2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Actor (Sept. 3)

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Fox Searchlight

The 2014 Oscar race shifted over the Labor Day weekend, as serious contenders ‘Gravity,’ ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Labor Day’ screened in Venice and at Telluride, generating valuable awards buzz.

We recently launched our 2014 Oscar Power Rankings, and will continue to update them weekly. Here’s where things stand after two major film festivals, and prior to this week’s Toronto International Film Festival … where the race is bound to shift again. And click here for our previous predictions in this category:

  • 1

    Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    Last Week: 3
    Focus Features

    You’ve heard this story before. Handsome A-lister drastically changes his or her appearance, catching Oscar’s eye and earning a trophy for the mantle piece. That scenario might play out for McConaughey, who dropped half his body weight to play HIV patient Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallee’s medical drama. At the same time, 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.’ I think this is the year Oscar opens the door and let’s McConaughey in.

  • 2

    Chiwetel Ejiofer, ’12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: --
    Fox Searchlight

    The outstanding Ejiofor has been turning in fascinating performances ever since Stephen Frears’ 2002 thriller ‘Dirty Pretty Things.’ Now his turn as a free man mistakenly enslaved in pre-Civil War times is earning raves. Twitter exploded with Oscar talk minutes after the first Telluride screening concluded. Sasha Stone calls it a “career-best performance” on Awards Daily. In Contention’s Kris Tapley writes, “Chiwetel Ejiofor offers a stunning portrayal that shoots right to the top of an already crowded and competitive Best Actor Oscar race.” We’ll confirm next week when we screen the film at TIFF.

  • 3

    Robert Redford, ‘All Is Lost’

    Last Week: 4
    Roadside Attractions

    ‘All is Lost’ sounds 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 movie boils down to Redford versus Mother Nature, with very little for us to look at beyond the Oscar winner’s endless expressions. If it works, 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.’

  • 4

    Tom Hanks, ‘Captain Phillips’

    Last Week: 2

    How much Academy love can Tom Hanks earn this season? Already a two-time Oscar winner, Hanks has two major movies in play. He'll assume the role of iconic Hollywood entertainer Walt Disney for 'Saving Mr. Banks.' And he could get into the Best Actor race for his portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips in Paul Greengrass' recount of the Somali pirate raid. The Academy loves Hanks. LOVES him. Do they love him enough to grant him two Oscar nods this season? Does he earn them? We shall see.

  • 5

    Forest Whitaker, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

    Last Week: 5
    The Weinstein Company

    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 feel like the most vulnerable of my five picks at the moment? Because his movie came out so early, taking advantage of what’s currently known as the end-of-summer ‘The Help’ slot. The Weinstein Company will have to work very hard to keep Whitaker in the discussion for the next few months, as several other performances clamor for Oscar’s attention. The good news is that few are better at campaigning than the Weinsteins. But there’s a lot of race left to run, and we’ll see if Whitaker’s still there when the dust settles.

Dropped from rankings: Leonardo DiCaprio, 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

  • 1

    Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    Last Week: 3
    Focus Features

    You’ve heard this story before. Handsome A-lister drastically changes his or her appearance, catching Oscar’s eye and earning a trophy for the mantle piece. That scenario might play out for McConaughey, who dropped half his body weight to play HIV patient Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallee’s medical drama. At the same time, 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.’ I think this is the year Oscar opens the door and let’s McConaughey in.

  • 2

    Chiwetel Ejiofer, ’12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: --
    Fox Searchlight

    The outstanding Ejiofor has been turning in fascinating performances ever since Stephen Frears’ 2002 thriller ‘Dirty Pretty Things.’ Now his turn as a free man mistakenly enslaved in pre-Civil War times is earning raves. Twitter exploded with Oscar talk minutes after the first Telluride screening concluded. Sasha Stone calls it a “career-best performance” on Awards Daily. In Contention’s Kris Tapley writes, “Chiwetel Ejiofor offers a stunning portrayal that shoots right to the top of an already crowded and competitive Best Actor Oscar race.” We’ll confirm next week when we screen the film at TIFF.

  • 3

    Robert Redford, ‘All Is Lost’

    Last Week: 4
    Roadside Attractions

    ‘All is Lost’ sounds 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 movie boils down to Redford versus Mother Nature, with very little for us to look at beyond the Oscar winner’s endless expressions. If it works, 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.’

  • 4

    Tom Hanks, ‘Captain Phillips’

    Last Week: 2

    How much Academy love can Tom Hanks earn this season? Already a two-time Oscar winner, Hanks has two major movies in play. He'll assume the role of iconic Hollywood entertainer Walt Disney for 'Saving Mr. Banks.' And he could get into the Best Actor race for his portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips in Paul Greengrass' recount of the Somali pirate raid. The Academy loves Hanks. LOVES him. Do they love him enough to grant him two Oscar nods this season? Does he earn them? We shall see.

  • 5

    Forest Whitaker, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

    Last Week: 5
    The Weinstein Company

    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 feel like the most vulnerable of my five picks at the moment? Because his movie came out so early, taking advantage of what’s currently known as the end-of-summer ‘The Help’ slot. The Weinstein Company will have to work very hard to keep Whitaker in the discussion for the next few months, as several other performances clamor for Oscar’s attention. The good news is that few are better at campaigning than the Weinsteins. But there’s a lot of race left to run, and we’ll see if Whitaker’s still there when the dust settles.

Dropped from rankings: Leonardo DiCaprio, 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

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