Given that we looked at some of the acting categories right at the start of the season, a lot’s changed since then. Many of the initial predictions were on the money, of course, but plenty weren’t (*cough* Cameron Diaz in “The Counselor“). If anything, though, the races have only got tighter, adding up to one of the toughest and most competitive years we can remember for awards-contending performances. In the last few weeks, things have started to crystalize a little, thanks to the beginning of awards season proper with the critics’ groups last week, and the SAG and Golden Globe nominations in the last couple of days. So, with it being so long since we cast a light on these races, we thought we’d go back and see how they’re shaping up. Which categories are locking up, and which remain very much in play?
A word before we begin: none of these precursor awards are wildly reliable as predictors of how the Oscars are going to go down. The critics’ groups like NYFCC and LAFCA, have prided themselves on being the first out the gate (along with the National Board of Review), but all are made up of critics rather than Academy voters, and often go with their head rather than their hearts. Meanwhile, the Golden Globes are picked by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a shadowy 90-strong group of LA-based international journos who are wined and dined by studios, but there’s little influence on the Oscars here, especially as they get to double their odds with ten nominations for each leading category, split between Drama and Comedy/Musical.
There’s a closer determination with the SAG, given the overlap between Academy members and SAG members (actors being the biggest branch of Oscar-voters by quite a way). But even then, it’s hardly an exact science — last year, SAG matched 14 of their 20 nominations, down from 19 two years earlier. But taken as a whole, they can be useful, because of the way they establish a narrative. So, with all that in mind, with no further ado, let’s dig into the categories.
Still the toughest race so far, with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks and Robert Redford all looking solid. And with the category being so tough, there’s room for a shock, particularly after Redford missed out with the SAG. We’ve run each contender down briefly below, with the reasons they could, or could not, end up there.
Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Twelve Years A Slave”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Rave reviews, for a film that’s had Oscar buzz around it since it premiered. Ejiofor’s long been respected without being a star, but the force of the performance can’t be denied. He’s also featured regularly in nominations so far.
Why He Might Not: Aside from the question of voters being too intimidated by the film’s reputation to actually watch, Ejiofor’s been quieter than some on the circuit, and can come across as prickly. Still, the chances of him missing out are very slim.
Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: AIDS biopic + severe weight loss + colorful character + good reviews + actor who’s won plaudits for turning his career around = Oscar gold.
Why He Might Not: Again, McConaughey’s likely safe, though there was a time when the film looked more wobbly, due to uncertainty over its release through the currently dismantled/being rebuilt Focus Features.
Bruce Dern – “Nebraska”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: He really wants it. Dern won Best Actor at Cannes for the film, and after some uncertainty over whether or not he’d campaign as lead, has been pushed hard by Paramount. Initially a little outside the pack, he’s made himself omnipresent, going all over the interview circuit, working harder than anyone else here. It also has the benefit of being an Academy favorite, and a chance to reward a veteran star.
Why He Might Not: Aside from our own reservations about the performance, there’s little reason to suspect that Dern will miss out, especially with Dern’s mantelpiece filling up. All in all, likely to be in serious contention for the win.
Robert Redford – “All Is Lost”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: A legendary star without an Oscar for acting (and only one nomination, forty years ago), Redford has had buzz since Cannes. It’s a hugely impressive physical turn for a man in his 70s, and he holds the screen solo for the entire film.
Why He Might Not: The film’s underperformance at the box office caused some doubts, which started to turn around when he won with the NYFCC, only for Redford to miss out with the SAG. It’s worth noting that the guild have only gone four for five in the category the last few years, but it’s clear that his reluctance to campaign — as well, perhaps more pertinently, the uncompromising nature of the performance — have cramped his chances. Our bet is that he’ll still make the cut, but it’ll be close.
Tom Hanks – “Captain Phillips”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Hanks does the best work of his career in the final moments of Paul Greengrass‘ film, and it’s been a long time since the two-time winner was in contention, which might help. Picked up both SAG and Golden Globe nods.
Why He Might Not: Buzz around the film had been flagging until this week, and while it certainly got a boost, that’s still a sign that Sony have struggled to keep up attention around it, especially with “American Hustle” now taking over. He’s looking promising, but unlike McConaughey, Dern and Ejiofor, he’s not a lock, and is almost certain not to win.
