Oscar Beat: The Best Actor Race – Acting Veterans Square Off Against McConaughey, Ejiofor, and More

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In the last few months of covering this year’s awards race, it’s become very clear that the 2014 Oscars are going to be one of the most competitive in recent memory.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the Best Actor category, which already seems to have congealed into a solid list of five extremely likely candidates with a number of others waiting in the wings to play the spoiler.  As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and the race starts to firm up, now seems like a good time to start taking a closer look at the individual categories in the 2014 Oscar race.

In today’s edition of Oscar Beat, we begin with the Best Actor category, which will see a couple of acting legends challenging the rise of McConaughey, powerful performances depicting historically important characters, Leo, and more.  Read on after the jump.

There are plenty of contenders vying for the Best Actor trophy this year, and while it’s important to keep in mind that we’re still over three months away from the ceremony, the landscape of the Best Actor race has very much started to take shape.

Frontrunners

12-years-a-slave-chiwetel-ejiofor-2Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Quite possibly the one to beat at the moment, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a performance in 12 Years a Slave that is nothing short of astounding.  This is not a slavery film told through the eyes of a white audience surrogate, this is Solomon Northup’s story through and through, and Ejiofor brings the character to life in devastatingly powerful fashion.  Though the whisper campaigns are hard at work trying to convince voters that the film itself is too “hard to watch,” there will be no denying Ejiofor’s talent, and right now I consider him the early frontrunner to take the trophy home.

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey could very well be capping off a career resurgence with a Best Actor Oscar.  McConaughey has shined over the past two years with wonderfully varied roles in films like Magic Mike, Bernie, and Mud, but it’s his passion project Dallas Buyers Club that will very likely provide him with his first Oscar nomination and possibly a win.  It’s no secret that the Academy takes notice of physical transformations (not to mention true life stories), and while McConaughey’s gaunt state as a homophobic AIDS patient is indeed striking, his performance has the goods to back up a difficult and heartbreaking role.

all-is-lost-robert-redfordRobert Redford – All Is Lost 

The last time Redford was nominated for an acting Oscar was in 1974 for The Sting, but with All Is Lost the veteran carries an entire film on his shoulders to great success.  The largely dialogue-less role demanded much from Redford, and it’s the kind of performance that the Academy has taken a shine to many times in the past.  It’s showy without being showy, and in all likelihood Redford will land his first acting Oscar nomination in 39 years.  Can he take it all the way to a win?  It’s quite possible.

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Here’s another acting legend who hasn’t received Oscar love in decades.  Dern’s last nomination was in 1979 for Coming Home, but Nebraska is a wonderful showcase of the actor’s talent that doesn’t shy away from the more prickly aspects of his persona.  Again, history plays in Dern and Redford’s favors, and it helps that both have turned in fantastic work in their respective films.  A lot will ride on how the race plays out over the next few months, but right now Dern and Redford feel like serious contenders.

Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips

Though a bit younger than Dern and Redford, Tom Hanks could also be considered an acting (and Oscar) veteran.  A five-time nominee and two-time winner, Hanks is both beloved and respected by the Academy.  His work in Captain Phillips is incredibly strong, but it’s what he does in the final ten minutes of the film that makes his performance truly profound.  It remains to be seen if Captain Phillips can maintain its momentum over the next few months given that it opened in theaters all the way back in October, but it’s one of the stronger contenders to emerge in the competitive landscape.  Hanks is also a contender in the Best Supporting Actor category for his portrayal of Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, so that’s worth taking into consideration here as well.

Major Threats

wolf-of-wall-street-leonardo-dicaprioLeonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street 

Leo has become a staple of the Best Actor category in an “always the Bridesmaid, never the Bride” fashion, and that could be true this year as well.  Reuniting with Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio tackles dark comedy territory in the vein of Goodfellas it seems, and the trailers point to an absolutely insane story brought to life by yet another strong performance by DiCaprio.  Will it be enough to catapult him into the frontrunners circle or possibly the lead?  We’ll know more once Wolf of Wall Street has actually screened for critics, but it’s best never to count DiCaprio out.

