Many awards-themed sites and blogs are calling this the most competitive Best Actor race ever. I’m not going to go that far, but there are certainly a slew of deserving candidates. I count as many 20. Some of them A-list stars, some of them old dudes, some of them newcomers.
This will be a long one so let’s skip the foreplay and get right into it. As always, ordered from best chance to worst chance at being nominated.
And the predicted nominees are…
1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)
A shoe-in for a nomination. Keaton’s return to glory, like his characters, is the comeback of the decade. There’s a real “Travolta in Pulp Fiction” thing going on here. But Keaton’s turn is much more layered and sympathetic than Travolta’s, giving him a shot at winning. So many people were so great in Birdman but Keaton is never overshadowed and topped them all. It’s his movie.
Keaton has never been nominated before, which is a shame because he was tremendous in Jackie Brown and My Life. We’ve seen other former-Batmen like Christian Bale and George Clooney grab Oscar glory; Keaton has a great shot at doing the same. His performance here is one for the ages. Up next for Keaton is some voice acting for the Despicable Me spinoff about the minions.
2. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Cumberbatch has become an A-list star, and more importantly, an A-list star with legit acting chops. He has a chance to carry The Imitation Game to awards season glory. Cumberbatch is great in everything he’s been in but he’s never been asked to give a performance like this. It’s a juicy role.
He’s a shoe-in, and could easily become the clear favorite once The Imitation Game gets a wide release (Christmas) and people actually see it. Cumberbatch’s star will continue to rise, and he’s reportedly joining the Marvel team as Dr. Strange. Though, Cumberbatch himself said to “Tell the fanboys it’s still just a rumor.”
UPDATE: Since I started this yesterday he has OFFICIALLY been cast as Dr. Strange.
3. David Oyelowo (Selma)
Playing MLK is obviously Oscar bait, but by all accounts, Oyelowo completely dives into the role and is truly the best part of the movie. He’s been on the rise for a minute now, and this role will push him into stardom. Selma figures to make a ton of noise and unless it disappoints greatly, I can’t see Oyelowo being bumped. He’s the third and final shoe-in.
Selma caps a great year for Oyelowo, who also appeared in A Most Violent Year and Interstellar.
4. Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year)
Man-crush, commence. Oscar Isaac is the fucking man and it’s a travesty he wasn’t nominated for Inside Llewyn Davis last year. He’s apparently even better in A Most Violent Year, and the speech he gives his employees that leaked on the internet has “Oscar scene” written all over it (reminds me of Daniel Day-Lewis’ speech to the town early on in There Will Be Blood). This is a stacked category this year, so the fact that his movie is small and he hasn’t completely blown up yet may get him bumped. But these last two slots are wide open, and I’m betting on Isaac, who split the award with Keaton from the NBR.
Isaac will star opposite Mark Wahlberg in the upcoming thriller Mojave, and he’ll also play the title villain in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Oh, I almost forgot, he’s in FUCKING STAR WARS. The Academy might want to reward this great actor now before he becomes too famous and awesome for them. The next 10 years will be a 3-way between Chris Pratt, Channing Tatum, and Oscar Isaac for biggest star on the planet. Whoops, I said “3-way”. I meant “3-way battle”. I need to stop now.
5. Jake Gylenhaal (Nightcrawler)
I’m giving the last spot to Gylenhaal, who has gone from a crappy actor to a solid actor back to a crappy actor and finally to a tremendous actor. I think the Academy will need to reward Nightcrawler in some way. He’s also probably the biggest current star in this top five, and that never hurts. All the reviews for Nightcrawler say it’s the best work Gylenhaal has ever turned in. I still like Bubble Boy, but that’s just my opinion. Like Isaac, Gylenhaal could easily be bumped in favor of most of the guys listed below.
Up next for Gylenhaal is a Mt. Everest movie that was shot in 3D and the boxing movie Southpaw, a part that was originally offered to Eminem of all people. Gylenhaal is a previous nominee (in supporting) for Brokeback Mountain.
