2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Actor (Nov. 20)

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Saving Mr. Banks’ has been screened. ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ continue to establish their dominance. ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ make noise, and we’re still waiting on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle.’

In other words, the dust swirling around the first stage of the annual Oscar race is starting to settle, and select portions of the picture are beginning to clear.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday – when voters in various creative bodies spend quiet days absorbing Oscar contenders – let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major awards categories.

  • 1

    Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    Last Week: 1

    ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ has been expanding to multiple theaters this month, its campaign growing as it screens. McConaughey also has been picking up recognitions from smaller outlets on the awards circuit.  The affable actor has been knocking at the Academy’s door for years now, shedding his Golden Boy image and getting dirty for roles in movies like ‘Magic Mike,’ ‘Mud,’ ‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Bernie.’ This is the year Oscar opens the door and let’s McConaughey in.

  • 2

    Chiwetel Ejiofer, ’12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: 2

    I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ twice now, and I can honestly say that Ejiofor’s performance as a free man stripped of everything gains such nuance and heartbreak repeat viewing. Not that you should be shocked. The actor has been turning in fascinating performances ever since Stephen Frears’ 2002 thriller ‘Dirty Pretty Things.’ In McQueen’s masterful film, Ejifor is compassionate, resilient, steadfast and true in his portrayal of a man tested by fate. He seems like a lock for a Best Actor nomination.

  • 3

    Tom Hanks, ‘Captain Phillips’

    Last Week: 3

    Paul Greengrass’ true-life account of the heroic Captain Phillips (Hanks) and his fight to survive against Somali pirates is experiencing a bit of Oscar blowback. Sailors from Phillips’ actual crew are suing Maersk, claiming the onscreen hero actually put their lives in danger with his real-life decisions. Mild smear, or significant bump in Hanks’ Oscar campaign? Time will tell, but I predict he’ll weather the storm and ride critical raves to another nomination.

  • 4

    Robert Redford, ‘All Is Lost’

    Last Week: 4

    ‘All Is Lost’ is like Robert Redford’s ‘Cast Away.’ The veteran actor plays an unnamed sailor embarking on a voyage in the Indian Ocean whose ship is damaged. Instead of turning back, the man sails straight on into a pending storm, staring down his own mortality. The methodical (and quietly brilliant) movie boils down to Redford versus Mother Nature, with very little for us to look at beyond the Oscar winner’s endless expressions. But it works, and Redford likely will sail into the Best Actor race for only the second time in his career … and the first since 1973’s ‘The Sting.’

  • 5

    Bruce Dern, ‘Nebraska’

    Last Week: --

    This could be the year of the industry veterans in the Best Actor category. Redford’s name is at or near the top of multiple experts’ charts. Hanks and McConaughey feel like solid contenders, and Paramount continues to successfully push Bruce Dern’s unwavering portrayal of a fed-up man in Alexander Payne’s dry, nonjudgmental ‘Nebraska.’ The joy of Dern is his unfiltered approach to the complex character of Woody. His willingness to talk about anything on the campaign trail helps his chances. For now, he lands in our fifth slot. Let’s see if he sticks.

  • 1

    Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    Last Week: 1

    ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ has been expanding to multiple theaters this month, its campaign growing as it screens. McConaughey also has been picking up recognitions from smaller outlets on the awards circuit.  The affable actor has been knocking at the Academy’s door for years now, shedding his Golden Boy image and getting dirty for roles in movies like ‘Magic Mike,’ ‘Mud,’ ‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Bernie.’ This is the year Oscar opens the door and let’s McConaughey in.

  • 2

    Chiwetel Ejiofer, ’12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: 2

    I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ twice now, and I can honestly say that Ejiofor’s performance as a free man stripped of everything gains such nuance and heartbreak repeat viewing. Not that you should be shocked. The actor has been turning in fascinating performances ever since Stephen Frears’ 2002 thriller ‘Dirty Pretty Things.’ In McQueen’s masterful film, Ejifor is compassionate, resilient, steadfast and true in his portrayal of a man tested by fate. He seems like a lock for a Best Actor nomination.

  • 3

    Tom Hanks, ‘Captain Phillips’

    Last Week: 3

    Paul Greengrass’ true-life account of the heroic Captain Phillips (Hanks) and his fight to survive against Somali pirates is experiencing a bit of Oscar blowback. Sailors from Phillips’ actual crew are suing Maersk, claiming the onscreen hero actually put their lives in danger with his real-life decisions. Mild smear, or significant bump in Hanks’ Oscar campaign? Time will tell, but I predict he’ll weather the storm and ride critical raves to another nomination.

  • 4

    Robert Redford, ‘All Is Lost’

    Last Week: 4

    ‘All Is Lost’ is like Robert Redford’s ‘Cast Away.’ The veteran actor plays an unnamed sailor embarking on a voyage in the Indian Ocean whose ship is damaged. Instead of turning back, the man sails straight on into a pending storm, staring down his own mortality. The methodical (and quietly brilliant) movie boils down to Redford versus Mother Nature, with very little for us to look at beyond the Oscar winner’s endless expressions. But it works, and Redford likely will sail into the Best Actor race for only the second time in his career … and the first since 1973’s ‘The Sting.’

  • 5

    Bruce Dern, ‘Nebraska’

    Last Week: --

    This could be the year of the industry veterans in the Best Actor category. Redford’s name is at or near the top of multiple experts’ charts. Hanks and McConaughey feel like solid contenders, and Paramount continues to successfully push Bruce Dern’s unwavering portrayal of a fed-up man in Alexander Payne’s dry, nonjudgmental ‘Nebraska.’ The joy of Dern is his unfiltered approach to the complex character of Woody. His willingness to talk about anything on the campaign trail helps his chances. For now, he lands in our fifth slot. Let’s see if he sticks.

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