In an effort to cut off the head and put a stake in the heart of the awards season for a few months, last week saw us running down a few of the Best Picture possibilities for the 2014/2015 Oscars. Namely, the movies that are likely to dominate discussions in the back six of the next twelve months.
Having ticked that off our list, we're continuing with our annual premature awards predictions, with Best Actor. Last year, we managed to call three of the five early (Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Fifth Estate" came to naught, and Steve Carell in "Foxcatcher" wasn't released in time to qualify), which we feel isn't a bad guess for 51 weeks in advance. You can see our predictions for this year's line-up below. Suggest your own in the comments section, and come back tomorrow for the Best Actress line-up.
The Top 5
Jack O'Connell ("Unbroken")
If you haven't heard the name -- and you probably should have at this point, as he's been linked with "Star Wars" and "Fantastic Four," among others -- get used to it, because Jack O'Connell will be everywhere this time next year. We're fully on board with the young British actor, as you'll know from our reviews of both "Starred Up" and "71" (and our interview with the star), and he does awards-worthy work in both. They're probably too small to make much awards impact, but luckily, he's also starring in Angelina Jolie's potential Oscar-magnet "Unbroken." As Olympian-turned-castaway-turned-war-prisoner Louis Zamperini, he's got a doozy of a role, one that's likely to dominate the film, and we can certainly attest that he's got the fierce charisma and all-round chops to elevate it. That he's pretty much an unknown to most Hollywood eyes at this stage may yet be a stumbling block -- the category generally favors established names over newcomers, though you get the occasional Ryan Gosling or Jeremy Renner in the mix. But as long as the movie lives up to expectations, we're sure O'Connell will get the push to put him in the voters' minds.
Chadwick Boseman ("Get On Up")
Another relative newcomer (albeit one who's already had one big hit, and graced the cover of Vanity Fair), Chadwick Boseman is quickly becoming the king of the biopic. Last year, the 31-year-old played Jackie Robinson in "42," which didn't make an impact on the awards race (partly due to an early-year release date), but made a shit-ton of money and helped to put the actor on the map. This time, he might well have a better chance, because Boseman has the lead role of the legendary James Brown in "Get On Up." Musical biopics often point the way to Oscar noms or wins (see Jamie Foxx in "Ray," Marion Cotillard in "La Vie En Rose," or Joaquin Phoenix in "Walk The Line"), and early behind-the-scenes footage suggests that Boseman has pulled off a transformative turn here. And the film comes from Tate Taylor, who took "The Help" to multiple nods, including three acting nominations. The August release is a tough one and the movie will have to fight to not be forgotten like "The Butler," but for now, Boseman looks pretty good.
Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher")
The Academy loves a funny man who turns serious, and for that reason alone, Steve Carell's been on our radar for a long time for "Foxcatcher." Director Bennett Miller's first two films both earned their stars Best Actor nods (and a win, for Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote"), and Carrell's role is just as potent, as a schizophrenic millionaire whose friendship with a pair of wrestlers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) ends in tragedy. Early footage shows "The Office" star nearly unrecognizable (aided by prosthetics, which can always help, as Nicole Kidman would remind us), and sort of terrifying, and that should make him a real threat. The only problem is that, if you're being literal, Carell's part is a supporting one, with Tatum the nominal lead in the script. But we suspect that Sony Pictures Classics will be submitting them the other way around.
Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game")
We thought 2013 would be the year of the Cumberbatch: the actor looked to become a big star with "Star Trek Into Darkness," and had two awards horses with "The Fifth Estate" and "August: Osage County." Neither of those contenders turned into much, Oscar-wise, after disappointing reviews, but everyone's favorite actor-who-sounds-like-he's-from-a-Lewis-Carroll-story has another killer proposition this year playing Alan Turing, the mathematics genius who helped crack the Enigma code and invent the modern computer, only to be hounded by the government for his sexuality, accept chemical castration, and then kill himself (with a poisoned apple, which gave Apple its logo). It's a big role with lots of notes to play, and there's more tragedy and anguish to part with than the aloof Assange. And already broken in as an Oscar presenter, the actor is closer to being part of the Academy establishment, at least. Maybe the film will let us down again, but with a Black List-topping script, and "Headhunters" helmer Morten Tyldum directing, there's a good chance this'll turn out very well.
Oscar Isaac ("A Most Violent Year")
There's no single Oscar miscarriage of justice that annoyed us more this year than Oscar Isaac failing to get a nomination for "Inside Llewyn Davis." In a year of very fine leading male performances, Isaac gave the very best. Fortunately, Isaac has another shot this year, and it might well give him a better run at it, playing the lead role, as an immigrant trying to expand his family business in the most crime-ridden year in New York history, in J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year." Chandor has had mixed awards success so far, with "Margin Call" nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but Robert Redford missing out for "All Is Lost." But this project has, you know, dialogue, and while it's a crime tale, it seems to be aiming for a kind of American-dream-invoking story that's reminiscent of "The Godfather." Javier Bardem was linked to the role initially, which along with Chandor's involvement, should suggest a high-calibre of material, and Isaac certainly has the chops to do something special with it.