Christian Bale – American Hustle/Out of the Furnace

Bale has two very different performances on the horizon this year, but both have the potential to drum up some Oscar buzz.  The last time Bale worked with director David O. Russell he won his first Oscar, so his lead role in Russell’s upcoming American Hustle has very strong potential.  The film hasn’t yet screened for critics so it’s still a tad too early to make an official call, but expectations are very high for the film and Bale’s performance based on the trailers alone.

american-hustle-bradley-cooper-christian-baleOn the flipside, Scott Cooper’s drama Out of the Furnace just recently screened for critics and the response has been positive if not wholly “buzzworthy.”  Many are noting that the pic is incredibly dark and may be too rough for the Academy, but HitFix’s Kristopher Tapley called Bale’s work in the film his best performance yet.  It’s worth keeping an eye on, but we know how heavily the Academy favors physical transformations and more showy performances, so Bale’s best shot at a nomination seems to be American Hustle.

Forest Whitaker – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

This film was heralded as our first major Oscar contender, but as the weeks have gone by, Lee Daniels’ historical drama has faded a bit from memory.  Nevertheless, there’s no discounting Forest Whitaker’s strong portrayal of a White House butler through the various presidencies, and he remains a viable candidate for a Best Actor nomination.

Potential Dark Horses

inside-llewyn-davis-oscar-isaacOscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest from Joel and Ethan Coen premiered all the way back at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but reviews have continued to be strong with each subsequent screening.  The full critics screenings will begin in earnest in the next few weeks ahead of the film’s early December release, but while the pic has been singled out as one of the darker films in the Coen Brothers oeuvre, Oscar Isaac has received very strong notice for his lead role.  It may be too understated a performance to nab Isaac his first Oscar nod, but if the Academy takes a strong liking to Llewyn Davis, don’t be surprised to see his name move up in the field of Best Actor candidates.

Joaquin Phoenix – Her 

Here’s another film that may end up being too “weird” for the Academy’s tastes, but despite his open disdain for awards phoniness, Joaquin Phoneix has been nominated thrice before.  Many are pegging Spike Jonze’s Her as the “critical darling” candidate in this year’s awards race, and reviews out of the New York Film Festival praised Phoenix for his performance as a man who falls in love with his operating system.  It’s a very crowded Best Actor field, but Phoenix definitely has a shot.

michael b jordan fruitvale stationMichael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan first caught our attention—and broke our hearts—on HBO’s The Wire, and the talented young actor has been thrust into the spotlight this year for his portrayal of Oscar Grant, an African-American man who was shot and killed by BART police in San Francisco.  It’s a fantastic performance and most definitely worthy of awards consideration, but the question is whether a newcomer like Jordan can make the cut in the tough race.  Fruitvale has lost some of its steam since its summer release date, but I expect The Weinstein Company to move forward with another push as the voting period moves closer, so hopefully Jordan can regain some momentum then.

Obviously we still have a ways to go and we could potentially see a couple of other outside candidates move into the race, but right now the Best Actor category seems plenty crowded.  What do you think, Oscar Beat readers?  Can anyone knock the top five out of the frontrunners category?  Is there anyone I’m underestimating?  Can Chiwetel be beat?  Sound off in the comments below.

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  • Josh Kaye

    Unless something big happens, I think this is Chiwetel’s award to lose. How would he lose it? I don’t know. He deserves it though for his performance. Would Hugh Jackman be a possible underdog candidate for Prisoner’s or would that be more considered supporting? Prisoners was tough to tell really, since it seemed like it lived off of his performance but it was an ensemble cast.

    • JK1193

      I agree with you about Jackman. I thought his performance was absolutely compelling and equally strong as Ejiofor and Hanks.

      Call me crazy, but one of my personal favorites of the year was Simon Pegg’s madcap brilliant performance as Gary King in The World’s End. Comedic gold mixed with some surprising depth, I know he won’t be nominated, but I would love to see some For Your Consideration for an actor who I might add has never turned in a bad performance in my eyes.

      • http://jdurward.blogspot.com jessied44

        I like McConaughey as an actor, but in every role mentioned above in fact all of his movies, it is just a variation of some sort on the brash, sarcastic, son of Louisiana/Texas – He’s pretty much just being himself. The weight loss is impressive as what to do for a role, but Jackman did the whole weight loss/bulk up as necessary for virtually every performance he has ever done and changes accent over three continents as necessary as well.

      • The Flobbit

        McConaughey has come off a STUNNING roll of movies with The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Dallas Buyers Club, and Wolf of Wall Street. I’d say he was truly versatile.

