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Oscars: A Look At The Best Actor Hopefuls, Including Tom Hanks, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Matthew McConaughey

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com October 9, 2013 at 1:33PM

As ever, all the Oscar categories look competitive even from this far out, but nothing is going to be a tougher fight this year than the Best Actor race. It's typically a harder slog than most categories -- ask John Hawkes, who missed the cut last year for "The Sessions," despite months of buzz and predictions -- but this year looks like something else entirely. It's still only October, with many of the major possibilities still to open, and a few still to be unveiled completely, and the line-up is stacked.
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Still To Come

American Hustle Bradley Cooper Christian Bale

We have to say, the biggest players have probably mostly been unveiled, but there's still some potential spoilers lurking. Perhaps the most dangerous is one that may or may not arrive: Leonardo DiCaprio's turn in "The Wolf Of Wall Street" looks looser and funnier than anything he's done in a while, and he's a three-time nominee without a win.

More definite would be Christian Bale, who'll be campaigning for lead for his role in David O Russell's "American Hustle." The last time the two worked together, Bale won an Oscar, so it's certainly worth keeping an eye out for, especially as Russell's work has earned seven acting nominations for his last two films. There's a possibility that Bale might cancel himself out with his performance in "Out Of The Furnace," but we're not sure that'll really be in the running. Also, by this time next week, we'll know about Joaquin Phoenix in "Her." The actor is hardly a fan of the awards circuit, as we learned last year, but that didn't stop him being nominated for "The Master." This seems like a more immediately lovable character, so there's certainly potential here.

Also worth keeping an eye on, though not immediately too threatening, are Matt Damon in "Monuments Men," Michael Fassbender in "The Counselor," Mark Wahlberg in "Lone Survivor" and Josh Brolin in "Oldboy." All that said, our predictions for how the nominations will go down are below.

Best Actor Predictions - October 7th

Bruce Dern - "Nebraska"

Chiwetel Ejiofor - "12 Years A Slave"

Tom Hanks - "Captain Phillips"

Matthew McConaughey - "Dallas Buyers Club" 

Robert Redford - "All Is Lost"

Best Picture Chart - October 7th (as the race narrows, we've gone from 25 to 20 this week...)

1. "Gravity" (last week: 3)
This week, the film gets the top slot: stellar reviews and a killer $50 million opening weekend, which puts it on course to at least equal the $600 million haul of "Life Of Pi."  It' s likely locked for a Best Picture slot now, but can it do what Ang Lee's film and "Avatar" couldn't, and actually win?

2. "American Hustle" (2)
It test screened for the first time at the end of last week, and the word is good -- we've heard it's a culmination of everything Russell's been working towards in the last few years. If the word is true, will that be enough to beat its rivals?

3. "12 Years A Slave" (1)
No sign of a major backlash yet, and with a brewing opening later this month, word will continue to build as Fox Searchlight gets the word out.

4. "Captain Phillips" (5)
Tracking well ahead of its opening on Friday, reviews look to be strong across the board. As competitors fall it out, it's looking more and more likely to be among the Best Picture nominees.

5. "Saving Mr. Banks" (4)
About to be unveiled officially, but we've heard that this could give 'Slave,' "Gravity" and 'Hustle' competition as a potential contender for the win, in a way that we're not sure 'Phillips' will be. That said, it's unlikely to be a critical favorite in a way that they are, which could see it lose ground.

6. "Monuments Men" (10)
After initial word that this wasn't necessarily an "awards" movie, the buzz has turned around, and there's some suggestion that it will be in the mix. We're still a couple of months away from seeing it, most likely, but not to be dismissed.

7. "Nebraska" (9)
The film's apparently gone down incredibly well with Academy voters and the like, so after the film had a quiet festival season, this is picking up steam again. 

8. "All Is Lost" (15)
We saw it this week, and thought it was terrific, and far from the one-man show we were expecting: J.C. Chandor's direction is hugely impressive, and while it's not as showy an achievement as "Gravity," it's skilled stuff. Whether the Academy agrees with us remains to be seen -- it's definitely got some work to do to make the cut -- but it deserves to be in the mix.

