Even before we know which actors will make it into the five allotted 2014 Oscar Best Actor slots, I can make one guarantee: There will be three or four extremely talented performers on the outside looking in. Anytime someone of Michael B. Jordan’s caliber can’t make a short list of Best Actor nominations for his heart-wrenching portrayal in ‘Fruitvale Station,’ you know it must be a crowded field.

That doesn’t mean Jordan won’t get in. It just means that, at the moment, he is staring at a slate full of A-list names in Oscar-grabbing parts, and we need to start screening movies like Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ or ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to see if Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks give awards-worthy performances. If I had to fill in the 2014 Oscars Best Actor category at this absurdly early stage of the game, I’d go with the following actors, listed in alphabetical order -- knowing that this list will change frequently between now and Oscar nomination morning:.

  • 1

    Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

    Though DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese have collaborated four times, only once (with ‘The Aviator’) did that lead to a Best Actor nomination for the impossibly famous performer. Could ‘Wolf’ result in a second nom? It’s hard to tell from the movie’s first trailer, which bordered on the surreal as it spelled out the rise and fall of Wall Street mogul Jordan Belfort. This insane trip could be a superficial ride from the creator of ‘After Hours’ and ‘The King of Comedy’ … or an in-depth evisceration of our nation’s flawed financial system. We’ll know more once the movie screens.

    Paramount Pictures
  • 2

    Tom Hanks, ‘Captain Phillips’

    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.

    Columbia Pictures
  • 3

    Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    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.

    Focus Features
  • 4

    Robert Redford, ‘All Is Lost’

    ‘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.’

    Roadside Attractions
  • 5

    Forest Whitaker, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

    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.

    The Weinstein Company
  • 6

    Additional Contenders:

    Christian Bale, ‘American Hustle;’ Steve Carell; ‘Foxcatcher;’ Benedict Cumberbatch, ‘The Fifth Estate;’ Bruce Dern, ‘Nebraska;’ Chiwetel Ejiofer, ’12 Years a Slave;’ Idris Elba, ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom;’ Colin Firth, ‘The Railway Man;’ Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips;’ Oscar Isaac, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis;’ Michael B. Jordan, ‘Fruitvale Station;’ Joaquin Phoenix, ‘Her;’ Sam Rockwell, ‘The Way, Way Back;’ Ben Stiller, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

    CBS Films