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Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2014 Best Actor Nominees

Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2014 Best Actor Nominees

As part of our steady quest to go cold turkey from the Oscar season over the next few days, we’ve been running down some of our possibilities for the films that will be elbowing each other for awards in 2014. Yesterday, we looked at Best Picture, and today, we turn to Best Actor, won this year by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Last year, our Best Actor record wasn’t too bad; excluding a category mix-up between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, we named all five eventual nominees as contenders, and directly predicted three of them. Still, we’re very aware we’re just gazing far off on the horizon, anything could happen and the year will crystallize itself closer to the fall. We’re obviously working with minimal information, but we still feel ever-optimistic, and certainly feel more confident this time around. Take a look at our picks below, and let us know your own thoughts in the comments section. And tomorrow: Best Actress.

Best Actor

Strong Contenders

Steve Carell – “Foxcatcher”
Despite starring roles in “The Office” and Best Picture nominee “Little Miss Sunshine,Steve Carell hasn’t been an awards magnet to date. He won a Golden Globe seven years ago for playing Michael Scott, but remarkably never picked up an Emmy for the performance. But we’re reasonably confident that the Oscars will come calling in 2014, thanks to his starring role in Bennett Miller‘s “Foxcatcher.” Carell has impressed in his more restrained roles so far, and Miller’s proven to be an ace hand with actors (getting Jonah Hill a nomination for “Moneyball“). Plus the part — John DuPont, a schizophrenic millionaire wrestling fan who became the wealthiest man ever convicted of murder — is a doozy. Carell’s well-liked too, so unless the film or performance fails to live up to scratch, this might be the one to beat.

Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Twelve Years A Slave”
One of our favorite working actors, British star Chiwetel Ejiofor has impressed consistently in films as diverse as “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Serenity” and “Children Of Men” without ever quite finding the one part that would take him to the next level of stardom. But that part could well be here with “Twelve Years A Slave.” The film was envisioned from the ground-up by “Shame” director Steve McQueen, and stars Ejiofor as central character Solomon Northrup. And while the likes of Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt turn up in the film, Ejiofor is very much the sole lead, unlike Jamie Foxx in “Django Unchained,” who had to share the limelight with Christoph Waltz. There’s always the possibility that the film proves to be too brutal for Academy tastes — Fassbender was hotly tipped for “Shame,” but missed out at the last — but we think Ejiofor has a better shot.

Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Fifth Estate”
Ejiofor’s “Twelve Years A Slave” co-star Benedict Cumberbatch is set for a big year in general: he’ll also play the villain in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and appear in the next installment of “The Hobbit,” as well as crop up with a meaty supporting part in “August: Osage County.” But the showiest role is likely to be Julian Assange in Bill Condon‘s Wikileaks movie “The Fifth Estate.” One only has to look at Jesse Eisenberg a few years back to see the potential of a slightly anti-social website founder who changed the world, as an awards contender, and Cumberbatch has the added benefit of the film hitting as his wave crests. This is one of those performances that, unless the film really tanks, may be irresistible to Academy members.

Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Despite an extraordinary creative renaissance with “Killer Joe,” “Bernie,” “Magic Mike” et al, Matthew McConaughey failed to break into the Best Supporting Actor category this year for his role in the Steven Soderbergh film. But there’s a lot of goodwill towards him these days, and he has one of the most awards-baiting lead roles of his career on the way, with the based-on-a-true-story tale “Dallas Buyers Club.” McConaughey’s weight loss to play AIDS sufferer Ron Woodruff — who experimented with non-FDA approved drugs to extend his lifespan by six years (and helped other sufferers along the way) after being diagnosed with AIDS — will surely earn him attention right off the bat. A part once intended for Brad Pitt, the physical transformation coupled with a strong performance could put McConaughey well in the race, even if the movie itself doesn’t quite deliver.

Bruce Dern – “Nebraska”
Everyone loves a comeback story, and there’s the potential for a doozy this year in the shape of Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” and the central performance from Bruce Dern. The actor has a fifty-year career under his belt, with one previous nomination (for “Coming Home” in 1978), and parts in plenty of classics, including “Silent Running,” “The King Of Marvin Gardens” and “The Driver.” Dern hasn’t led a movie in years, but after Robert Forster, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall were all rumored, he landed the co-lead in Alexander Payne‘s black-and-white movie, about an estranged father and son on a road trip to collect a Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize. Payne’s last three films have all led to acting nominations, the part’s apparently an excellent one, and Dern’s enough of Hollywood royalty that the narrative could be irresistible.