        Oh and for you information bulking up (with a trainer and a diet schedule) is far easier then getting as emaciated as Matthew in Dallas Buyers Club.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        bernie belongs to jack black
        paperboy belongs to kidman
        wolf wall street will be stolen by jonah hill
        killer joe was too extreme for the academy
        but he deserved a nom for ‘Magic Mike’

      • The Flobbit

        Nitpick all you want, but it doesn’t mean his performances weren’t good.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        i am just saying
        kidman was the scene stealer in The Paperboy
        jack black was the best part of Bernie
        and after reading the WOWS script
        it is pretty obvious jonah hill will blow dicaprio off the screen
        i love mcconaughey
        i wish he had won the oscar for Magic Mike
        and i am pretty sure he will be nominated for MUD
        but the weight loss /gay drama thing has been done before by hanks and penn in philadelphia and milk

      • The Flobbit

        Please, your points are not making any sense and they completely miss the mark. It does not f–king matter WHO stole the show, McConaughey still gave great performances.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        mcconaughey is not playing himself in TDBC
        and even if he was ,,
        nicholson won a best supp oscar playing himself

      • The Flobbit

        Please explain to me what the hell this means. Who plays himself…like ever?

      • Gerard Kennelly

        samuel L jackson played himself in JUNGLE FEVER

      • http://jdurward.blogspot.com jessied44

        Except that Jackman did the whole weight loss emaciation thing for Les Miserables as was commented on at the time before turning around and completely regaining the weight for the latter part of the film and then moving on to bulk up for The Wolverine. As to versatility, not one of the roles you mention for McConaughey has a different accent or real personality change, just a good actor with a good script. I’m not knocking his performance, just all the noise about it that really seems over the top.

      • The Flobbit

        I never said Hugh Jackman was a bad actor. He’s a great actor, but he’s not alone in bulking up/getting thin (see Christian Bale). Look at McConaughey bulking up hugely for Magic Mike, then slimming down scary in TDBC.

        Also, in what way is a brutal serial killer similar to a Wall Street banker? Just because McConaughey does not change his accent (or even personality) does not mean he’s not versatile. Look at Sean Connery, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and (possibly) Tom Hanks. Cheers!

      • The Flobbit

        I never said Hugh Jackman was a bad actor. He’s a great actor, but he’s not alone in bulking up/getting thin (see Christian Bale). Look at McConaughey bulking up hugely for Magic Mike, then slimming down scary in TDBC.

        Also, in what way is a brutal serial killer similar to a Wall Street banker? Just because McConaughey does not change his accent (or even personality) does not mean he’s not versatile. Look at Sean Connery, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and (possibly) Tom Hanks. Cheers!

      • http://jdurward.blogspot.com jessied44

        Except that Jackman did the whole weight loss emaciation thing for Les Miserables as was commented on at the time before turning around and completely regaining the weight for the latter part of the film and then moving on to bulk up for The Wolverine. As to versatility, not one of the roles you mention for McConaughey has a different accent or real personality change, just a good actor with a good script. I’m not knocking his performance, just all the noise about it that really seems over the top.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        he was snub last year
        KILLER JOE
        MAGIC MIKE
        and he will be snub this year too
        MUD
        DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
        he has that dicaprio problem
        he does two 2 amazing performances same year
        the vote gets split and he gets no nom :(
        shutter island inception (same year)

      • Gerard Kennelly

        he was snub last year
        KILLER JOE
        MAGIC MIKE
        and he will be snub this year too
        MUD
        DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
        he has that dicaprio problem
        he does two 2 amazing performances same year
        the vote gets split and he gets no nom :(
        shutter island inception (same year)

      • Gerard Kennelly

        mcconaughey is due a nom
        as is ejiofor
        but hanks will win
        redford will win some critics awards but the oscar will go to hanks
        that will make more ”oscar history”
        he will match DDL record
        and let’s face it
        captain phillips is the sort of american propaganda the academy love

      • Gerard Kennelly

        mcconaughey is due a nom
        as is ejiofor
        but hanks will win
        redford will win some critics awards but the oscar will go to hanks
        that will make more ”oscar history”
        he will match DDL record
        and let’s face it
        captain phillips is the sort of american propaganda the academy love

    • Gerard Kennelly

      will somebody please mention Dennis Quaid performance in AT ANY PRICE

  • Fiz

    I don’t believe Ejiofor qualifies as an “African American.” You may want to reword that line.

  • Fiz

    I don’t believe Ejiofor qualifies as an “African American.” You may want to reword that line.

    • The Flobbit

      He’s British.

  • SomeGuy

    Would Christian Bale in American Hustle be considered a Supporting Actor as he was in The Fighter?