Didn’t make the cut this time around…
6. Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Redmayne is apparently outstanding as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He could easily crack the top five as most expect him to. Playing real-life figures, especially ones with physical or mental disabilities, is Oscar bait (not being insensitive, it’s a fact). I just have a strange feeling that due to its early release and moderate reception, the film might have a rough morning when nominations are announced.
Redmayne will appear alongside Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in the space epic Jupiter Ascending.
7. Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)
Spall is a veteran actor who has never been nominated before and is apparently the best part of Mr. Turner. But in a tough year, the film may prove to be too small to get him in the top five, though he did win the award at Cannes.
8. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
The funny man transformed himself physically and emotionally to step into the shoes of John du Pont, a paranoid-schizophrenic/billionaire/wrestling aficionado who murders Olympic champion Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), brother of champion Mark (Channing Tatum). An A-lister in this type of role is always going to be a contender, but I’m worried about Carell splitting votes with Tatum, who apparently turns in a career best performance and also is being campaigned as a lead by Sony.
Many, including myself, feel Carell was snubbed for his supporting turn in Little Miss Sunshine.
9. Jack O’Connell (Unbroken)
O’Connell is a young actor on the rise. He’s 24 years old and won acclaim for his starring role on Skins (the not-shitty British version). His role in Unbroken, as Olympic champion turned plane crash survivor turned POW, is a good one. But there are some legitimate concerns that the film isn’t really that great and will be more of a technical showcase than anything. Also, 24 is an incredibly young age to score a nomination at in this category. They may want to make him prove it.
10. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Bradley Cooper is one of the new A-listers that the Academy has warmed up to. He’s coming off back-to-back nominations for Silver Linings Playbook (lead) and American Hustle (supporting). He’s one of the most recognizable names/voices in the game thanks to The Hangover series and Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s also the best part of American Sniper, according to word from AFI fest, and we’ve seen Eastwood work wonders for actors before even if the film isn’t all that good (Invictus scored nominations for both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon). But if this film struggles to make an impact in other categories, it’s hard to see Cooper making it three nominations in a row.
11. Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)
Tatum has now shown through multiple films his ability to function as an action star, funny guy, and serious dramatic actor. Foxcatcher could be his coming out party, as many are citing him, not Carell or Ruffalo, as the best actor in the movie. Regardless, he’s likely to split votes with his co-star. I don’t think either of them get in, but if one does, I’d bet on Carell because he’s more “due”.
Tatum will be playing a volatile actor in the next Coen Bros movie, so maybe he’ll be back in the hunt sooner than we think.
12. Bill Murray (St. Vincent)
We all love Bill Murray, and he’s outstanding in St. Vincent, but a Golden Globe in the comedy/musical category seems more realistic. The Weinstein Company is pushing this one though, and it’s done well at the box office as well as winning the people’s choice award at Toronto. Murray has been nominated in this category before (Lost in Translation).
13. Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood)
This is not a conventional performance and he’s obviously very young (still just 20) but there is so much love for the film that he could be swept in, though most of that love is being pointed in directions other than that of the cast. He’ll HAVE to get the SAG nomination. Boyhood could ultimately function as his breakthrough role if he goes on to great things.
14. Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
It’s a comedic role, which makes it very tough unless you’re in supporting. The film also came out very early. But he’s Ralph Fiennes, a two-time nominee (Schindler’s List and The English Patient) who’s unforgivably been ignored by the Academy since the mid-90’s.
The End of the Affair, The Constant Gardener, The Duchess…just some of Fiennes’ turns that were worthy of nominations.
15. Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar)
I actually thought McConaughey was the best part of Interstellar. The scene were he breaks down while seeing his daughter on the screen, for the first time in what is really 20 something years on earth but feels like a few days to him, contains as good of acting as any single moment I’ve seen this year. Interstellar falls apart completely (which it really almost did) if it wasn’t for the audience’s emotional investment in McConaughey’s character. That credit goes to him, not Nolan.
