Oscars 2014 Cheat Sheet: Best Actor

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As is traditional now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, we’re profiling the nominees in each of the main categories and assessing their strengths and weaknesses going into the competition. We already profiled Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress. Today, it’s time to turn our beady eye on the Best Actor contenders. Ranging from the saintly (Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup) to the venal (DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort), this is a year so strong that even Tom Hanks at his best didn’t make the cut. Let’s have a look at the guys who did.

Bruce Dern - Nebraska

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. It sometimes seems like the Academy seeks to right past wrongs by rewarding older actors who should really have won for something a decade or two past (see Jeff Bridges winning for Crazy Heart). Dern’s never won and is universally well-respected, so could fit that model. 1. Dern doesn’t have quite as high a profile as a Bridges or a Martin Scorsese, the two most obvious belated winners, nor quite as many past nominations. Also, he’s up against an astonishingly strong field of contenders this year. 2. Dern also landed BAFTA and SAG nominations, as well as a Globe nod. He’s also a previous Oscar nominee for Coming Home. 2. So far, McConaughey has prevailed in head-to-head collision. Dern was an early contender for the Oscar but seems to have lost momentum in the months since the film’s release. 3. His performance is an accomplished blend of tragedy and comedy, with his confused Woody the ornery heart of the picture, reminiscing one moment and driving his family to distraction the next. 3. In a town terrified of aging, can such a raw look at old age really win votes?
Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years A Slave

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. As the horrified figure at the heart of the film, Ejiofor’s unfailing ability to communicate Solomon Northup’s horror, stoicism and moments of despair with barely the twitch of an eye carries us through, giving us a shining moral light in a despicable time. 1. Ejiofor’s very subtlety may count against him, since Academy voters tend to favour performances they can get their teeth into. 2. He’s been nominated all over the place, and received the best reviews on an already-respected career for his turn here. He also won the BAFTA in this category. 2. The big awards have been going to McConaughey, with Ejiofor only taking prizes from smaller critics groups aside from that BAFTA - and there he had both home-field advantage and the fact that McConaughey wasn't nominated going for him. 3. Ejiofor’s just the sort of actor who deserves an Oscar; someone who’s been brilliant in basically everything and who here turns in a standout performance even by his standards. The Academy doesn’t want to turn around in 20 years and realise they never gave this guy an Oscar. 3. Ejiofor is a little more self-effacing than your average Oscar contender and – we suspect – won’t be relentlessly glad-handing all and sundry in an attempt to get the vote out. That could hurt his chances.
Christian Bale - American Hustle

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. He’s Batman. Also, he runs the gamut from over-confident con man to despairing con and back again in the film, tossed about on a sea of events beyond his control or caused by his own bad judgment. And all this while carefully maintaining his fake hair. 1. Ben Affleck is Batman now – and Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld is perhaps too reactive a character, thrown around by the bigger personalities around him, to impress the voters amid such strong competition. 2. He was Globe and BAFTA nominated for the turn, and was part of the SAG Best Ensemble win. He’s also a previous Oscar winner, which doesn’t hurt. 2. He lost out on the BAFTA and Globe (and who’d’ve thought Christian Bale would be nominated in the “comedy” category?) and wasn’t even nominated for a solo SAG award. 3. The selflessness of that combover, wow. 3. The horror of that combover, ugh.
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf Of Wall Street

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. It’s an absolutely blistering, no-holds-barred portrait of greed, corruption and veniality that never quite loses its humanity, and one that anchors a powerful film. 1. No performance that opens with a scene of a man blowing cocaine up a hooker’s backside has ever won that man an Oscar. That shit might fly at France’s Cesars or something, but not for the Academy! 2. DiCaprio is now a four-time nominee, and has been good enough to warrant a nod a few more times than that. He won the Globe, was SAG nominated and BAFTA nominated too. 2. McConaughey’s been romping home so far, with DiCaprio’s only wins coming at awards which divide “comedy” from “drama” and put them in separate categories. 3. Most Best Actor winners are in their 40s, and with DiCaprio hitting the big four-oh later this year, he’s finally old enough that voters might forget he was a heartthrob and credit him with now being a great actor. 3. Engaging in the sort of juvenile, dwarf-tossing antics that DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort does is no way to demonstrate your maturity and responsibility.
Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. The “McConaissance” has arrived, and this performance is his Sistine Chapel. Er, or something. The former rom-com regular looks damn near unbeatable for his turn as an AIDS sufferer who mobilises his fellows to get the drugs they need in the early days of the epidemic. 1. Can a man once arrested for naked bongo playing (not a euphemism) really go on to win an Oscar? Sure, his two nominations for Movie Liplock at the Teen Choice Awards stand to his credit – but they hardly compare to DiCaprio’s career to date. 2. McConaughey has already taken a Golden Globe and a SAG and is now the hot favourite for this award. It doesn't hurt that he lost a vast amount of body weight for the role, always a sign of Serious Acting. 2. He missed out on a BAFTA nomination, so hasn’t had things all his own way, and has lost out to both Ejiofor and the (not nominated) Oscar Isaac at several critics’ awards. And hey! This isn't The Biggest Loser. 3. Isn’t it inspiring to know that, come March 3, we might live in a world where both stars of Sahara have come back to win Oscars? Steve Zahn, we’re rooting for you now! 3. Isn’t it terrifying to know that, come March 3, we might live in a world where those who made Sahara prosper while those of us who spent our time watching it do not? Where’s the cosmic justice? And where’s poor Steve Zahn?