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2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Actor (Nov. 7)

Focus Features

The calendar turns to November, meaning a fresh slate of notable Oscar hopefuls finally start screening for larger audiences. At the moment, we have five legitimate contenders that have yet to screen, from David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ to Peter Berg’s ‘Lone Survivor.’ And while we wait for them to see the light of day, we continue to track the progress of proven contenders like ‘Gravity,’ ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Captain Phillips.’

Academy voters are going to be extremely busy cramming in as many screenings as possible between now and the end of the year. Which films will establish themselves as the cream of the Oscar crop? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.


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1

Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Last Week: 1
 
 

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ finally opened in limited release on Nov. 1, and will continue to expand over the course of the month -- which is outstanding, since you’ll now be able to see for yourself how powerful McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto are in this incredibly moving drama. The affable McConaughey 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.

 
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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 upon 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, Ejiofor 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.

 
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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 on-screen 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.

 
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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 vs. 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.’

 
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5

Forest Whitaker, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

Last Week: 5
 
 

Does Forest Whitaker give an awards-worthy performance as the title character in ‘The Butler’? Yes. Has the movie earned the required box office to stay in the Oscar discussion? Yes. So why does Whitaker continue to feel like the most vulnerable of my five picks? Because his movie came out so early. The Weinstein Company will have to work very hard to keep Whitaker in the discussion for the next few months. There’s a lot of race left to run, and we’ll see if Whitaker’s still there when the dust settles.

 

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