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Oscar Analysis 2014: Breaking Down The Best Actor Race

The Best Actor race is no laughing matter this year, despite the fact that The Wolf of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio keeps picking up acting awards in Best Actor in a Comedy categories (like at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards). Oscar streamlines its categories to five worthy nominees, so while Leo is in, it means – as we pointed out – that deserving actors such as Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were left out in the cold on Oscar morning.

Now we know who our five Best Actor nominees are, and we can begin to properly handicap the race. We’re going to continue analyzing all of the top Oscar categories as we work to the March 2 ceremony hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. By the time all is said and done, CinemaBlend will offer you the most comprehensive analysis of the entire Oscar field, all but guaranteeing you a win in your office Oscar pools. (You’re welcome!) Let’s start with our choice for the Best Actor category:

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DARK HORSES: Christian Bale and Bruce Dern

For some, the nominee is the win. That’s likely the case with these fine actors who deserved nominations, but will probably see their performances eclipsed by the higher-profile movies like 12 Years and Dallas Buyers.

The problem for Bale might be that there are too many performances in American Hustle, and no one in David O. Russell’s all-star ensemble was given a chance to break out. It’s a true team effort, so while the Academy selected Bale here (and sprinkled love to his co-stars in other categories), I think the American Hustle section will be rowdy, happy to be there, but the ones who go home empty handed on Oscar night.

Dern needs a bigger boost for Nebraska, overall. The movie was well-received by the Academy, earning noms for Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and more. But you don’t hear a lot of experts talking about the movie. I’m sure the older Academy members appreciated seeing Dern in a relevant part again. He deserves the nomination. I’d be very surprised to see him triumph against the competition in this stacked category.

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CONTENDERS: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio

You can’t overlook the fact that DiCaprio has been collecting hardware as the awards season has rolled on. His performance in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street grabbed Acting trophies at the Globes and CCMAs… but, they were in Comedy categories that don’t exist at the Oscars. Still, DiCaprio’s in the race, and it’s very possible that as more Academy members see Wolf (which opened VERY late in the season), his turn as a disgusting Wall Street mogul swings support in his direction.

Ejiofor also has been viewed as a frontrunner in the Acting race, even before he scored the nomination many assumed he would secure. His performance as enslaved free man Solomon Northup was a gut-wrenching uppercut that helped sell the majority of Steve McQueen’s difficult journey through our nation’s past. Here’s why we’re not ready to count Ejiofor out: At ceremonies like the Globes and CCMAs, 12 Years a Slave has walked away with Best Picture honors, so a sweep at the Oscars could pull this amazing actor along in the movie’s powerful wake.

Matthew McConaughey

FRONTRUNNER: Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey followed the industry’s win-an-Oscar checklist for Dallas Buyers Club. He lost a ton of weight. (Check.) He played someone suffering a fatal illness. (Check.) And he delivered one hell of a memorable performance. (Check mate.) As fiery Texan Ron Woodroof, McConaughey gave a spine to the usual Hollywood "message" movie, shedding pounds but picking up attitude as he railed against a flawed government system that keeps powerful drugs out of the hands of the people who need them.

But that’s not why McConaughey is our choice for frontrunner in the Best Actor category. It’s simply his time. The actor switched gears on his career a while back, abandoning the safe path (which led to more Kate Hudson movies) to challenge the status quo. His recent hot streak includes Magic Mike, Mud, Bernie, The Wolf of Wall Street, Killer Joe and The Lincoln Lawyer. Recent wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and the Critics’ Choice suggest McConaughey is riding a tidal wave of support that we think will bring him the Oscar on March 2.

Sean O'Connell
Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.