We’re all aware of the “McConaissance”; how thanks to Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective, the pretty-boy formerly known for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has become one of the most widely-respected dramatic actors in the business. He’s in the hunt, but it’s a long-shot. If Interstellar makes any awards impact, it’s unlikely to be via the acting categories.
16. Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)
You could argue, and by that I mean I would argue, that this 3-time nominee (Gladiator, Walk the Line, The Master) was snubbed last year for his subtle yet heartbreaking turn in Her. His role in Inherent Vice, a weeded-out private detective bouncing around early-70’s L.A., is a juicy one. After mixed word out of the NYFF, I think Inherent Vice might ultimately struggled at the Oscars because it really is a stoner comedy before anything else. Paul Thomas Anderson is a great director of actors and if the Academy likes the movie as a whole, Phoenix would probably jump up 10 spots on this list and will be thrown right into the hunt.
Side note: everyone always loves to complain about the fact that Leonardo Dicaprio has never won an Oscar. You know what’s an even bigger travesty? JOAQUIN PHOENIX NEVER HAVING WON ONE. By his own doing, he’s not the recognizable star Dicaprio is. But he’s every bit (and more) the dramatic actor.
For Gladiator, Phoenix lost to Benicio del Toro in Traffic (frustrating but understandable). For Walk the Line he lost to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. (100% understandable). For The Master he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (frustrating but extremely predictable). Phoenix has had the bad luck of turning in his best performances in years where a veteran actor gives a more Oscar-friendly turn.
17. Miles Teller (Whiplash)
I think Miles Teller is incredibly over-rated but the word around his performance in Whiplash is very positive, even if it’s overshadowed by J.K. Simmons’ supporting turn. We will see if Teller develops into the sort of actor who is in the hunt whenever he does a movie. It’s too early and too tough a year for his chances to be taken seriously.
18. Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up)
Here’s a guy that nobody is talking about in this category but should be. He absolutely NAILED his turn as James Brown, in the same way Phoenix did his turn as Johnny Cash. I was surprised that Get On Up didn’t make more of an impact critically or commercially. I loved it. Boseman is, obviously, a star on the rise. He’ll also be joining the Marvel team as Black Panther.
19. Ben Affleck (Gone Girl)
I can confirm reports that the Bat-dong did make an appearance in Gone Girl. I can also confirm reports that Affleck was very good in the movie despite the fact the he seems to be the only one in the cast not receiving a ton of praise. He’s obviously a long-shot, but if Gone Girl is the popular film that the Academy chooses to embrace this year, it’s not completely out of the question. We know the Academy respects him.
20. Chris Rock (Top Five)
Another long-shot, but early word out of Toronto was great and he gets bonus points for also writing and directing the movie. It goes wide in one week and will need a major commercial push to stand a chance in any category.
21. John Lithgow (Love is Strange)
This is a very small film but Lithgow is reportedly great. However, Sony doesn’t seem to be too intent on putting it on screens or campaigning it for awards.
22. Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins)
This years surprise hit at Sundance, I think The Skeleton Twins could’ve made an impact if a better/bigger company had picked it up for distribution. Roadside Attractions seems to be more focused on the film listed below than anything.
23. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man)
Yes, it’s Hoffman’s last role. Yes, it’s a long shot. But A Most Wanted Man actually supposed to be great (as is his turn) and it’s making a strong impact in limited release.
24. Tom Hardy (Locke)
No chance. I just wanted to post a picture of Tom Hardy kissing a puppy.
25. Chris Evans (Snowpiercer)
No chance, but he should have a chance. Playing Captain America probably eliminates Evans from any Oscar-consideration, because apparently, bringing new life to a classic character and entertaining hundreds of millions doesn’t qualify as “art”. But he was outstanding in Snowpiercer. One particular speech at the end is as good of an “Oscar scene” as there is this year.
Next we’ll be looking at Best Actress, which unlike this category, is considered to be a rather weak group this year.