like him? Holbrook, who once actually played Lincoln, is playing token old man characters with the verve of someone who has, as they say, "still got it."

Olivia Williams

What's she in? Anna Karenina
What else? Hyde Park on Hudson
Which characters does she play? She gets all dolled up to be Countess Vronsky in Anna and dolled down to be Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson.
How do you know her? Perhaps from Rushmore. (You know, the teacher Max falls in love with?) We are fans from Roman Polanski's underrated The Ghost Writer
Why should you like her? Williams is one of those hard-working Brits that can do a lot, and while the Oscar hopes of her films this year might have fallen after mixed reviews, she's one we like to see working.

John Goodman

What's he in? Argo
What else? Flight
Which characters does he play? We considered not including Goodman because he's basically the patron saint of these type of actors, but he did have a good year. He was the make-up artist and CIA contact John Chambers in Argo and drug dealer Harling Mays in Flight.
How do you know him? Well, first off, he's John Goodman, but if you must be reminded: Roseanne, The Big Lebowski, etc. 
Why should you like him? "He's John Goodman" sounds like a good answer, but it's actually not. Though his — shall we say — imposing physique rarely changes, he's never actually John Goodman, always turning into another person before your eyes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.