Right now, fast-rising star Benedict Cumberbatch has no Oscar nominations, but with five films on the way before the end of the year, it's entirely possible that by this time in 2014, he'll have two. We've already tipped him as a possibility in Best Actor as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate," but Cumberbatch could also figure into the supporting races. We suppose there's a slim chance of a nod for his "Star Trek Into Darkness" villain (only if it's a performance of Ledger-in-"The Dark Knight" or Bardem-in-"Skyfall" level genius), but much, much more likely is his role in the ensemble of "August: Osage County." The adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play has plenty of actors who could make it in here (Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney), but probably the juiciest supporting role in the play is Cumberbatch's 'Little' Charles Aiken, the unemployed screw-up son of Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper's characters. Playing a midwestern slacker would be an impressive demonstration of his range, and if the film takes off, the role might well figure in as well as (or indeed, instead of) "The Fifth Estate."
Yes, it's entirely viable that this time next year, the ex-SNLer and "MacGruber" star will be an Oscar nominee. The casting of Will Forte in Alexander Payne's latest, a black-and-white road movie about a father and son, raised some eyebrows when it was announced, but the director has proved to be an expert at casting people against type in the past (Chris Klein in "Election," Dermot Mulroney in "About Schmidt," Thomas Haden Church in "Sideways," Matthew Lillard in "The Descendants"), and Forte's talent has never been in question, even if he's never had a role to test him like this one. He's likely a co-lead in the film, but we're pretty sure that the studio will push Dern, as the veteran, in the lead, and make Forte the supporting player, where he's likely to have a better chance at registering.
The star of 'The Master" made his feelings clear about awards season late last year, but still went on to get a nomination for the film, and even diligently sat and eye-rolled his way through the ceremony. As such, his comments don't seem to have done him much harm, so he could well figure into the race this year, with his best chance likely coming with James Gray's "Lowlife." His previous collaborations with the filmmaker haven't led to nominations, but the muscle of The Weinstein Company is behind it and expecting big things, and Phoenix gets to bring out his nasty streak (which previously got him a nod in the category for "Gladiator") as a pimp exploiting Marion Cotillard's immigrant. As we've said before in these pieces, the film may turn out to be a critic's favorite more than an awards player, but Phoenix's talents mean that he's always worth considering.
A couple of years ago the idea that Bradley Cooper could get an Oscar nomination would have been laughable, but "The Hangover" star proved the doubters wrong when his excellent performance in "Silver Linings Playbook" was rightly given a nod. As such, Cooper's definitely in the club, and has multiple possibilities on the way (a turn in "The Place Beyond The Pines" that might be even better, though a longer shot to be nominated, and another movie with David O. Russell). But the one we've got our eye on is Susanne Bier's "Serena." A reteam with 'Silver Linings' star Jennifer Lawrence, it's a period piece about greed, ambition and murder, and about as different a follow-up to the comedy-drama as you could imagine. Lawrence's is definitely the juicier role, but Cooper will have plenty to play with as well, and if he can pull it off, he could be back for his second year in a row.
Javier Bardem - "The Counselor"
Five years on from his victory in this category with "No Country For Old Men," Javier Bardem got some buzz for a possible nomination for another villain, in the shape of Silva in "Skyfall." It failed to materialize, but Bardem's still certainly a threat this time around, as the actor is appearing as another no-good type in a Cormac McCarthy work, this time in Ridley Scott's "The Counselor." The actor has a major supporting part as Reiner, a client of the title character (Michael Fassbender) who helps him get involved in the criminal world. It's not dissimilar to the kind of role that Bardem's played before, but there's lots of meat to it, and the actor's sure to find a new twist on it.
Also In Contention: One immediate thought we had was Casey Affleck in "Out Of The Furnace," but the role is a small one -- Woody Harrelson or Willem Dafoe might be better bets. Meanwhile, only a fool would discount someone from "Monuments Men" breaking out, though at this stage it's difficult to guess who it might be. Other possibilities include Michael Fassbender in "Twelve Years A Slave," Matthew McConaughey or Jonah Hill in "Wolf Of Wall Street," Tim Roth in "Grace of Monaco," Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers Club," Philip Seymour Hoffman in "A Most Wanted Man," John Goodman in "Inside Llewyn Davis," one of the various presidents in "The Butler," Harrison Ford in "42" (though an April release suggests otherwise), Dane DeHaan in "The Place Beyond The Pines," or Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke or Tobey Maguire in "The Great Gatsby." We'd love for either James Franco in "Spring Breakers" or Ben Foster in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" to happen, but they're probably unlikely, while one to keep an eye on is Hiroyuki Sanada; the Japanese actor has a major role opposite Colin Firth in "The Railway Man."