Forest Whitaker – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: An SAG nomination was crucial for a film that wasn’t going to get much critics’ love, and had been losing steam. The movie has apparently played well to Academy voters, and there’s something of a bounce-back factor for Whitaker, who made questionable choices after winning his Oscar in 2007.
Why He Might Not: The film’s still treated skeptically by some, and we’d argue that Whitaker’s only ok in it (he’s much more interesting in a supporting turn in “Out Of The Furnace,” and we didn’t even like that that much). It’s also hard to know how seriously to take his Globes omission — the HFPA normally do Harvey’s bidding, but they apparently didn’t respond to the film at all. Our gut says he’ll still be on the outside, but he could well replace Hanks or Redford in the final line-up.
Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: We’ve been seeing a looser and funnier DiCaprio since “Django Unchained” last year, and by most accounts, he gives one of his best performances in “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” Most other years, he’d be a good bet.
Why He Might Not: Didn’t figure in with the SAG, though picked up a Globes nomination. The film didn’t actually screen to many SAG members, so it’s possible that he’d have made the cut with more time. But many suspect that the film will be too gonzo for Academy voters, and a mere two nods from the Globes might back that up (critics’ groups haven’t gone wild for it either).
Oscar Isaac – “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Bar none, the best performance of these contenders. Has started to charm on the talk show circuit, too: he likely won a lot of fans with his folkie performance of a Katy Perry song on Jimmy Fallon.
Why He Might Not: Missed with SAG, though took a Globe nomination. If the critics’ groups had unified behind him, he might have built up momentum, but they haven’t, and as a relative unknown, he needed more help.
Michael B Jordan – “Fruitvale Station”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Has had buzz for his performance since Sundance, and still figures in year-end awards, picking up a few “breakthrough”-type awards. The Weinstein Company still have hopes for him, it seems.
Why He Might Not: Missed out with the Globes and SAG, and probably still too small a name to crack a starry field. Sure to be a nominee one day, just not this year.
Christian Bale – “American Hustle”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: David O Russell‘s last two films have seven acting nominations between them, and with Bale (who won for “The Fighter“) gaining weight and putting on an ungainly combover for a turn that’s won all kinds of praise, the Batman star shouldn’t be counted out here.
Why He Might Not: Again, in any other year, he probably would make it. He did win a Globe nomination, but Bale probably needed the thumbs up from the SAG to really crack the race. Unless ‘Hustle’ becomes a juggernaut in other precursor awards, he’ll probably sit this one out.
Idris Elba – “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Long-since discounted (the performance always won praise, the film less so), Elba was a surprise Globe nominee, which some may say puts him back in the running. The passing of Mandela last week certainly makes the film relevant again.
Why He Might Not: One suspects that a nomination for Elba was the HFPA’s way of honoring the subject, rather than the performance, and we’d be surprised to see the Academy go the same way, especially as campaigning for the film is likely to be muted, out of respect.
Joaquin Phoenix – “Her”
Why He Could Be A Nominee: Spike Jonze‘s film has been gathering steam of late, and Phoenix is thought by most to be excellent in it. It’s a much warmer turn from the actor than we’re used to, and he earned a Golden Globes nomination.
Why He Might Not: We’re still skeptical about the film winning over older crowds (the SAG ignored it completely), and while Phoenix’s shit-talking of the awards circuit didn’t harm him much for “The Master” last year, there’s likely too much noise elsewhere this year.
Best Actor Predictions – Thursday December 12th
Bruce Dern – “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor – “12 Years A Slave”
Tom Hanks – “Captain Phillips”
Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford – “All Is Lost”
We’ll cover the other categories more briefly, in part because they’re less fiercely competitive. Despite the wealth of deserving options, Best Actress remains mostly likely to be the same five actresses that were in the running three months ago. It’s the same ones that the SAG nominated earlier this week — Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” Sandra Bullock for “Gravity,” Emma Thompson for “Saving Mr Banks,” Judi Dench for “Philomena” and Meryl Streep for “August: Osage County.” All five got Globes nominations too, and sadly, most of those who joined them — Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus — are very dark horses to crack the Academy.