Tom Hanks – “Saving Mr. Banks”/”Captain Phillips”
Despite five nominations and two (consecutive) awards, it’ll be thirteen years since Tom Hanks was last nominated for an Oscar by the time the 2014 ceremony rolls around. But fortunately for him, he’s got his best chance in years with a pair of films due for release in the next twelve months. In the first, Paul Greengrass‘ true story tale “Captain Phillips,” Hanks plays the captain of the Maersk Alabama, that was held hostage by Somalian pirates. In the second, he’s playing none other than Walt Disney, in “Saving Mr. Banks,” which tells the story of the making of “Mary Poppins.” The big question is which of the two turns out to be the one that vies for Oscar. Greengrass’ films haven’t traditionally been great showcases for actors, but this sounds like it could be the exception. Meanwhile, Walt Disney is an iconic role, but from the script, it’s perhaps less showy than Emma Thompson‘s P.L. Travers. And then there’s the possibility that the two films split the Hanks vote and leave him empty-handed (it would help if ‘Banks’ was cheated into a supporting turn, but that’s a fairly big ask).

Leonardo DiCaprio – “Wolf Of Wall Street”/”Great Gatsby”
Despite three nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio has yet to actually win an Oscar, his part in “Django Unchained” having failed to make the cut this year, in favor of co-star Christoph Waltz. He’s talking about taking a break from acting, but first up, he’s got two big parts on the way, in the shape of Baz Luhrmann‘s “The Great Gatsby” and Martin Scorsese‘s “Wolf Of Wall Street.” Strictly speaking, the former is, at least in the novel, technically a supporting part, but Warner Bros are likely to campaign it as the lead (he is the title character, after all), while there isn’t much option for category fraud in “Wolf Of Wall Street.” It’s hard to tell at this stage which is the more viable option (we’d lean with ‘Gatsby,’ but the film’s production troubles give us pause), and so we wonder if DiCaprio might end up missing out once again.

Idris Elba – “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”
Four of the last five years have seen an actor from a Weinstein Company film pick up an Oscar nomination, and this year, the best chance the company have could come from British actor Idris Elba. Already nominated for Golden Globes and Emmys for “Luther,” and winning increasingly major roles in studio tentpoles (he has “Pacific Rim” and “Thor: The Dark World” on the way this year), Elba follows in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman and Terrence Howard to play Nelson Mandela. It might seem like an odd fit at first, but one forgets that Mandela is 6’4, so Elba’s imposing frame is actually a solid fit. And he’s certainly charismatic and talented enough to pull the part off. Even if the film disappoints, Elba could certainly be someone to watch in this category, particularly with Harvey Weinstein pushing him.

Oscar Isaac – “Inside Llewyn Davis”
One of the more consistently underrated actors of the last few years, Oscar Isaac finally started getting the attention he’d long been due thanks to his role in “Drive.” And while he’s got a few potentials on the way that could grab awards attention (“Therese” with Elizabeth Olsen, “The Two Faces Of January“), easily his best chance at his first Oscar nod comes with the Coen Brothers‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Isaac has the title role, and the film’s trailer suggests that he’s very much front-and-center, and he looks absolutely terrific, funny and charismatic. The Coens’ leading men haven’t always had much luck awards-wise (Jeff Bridges in “True Grit,” is the only time someone earned a Best Actor nomination for one of their films), but this could change here. Our big question is with stiff competition, will enough people know who Isaac is? And moreover, does CBS Films have the resources to make it happen?

Forest Whitaker – “The Butler”
As we’ve discussed before, Forest Whitaker‘s had one of the more depressing post-Oscar careers around, with various DTV releases and short-lived TV series. But he’s got a damn good chance at a comeback with “The Butler.” The part, originally intended for Denzel Washington, is that of Eugene Allen, who worked for eight different presidents at the White House, so there’s a lot to play with there. The Weinstein Company are putting the film out, which always helps, and for all his flaws as a director, Lee Daniels has proved impressive with actors in the past, helping Mo’nique win her “Precious” Oscar. Still, we wonder if the role may prove to be too passive, more of a sounding board for the various actors cameoing as presidents, than anything else. We’ll find out later in the year.

Long Shots

Michael B. Jordan – “Fruitvale”
The Best Actor category tends to be the realm of the A-list, but it’s always gratifying when a rising star sneaks in among the more established names, and this year, one to keep an eye on is Michael B. Jordan. A veteran of TV fare such as “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” he impressed last year in “Chronicle,” and at Sundance this year, was one of the breakout stars thanks to his leading role in “Fruitvale.” Ryan Coogler‘s film follows the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (Jordan), a once-troubled young Oakland man trying to put his life on the right track, who is killed by a police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day. And by all accounts, the 26-year-old actor gives a star-making turn. Our hunch is that he may struggle to overcome his better-known competition, but if the film builds enough momentum, he might well follow it.

Colin Firth – “The Railway Man”
After two nominations in two years, and winning the Oscar the second time around, Colin Firth has sat the last couple of awards seasons out — his part in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the only new film of his released in that time period, unfortunately failed to get any traction. But the British actor has another strong role on the way in the shape of “The Railway Man.’ Firth plays Eric Lomax (with Jeremy Irvine as his younger self), a soldier who was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War Two, who was haunted by his experiences as a POW, but eventually reconciled with one of his torturers. Right now, the film is somewhat under the radar, despite shooting some time ago, but the subject matter certainly seems potent, and all it will take are some rave festival reviews (TIFF is probably a good bet) to put Firth back into the race.

