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.
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.
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?
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.