The Next 5
Johnny Depp ("Into The Woods")
Few casts this year are as expansive as the one for "Into The Woods." And while "Nine" has left us cautious about the prospects of Rob Marshall's latest musical in general, it could still lead to acting nods (even that previous one got Penelope Cruz in Supporting Actress). Though Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen and Daniel Huttlestone are among the possibilities among the supporting males, the best bet probably comes with superstar Johnny Depp. He has a very small role, as the Wolf that tries to eat Red Riding Hood, but it comes with a killer number in "Hello Little Girl." Again, it's not a big part, but that didn't stop a for a nomination for Cruz in a similar sized part (or indeed, Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls" or John C. Reilly in "Chicago").
Liev Schreiber ("Pawn Sacrifice")
On the long list of great actors who've never received an Oscar nomination, Liev Schreiber must nestle somewhere near the top. He's as reliable as anyone out there, but none of his parts have ever quite had the right stuff to lead to Oscar buzz. That could change this year though: the Tony-winning "Ray Donovan" star has a potentially attention-grabbing supporting turn in "Pawn Sacrifice." Written by "Eastern Promises" scribe Steven Knight, and directed by "Glory" helmer Ed Zwick, it's the story of the Cold War-era battle between American chess whiz Bobby Fischer and Soviet mastermind Boris Spassky, with Tobey Maguire as the former and Schreiber as the latter. Zwick's awards season track record is spotty, but the material is actor-friendly (in theory anyway), Schreiber is due, and we can see him doing something special with the part.
Josh Brolin ("Inherent Vice")
After "The Master" went three-for-four in the acting categories in terms of nominations, we'll be damned if we underrate the prospects of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, which seems more accessible in many ways. "Inherent Vice" is admittedly more of a one-man show—it features characters orbiting Joaquin Phoenix's P.I., in true film noir style, but that doesn't mean that a particularly colorful one couldn't stand out. There are probably three major contenders, all previous nominees—Josh Brolin, who plays a thuggish cop, Benicio Del Toro as Phoenix's attorney, and Owen Wilson (a screenplay nominee for "The Royal Tenenbaums," let's not forget), as the missing musician who sets the plot into motion. The latter two feel like they might be smaller parts, so let's assume that Brolin is the one, but it's possible that any of them could end up with the nod.
Bill Irwin ("Interstellar")
Aside from Heath Ledger, no one has ever been nominated for an acting role in a Christopher Nolan film, but from everything we see and hear, "Interstellar" has more chances to change that than anything he's made before. There are plenty of contenders in the sprawling all-star cast, though with the film under wraps it's hard to say which one will break out. We believe that Matt Damon's role is a cameo, and we think that's essentially true for Michael Caine too. It could be that Wes Bentley or Topher Grace are in for a Jared Leto-style surprise, but we'd be more certain about Casey Affleck given that he's a previous nominee. Then there's veteran John Lithgow, a two-time nominee who hasn't figured in for thirty years (and who picked up raves for "Love Is Strange" at Sundance). But with a stronger shot there's veteran Bill Irwin ("Rachel Getting Married"), a beloved theater actor less known in the movies, but who apparently has a role in this of a stature that belies how well-known he is (he's billed fourth). We're basically throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, but in lieu of more solid information, it's certainly worth considering all possibilities.
Albert Brooks ("A Most Violent Year")
For a time, it seemed like Albert Brooks was going to be nominated for his career-reviving role as a crime boss in "Drive." Sadly, the Academy didn't come through, despite an SAG nomination, but Brooks is returning to dark territory as part of the ensemble of J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year," and it may be payback time. We're expecting the film to be a fairly big player in general, and with certainly less head-smashing and eye-stabbing than "Drive," it could put Brooks in a better position. The role as an attourney, originally intended for Stanley Tucci, sounds like it'll play to his strengths while letting him flex his dramatic muscles, and that might be all he needs, given the extent to which he missed out last time around. Then again, we said that about his part in "This Is 40" too...
Honorable Mentions: The late James Gandolfini has another chance at a nod—his final filmed role, in Tom Hardy-starring crime thriller "The Drop" (formerly known as "Animal Rescue") lands in early fall. But it's probably a longer shot, given that he missed out for "Enough Said." Speaking of Hardy, he's starring in "Child 44," which has a part for Paddy Considine that could prove awards-friendly if the film's anything more than a genre picture.
Elsewhere, you could also keep an eye out for Aaron Paul in "Exodus," Neil Patrick Harris in "Gone Girl," Shia LaBeouf in "Fury," Adam Driver in "This Is Where I Leave You" or "While We're Young," Ewan McGregor in "Jane Got A Gun," Edward Norton in "Birdman,' Domhnall Gleeson in "Unbroken," John Goodman in "The Gambler," Toby Jones or Rhys Ifans in "Serena," Kyle Chandler in "Carol," Martin Sheen in "Trash," Sam Riley in "Suite Française," Matthias Schoenaerts for that film, "A Little Chaos," or "Far From The Madding Crowd," and Robert Pattinson for "Life."