Sizing Up 2014: Best Actor

1410740249_OyelowoAhoy folks. We come now to part three of this year’s Sizing Up series, which as you know are a group of articles that deal with how to rank the chances of the various categories of Oscar contenders in a given year. This one is as close to an all-encompassing grouping of the hopefuls for Best Actor as is possible (excluding some of the various no shot contenders scattered around town), which I know is one that some of you have annually looked forward. I’m looking to categorize them by their assumed likelihood of a nomination come the big morning, but clearly there’s plenty of guesswork at play here as well, even in a category as jam paced and competitive as this one again is. For my money and in my humble opinion, this is clearly the most wide open category outside of Best Picture and possibly Best Director, since those are different races, as you know. There’s a bunch of top-tier contenders that all could win, let alone get nominated, so this is even more of a top-heavy category than last year, when I said the same thing, but clearly a very good one and a surprisingly deep one as well. Last year I had all five in my Pole Position section (including eventual winner Matthew McConaughey), so keep that in mind. Enough chit-chat about the race, let’s begin now and take a look at the contenders for Best Actor as we size up the field!

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

First of all, let me throw out a few names (including a good portion of The Avengers, oddly enough) that have zero chance of getting nominated this year in the Best Actor category. I’m fully confident that people such as Zach Braff (Wish I Was Here), Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge), Tom Hardy (Locke), Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man), Viggo Mortensen (The Two Faces of January), Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger), and Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) are out of the race. Some of them did very fine work that will be unrewarded because of their film, while some underwhelmed to one degree or another, but all are out of the running at this point and time. Moving on though, let’s go now and focus on the people who might actually have a shot at a nod, starting with, of course, the longest of the long shots for a nom this year.

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first grouping here consists of ten actors that I think almost certainly won’t be big contenders for the prize, but aren’t out of the race completely yet and deserve at least a small mention here in this section. They either have films that won’t make much headway in the race at this point, performances that won’t really appeal to enough Academy members for heavy nomination consideration, or just don’t have any real traction of note at this point. Some of them are/were bigger contenders than others and maybe one could wind up surprising you somehow, but for me I’m inclined to bet against every single one of them right now, and heavily too. The men in question are as follows:

hader twinsChristian BaleExodus: Gods and Kings
Chadwick BosemanGet on Up
James CordenInto the Woods
Brendan GleesonCalvary
Bill HaderThe Skeleton Twins
John LithgowLove is Strange
James McAvoyThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Alfred MolinaLove is Strange
Chris RockTop Five
Mark WahlbergThe Gambler

I really don’t see any of these guys winding up with even a sniff at a nomination, but if any of them have a shot in hell, it’s probably either Christian Bale, James Corden, Chris Rock, or Mark Wahlberg. Bale would benefit if his movie turns out to be surprisingly good, with Corden mostly having a shot due to his film being sight unseen right now. As for Rock and Wahlberg, they’re apparently very good in movies that probably won’t play to the Academy. I know some have made the case for Chadwick Boseman as well, but I just don’t see it. Consider them each 90% out of it, or worse.

The “Second Tier” Contenders

Now then, these particular gentlemen in this category are solidly in play for attention in the Best Actor field, but have some serious questions to answer before that can even come close to happening. A few of the questions posed to them are in relation to their film, but others are just because of the actor themselves or their performance in comparison to bigger contenders. I think that for the most part they all will wind up fading fast and more or less being forgotten by the big morning, but it’s possible one of them could ride a bunch of precursor love to a surprise nomination…hell, maybe even two could, since it’s such a deep field. There’s ten of these particular actors that would like to be considered bigger time contenders this year. I don’t see them as those sort of ones, but like I said, they’re not amazingly far off, to differing degrees. The ones I see in this particular light are:

kevin costner black or whiteBen AffleckGone Girl
Gael Garcia BernalRosewater
Ellar ColtraneBoyhood
Kevin CostnerBlack or White
Ralph FiennesThe Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake GyllenhaalNightcrawler
Joaquin PhoenixInherent Vice
Brad PittFury
Miles TellerWhiplash

If you forced me to make predictions I couldn’t go back and amend here in November (which is funny considering I update my predictions a few times a week at this point, as you know by now), I wouldn’t bet on any of these guys getting nods, but I think Ellar Coltrane, Kevin Costner, and Jake Gyllenhaal are the threats. I’m tempted to mention Ben Affleck as a spoiler, much like Bale was last year, but I doubt it’ll happen. The same for Ralph Fiennes, despite some being high on his chances. Coltrane could benefit if his movie is a Best Picture frontrunner, while Costner is making a very big push on his own dime to get his under the radar title considered. I can vouch firsthand for his performance being outstanding, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough. The same for Gyllenhaal, who’s top notch in his movie but looks set to come up short. I wouldn’t be shocked if one of those three snuck in, but with how strong a year this is for Best Actor, they have a tall mountain to climb. Watch out for Costner potentially though.

The “Pole Position” Contenders

Finally ladies and gents, these fellas right here are the dozen most likely contenders for Best Actor in my little black book of Oscar prognostication for 2014. My personal Staff predictions in this specific category are contained within this grouping (obviously), along with seven others who could easily take their place in the category. They each have a nice amount of factors going in their favor and seem to be in position for some precursor attention in the coming months, if nothing else (though almost all will likely get more than just a mention here and there). They’re also the stars of some of the most mentioned films so far this year, especially in my Sizing Up series so far, and I don’t exact that to change anytime soon. The twelve talented men that I speak so highly of? They are:

eddie-redmayne-transformation-stephen-hawking-theory-of-everythingSteve CarellFoxcatcher
Bradley Cooper American Sniper
Benedict CumberbatchThe Imitation Game
Oscar IsaacA Most Violent Year
Michael KeatonBirdman
Matthew McConaugheyInterstellar
Bill MurraySt. Vincent
Jack O’ConnellUnbroken
David OyelowoSelma
Eddie RedmayneThe Theory of Everything
Timothy SpallMr. Turner
Channing TatumFoxcatcher

Best Actor is easily more than a dozen deep in terms of contenders who are being heavily predicted for a nomination, so it’s really open season for anyone here to make a play for not just a nomination, but a win too. I shudder to call anyone a lock, but if I’m using the “L” word, I’d look towards Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, David Oyelowo, and Eddie Redmayne as the four you should rather highly expect to be cited (Oyelowo could be the frontrunner to win too). That leaves eight gentlemen (plus some of the others from the previous category) fighting it out for just one spot. In the best position are Steve Carell, Oscar Isaac, and Timothy Spall, who all have been given quite a bit of attention by the few precursors already. Not far behind is Jack O’Connell, who’s our X factor this year. If his movie hits big, he could easily be in. Had the year been a little weaker, I think we’re also talking about Channing Tatum as a Best Actor nominee, give or take the issue of vote splitting. The other three mainly benefit from voters perhaps wanting to not have a group of all first timers. If that’s the case, then watch out for Bradley Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, or Bill Murray. At the moment, I’d go Carell, Cumberbatch, Keaton, Oyelowo, and Redmayne as the five (again, with Oyelowo winning), but that could certainly change. All of these guys are going to get precursor love (deservedly so too), so it’s just a matter of which ones the Academy likes best. Stay tuned to find out!

Check out the Official Oscar Predictions for Best Actor!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!