The best chance of a shake-up comes with Amy Adams for “American Hustle,” and if the SAG had got behind her, we’d be more confident about her conclusion. If Streep falls out (perhaps the Academy will think she’s been rewarded very recently), or less likely, Dench or Thompson (“Saving Mr Banks” hasn’t had a great week, but in the unlikely event of it being shut out elsewhere, Thompson is the one nomination it will pick up), then Adams could step in. But anyone else cracking this field would be a bona-fide shocker. Oh, and Blanchett’s likely winning, though Bullock remains a distant threat to upset her.
Best Actress Predictions – Thursday December 12th
Cate Blanchett – “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock – “Gravity”
Judi Dench – “Philomena”
Meryl Streep – “August Osage County”
Emma Thompson – “Saving Mr Banks”
Best Supporting Actor
This is closing up a little, though there’s still a bit of question in some cases. Jared Leto is probably the sole mortal lock for “Dallas Buyers Club,” and is looking like the front-runner to win here. We’re also feeling pretty confident about Barkhad Abdi from “Captain Phillips” — he’s consistently won praise, and even if the film is deflating a little, SAG and Globe nominations should shore up his position, though he’s very unlikely to win. Beyond that, things are less certain. Michael Fassbender should figure in for “12 Years A Slave,” despite not campaigning, but it’s not unthinkable that a more immediately likable performer sneaks in. Until recently, it felt like Tom Hanks for “Saving Mr. Banks” was a dead-cert, but he missed with both SAG and the Globes, and it seems like his main hopes rest with “Captain Phillips.” He could still make the cut, but it depends on what happens to the competition.
Of that competition, Jonah Hill emerged recently with some serious buzz from “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” though has been absent from nominations the last few days. One shouldn’t read too much into that (Christoph Waltz, who won the Oscar, was absent from the SAGs last year), and he’s likely still very much in the race, but it does again depend how Academy voters go with the film. Having been considered an outsider by some, James Gandolfini got a posthumous SAG nod for “Enough Said,” and we maintain, as we have for months, that he’ll probably double up with Oscar (he missed out with the Globes, but the HFPA were always more likely to nominate someone who was able to attend the ceremony). Daniel Bruhl ‘s got both SAG and Gloes nods “Rush,” and it’s injected new life into his campaign, which had been waning. And don’t discount “American Hustle” star Bradley Cooper, who won a Globe nod, and “Nebraska” star Will Forte, who’s been gathering some steam of late, though wasn’t included this week (an SAG nod could have sealed the deal for him).
Best Supporting Actor Predictions – Thursday November 12th
Barkhad Abdi – “Captain Phillips”
Michael Fassbender – “12 Years A Slave”
James Gandolfini – “Enough Said”
Jared Leto – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Jonah Hill – “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
Best Supporting Actress
And finally, there’s Best Supporting Actress, which is a little firmer than their male counterparts, though there’s still room for surprises. At the front of the pack is Lupita N’yongo for “12 Years A Slave,” with Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle” joining her as a lock (Lawrence could end up being the sole nominee for Russell’s film, or could be one of three or even four). They should be joined by “Nebraska” star June Squibb and most likely Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler” — while her Golden Globes absence has been the talk of the day, she’s the most likely nominee from the film, and will almost certainly be there.
But the fifth slot is going to be trickier to call. An SAG nomination certainly seems to put Julia Roberts at the front of the pack — support seems to have calcified behind her, rather than Margo Martindale, for the film. But if the Academy reject the movie as the HFPA did, there’s a few potentials waiting. Octavia Spencer‘s “Fruitvale Station” campaign seems to have stalled a little of late, though it could rally, but Sally Hawkins is looking like less of a dark horse for “Blue Jasmine” than she did a few weeks ago — a Globes nomination should help her get attention from voters that might have overlooked her otherwise, if Sony Pictures Classics can capitalize on it, anyway.
Best Supporting Actress Predictions – Thursday October 12th
Sally Hawkins – “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence – “American Hustle”
Lupita N’yongo – “12 Years A Slave”
June Squibb – “Nebraska”
Oprah Winfrey – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”