9. "Inside Llewyn Davis" (7)
We continue to maintain that if "A Serious Man" can make the cut, this should be an easier sell. That said, that film had a quieter year, and ten slots (rather than the indeterminate number we now have). Again, support from the critics groups would be helpful to shore this one up.

10. "Dallas Buyers Club" (8)
As Focus' main (sole?) hope, it's hard to tell if the film will benefit from the changes at the company announced last week. Will the change of leadership cause continuity issues when it comes to campaigning? Could it benefit from the wealth of feeling brought up by the news? Will concerns about the direction of the company's future cause hesitation when it comes to voting for it? Or will it not matter at all?

11. "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" (9)
NYFF reactions were mixed, arguably leaning negative (our review here), but as we said in this space last week, it was never likely to be a critical favorite -- even if it was following the "Life of Pi" playbook, it was probably something of an error, campaign-wise. What's more important is if it connects with Academy voters, and we feel like that possibility still stands. We're getting a sort of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" vibe in terms of response, so this could yet make the cut.

12. "Philomena" (=)
The Weinstein Company's slate has three main films, and people just plain seem to like this one more. So far, the film's been more enthusiastically received in Europe than in the U.S (it'll be a big player with BAFTA), but we sense that Academy audiences will dig it. Still, none of the TWC projects feel particularly strong: could we be looking at a Harvey-free Best Picture line-up for the first time since 2007?

13. "August Osage County" (11)
Still gone quiet, mostly, while it's recut (or not?) so in a sort of holding pattern. Its hefty ensemble remains likely to bring in votes from actors, but it has some competition on that front from "12 Years A Slave," "American Hustle" and even "Saving Mr Banks." The SAG winner may end up being key.

14. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (=)
The lurker: every time a "Foxcatcher" drops out or a "Walter Mitty" gets negative notices, this edges a little closer. Our guess is that this is less likely to break through than "Philomena" or "August" from TWC's slate, but that may just be wishful thinking...

15. "Blue Jasmine" (19)
An interview with the head of Sony Pictures Classics made it clear that the studio have high hopes for this to recapture the magic of "Midnight In Paris." It is less of an obvious crowd pleaser, but if anything, seems to be even more admired. But will controversy over the Vanity Fair profile of Mia Farrow, and the accusations over Woody Allen therein, make people reluctant to vote for it?

16. "Her" (17)
By this time next week, we'll know if this has the right stuff: it'll either raise up the ranks, or drop off the list altogether. Warners seem confident, having been sowing the seeds for an awards run since the LA Film Festival in the early summer, but they have "Gravity" to take care of as well.

17. "Rush" (16)
Didn't do great in limited release, didn't do any better when it went wide. For a tiny indie, that wouldn't be an issue, for a Ron Howard movie, that's more important. Still, the film really plays with those who've seen it.

18. "Enough Said" (21)
The big surprise of the season so far -- a legitimate breakout hit (brushing into the top 10 this week on only 400 screens) with great reviews. Fox Searchlight's attention will be split with "12 Years A Slave," so they'll need to keep the momentum up on this one too, but it's not impossible. Independent Spirit nods seem there for the taking, and Gandolfini's Oscar nomination is getting closer too.

19. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (18)
With a 2013 release date now looking likely, our thoughts on this one will grow as more is shown from the movie, particularly with a new trailer around the corner. Either way, expect this one to move up the chart by next week.

20. "Prisoners" (13)
Box office remains solid, but the awards buzz faded pretty fast: "Mystic River" was always the obvious comparison point, and this doesn't seem to be "Mystic River."

Bubbling Under: "Fruitvale Station," "Out Of The Furnace," "The Counselor," "Labor Day," "Lone Survivor," "Before Midnight," "Mud," "The Past"

Out: "The Book Thief" -- This screened last week, at the Mill Valley Film Festival (no, us neither). The few reviews and reactions we've seen weren't terrible, but hardly the raves that a film like this needed to break into the race. Maybe we'll be proven wrong, but with the stiff competition, this feels DOA awards-wise.

This article is related to: Academy Awards, Oscars, Awards, Features, Bruce Dern, Robert Redford, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey


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