    • JK1193

      I wouldn’t think so. It’s an ensemble piece, but the lead character looks like it will be Christian.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      woody steals OOTF

  • Bob

    Pretty much my list..

    1) Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
    2) Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
    3) Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
    4) Robert Redford – All is Lost
    5) Bruce Dern – Nebraska

    Threats

    6) Christian Bale – American Hustle
    7) Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
    8) Joaquin Phoenix – Her

    • Gerard Kennelly

      my list
      1) Dern -nebraska
      2) Dicaprio -wolf wall street
      3) Ejiofor -12 years a slave
      4) Hanks -captain phillips
      5) Quaid -at any price

      Threats
      6) Mads Mikkelsen –the hunt
      7) Bradley Cooper -place beyond the pines
      8) Hugh Jackman -prisoners

  • Guest

    Give it to Oscar Isaac.

    Leonardo, Tom, Matthew = meh

    • Gerard Kennelly

      @ Chris
      you are a true movie buff
      i bought the inside llewyn davis soundtrack
      and i predict goodman will get supp actor nom

  • jonski22

    No love for Ethan Hawke? Before Midnight is a great film. It’s hard to memorize lines, right? And to improvised but still on the flow of the conversation, in the flow with the story, i think it’s hard. He and Julie Delpy are great, they are perfect.

  • Shane

    Am I the only one who thinks Hugh Jackman in Prisoners is getting extremely overlooked?

    • The Flobbit

      I think that his performance was good, but Keller Dover is just not the ROLE that wins Oscars. The Academy likes big, sweeping roles – ones that are large and bold. Consider 12 Years a Slave.

      His acting was phenomenal, but he won’t win. May get an Oscar nom.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        the hammer scene was maybe THE scene of 2013
        but was it as good as,,
        gosling rings from strangers house -Place Beyond Pines
        tell em come down and stop me -The Iceman
        brad pitt and the bolito
        dicaprio versus edgerton -Great Gatsby
        bullock extreme panic -Gravity
        fassbender whips patsy-12 Years A Slave
        customer appreciation day -At Any Price
        the shootout -MUD
        julian saves the girl -Only God Forgives
        grocery store -The Hunt
        sex scene -Blue Is The Warmest Color

      • The Flobbit

        Those are certainly EXCELLENT movies. Gravity, and The Hunt, especially, were extraordinary, with the riveting magnetism of Michael Shannon carrying Iceman, and DiCaprio carrying Gatsby. Counsellor was not bad, 12 Years was good too.

        Still, the movie of the year is Gravity. My most anticipated? The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Why? Armitage + Cumberbatch + dragon. Awesome.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        Counselor was not bad :)
        I thought I was the only one who didn’t hate that movie

    • The Flobbit

      I think that his performance was good, but Keller Dover is just not the ROLE that wins Oscars. The Academy likes big, sweeping roles – ones that are large and bold. Consider 12 Years a Slave.

      His acting was phenomenal, but he won’t win. May get an Oscar nom.

  • Shane

    Am I the only one who thinks Hugh Jackman in Prisoners is getting extremely overlooked?

  • Tom-AZ

    Gotta say I’m partial to Chiwetel Ejiofor but thats probably because of Firefly

    • Gerard Kennelly

      i want him and hackman to remake In The Heat Of The Night

  • -

    I’d love to see Joaquin win, although it’s probably not going to happen. I’d be surprised if DiCaprio didn’t get nominated, although I guess there’s a danger of overhyping his performances when nobody’s seen the film yet (which happens almost every year with him, lol)

    • Gerard Kennelly

      the academy play politics instead of the best performance year after year
      1994 hanks -Philadelphia instead of thewlis -Naked
      2008 penn -Milk instead of rourke -The Wrestler
      2013 day lewis -Lincoln instead of Joaquin -The Master

      • The Flobbit

        David Thewlis, Naked: one of the finest films never seen.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        hear hear

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  • Louric Rankine

    How can you not see Chiwetel’s perfomance as the winning one? Every website I see is that the Golden Globe and SAG will go to either McConaughey or Redford. WHO CARES IF MATTHEW LOST A LOT OF POUNDS? WHO CARE IF REDFORD IS OLD? Oscars is all about performance (or should be). Chiwetel matches the word the best of Best Actor.
    It’s all about the project and the film itself. Not about the favoritism or likeliness!
    I read on people’s predictions that Jen should win because everyone likes seeing her win and because she is the most popular. Are you kidding me, critics? How dare you call yourself critics when its all about the performance you give? Lupita deserves the Oscar fair and square.

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