Dennis Quaid – “At Any Price”
A rarity on this list in that not only is it shot and finished, but we’ve also seen it, Ramin Bahrani‘s “At Any Price” proved somewhat divisive when it screened at Venice and TIFF last year, some falling for the film’s Arthur Miller-ish melodrama, some finding it overblown and creaky. But one thing united most of the reviewers; the central performance from Dennis Quaid, who plays a charismatic Iowan corn farmer struggling to keep his family and business together. It’s a truly titanic turn, easily the role of the (never-nominated) actor’s career, and one that even those cool on the film have been impressed by. The question is whether it can get the momentum for an awards run. Sony Pictures Classics held the film back in order to avoid being swamped by the tough 2012 competition, but with the release coming at the end of April, they have a tough task on their hands to keep Quaid in voters’ minds for the best part of ten months. But if they can fight for him in the way that Summit did for Demian Bichir in “A Better Life” (making sure the film was the first screener on voters’ doorsteps etc.), it could well happen.

Daniel Bruhl – “Rush”
We’re not entirely convinced by the prospects of “Rush,” the reunion of “Frost/Nixon” director and writer Ron Howard and Peter Morgan. Can audiences, and Academy voters, be persuaded to care about Formula 1? (Let’s not forget the widely acclaimed “Senna” missed out on a documentary nomination in 2012.) But it could have a potential ace up its sleeve in Daniel Bruhl. The German actor is familiar to U.S. audiences thanks to “Inglourious Basterds,” and is a double threat this year, playing Daniel Domscheit-Berg in “The Fifth Estate,” and playing Niki Lauda in “Rush.” It’s the latter that’s the real peach of a part. The Austrian driver was engaged in a fierce rivalry with British racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), but was caught in a terrible crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976, suffering horrific burns and falling into a coma. But somehow, Lauda returned to racing only six weeks later, and went on to take Hunt right down to the wire. It’s a great story and a great part, and even if the film doesn’t land with audiences as a Best Picture contender, Bruhl might well be a dark horse to watch.

Christian Bale – “Untitled David O. Russell ABSCAM Project”
Given that his last two films have seen seven acting nominations (and three wins) between them, one should always pay attention to the actors in a David O. Russell movie, and with a cast like the one he’s landed for his currently-untitled new one, that’s no exception. It’s hard to tell this far out who will be campaigned as lead, but it looks to us from an early draft of the script that Christian Bale has the edge on Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. The actor won Supporting Actor the last time he teamed up with David O. Russell, and graduates to lead this time, so expectations are certainly high. The role, a conman brought in to help the FBI in an investigation of organized crime and political corruption, is a fun one, but perhaps it will be viewed as being in the similar comic/drama territory as his turn in “The Fighter.” But that didn’t seem to hurt Christoph Waltz any this year, when he won his second Oscar for what was essentially the same role.

Robert Redford – “All Is Lost”
Though he won an Oscar for directing “Ordinary People” (and another honorary award in 2002), Robert Redford has only ever been nominated for one acting award (Best Actor for “The Sting” in 1974) and didn’t win. The decent but muted reaction to his latest directorial effort, “The Company You Keep,” doesn’t look likely to change that, but one to keep an eye on could be “All Is Lost.” The sophomore feature from J.C. Chandor, director of “Margin Call” (who got a nomination for the screenplay of that film), it sees Redford in a man-versus-nature drama, as a man adrift at sea. This sort of thing has worked well in the past, but there’s an intriguing element about it that could sink it (excuse the pun); Redford says there’s no dialogue in the film. Will audiences forgive that? With the 77-year-old Redford taking on a very physical role, they might well. Plus Lionsgate, who are pretty thin on awards contenders otherwise right now, have the film, so this could be their focus.

Also Worth Considering: Josh Brolin in “Oldboy” and maybe “Labor Day” (though that’s probably supporting, which we also think will be true of Bradley Cooper in “Serena” and Jeremy Renner & Joaquin Phoenix in “Lowlife‘), Michael Fassbender in “The Counselor,” Joaquin Phoenix in “Her,Hugh Jackman in “Prisoners,” Liam Neeson in “Third Person,” Tahar Rahim in “The Past,” Ralph Fiennes in “The Invisible Woman,” Clive Owen in “Blood Ties,” Jesse Eisenberg in “The Double,” Brendan Gleeson in “Calvary,” Mathieu Amalric in “Venus In Fur,” Dane DeHaan in “Kill Your Darlings,” Miles Teller in “The Spectacular Now,” Viggo Mortensen in “The Two Faces of January,” Ethan Hawke in “Before Midnight,” Ryan Gosling in “Only God Forgives” and maybe “The Place Beyond The Pines” (again, the latter could be a supporting performance), and Christoph Waltz in “Zero Theorem.”

And our predictions in one place, just so you have them and can mock them in eleven months time. Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Best Actor
Steve Carell – “Foxcatcher”
Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Fifth Estate”
Bruce Dern – “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Twelve Years A Slave”
Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club”

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