The Supporting Acting categories can be crapshoots. They’re often crowded with character actors who have stolen the spotlight away from a movie’s lead (see recent winners Christoph Waltz, Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger for examples). But the categories often can be catch-all spots used by the Academy to recognize an actor who has gone the duration of a career without being acknowledged with an Oscar, and so they are rewarded for a part that might not be trophy-worthy.

Which way will the Oscars fall this year? It’s ridiculously early in the race, obviously, but a scan of the contenders heading into the final “act” of 2013 produces these five frontrunners for the 2014 Oscars and a handful of worthy performers to keep our eye on:

  • 1

    Daniel Bruhl, ‘Rush’

    Universal has been screening Ron Howard’s Formula-1 drama ‘Rush’ early and often. The buzz on the street is that the studio is confident in what it has, and from what we’re hearing, Bruhl’s performance as arrogant racer Niki Lauda is the real deal. (He’s also generating headlines for Bill Condon’s ‘The Fifth Estate.’ This could be a busy awards season for Bruhl.) ‘Rush’ is racing into the fall festival circuit, and will be in theaters before you know it. Based on expectations, we might be moving Howard’s latest into multiple categories, from Picture and Director to this slot for Bruhl.

  • 2

    Tom Hanks, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

    Iconic actor Tom Hanks playing iconic Hollywood entertainer Walt Disney in a behind-the-scenes expose on one of the industry’s most-beloved films? Why don’t you go ahead and take all of the Oscars, ‘Mr. Banks.’ Ironically, Hanks might see himself contending in multiple categories this year. It’s all but guaranteed that the actor will add at least one more acting nomination to his already illustrious resume. But whether it’s for John Lee Hancock’s ‘Mary Poppins’ movie, or for Paul Greengrass’ harrowing ‘Captain Phillips,’ remains to be seen. Will Hanks make it into two categories, or only one? Place your bets.

    Walt Disney
  • 3

    Michael Fassbender, ‘12 Years a Slave’

    Fassbender reunites with ‘Shame’ director Steve McQueen, and while ‘Slave’ is a vehicle for the always excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, Fassbender (or Brad Pitt) could carve out memorable turns that earn trips to the Best Supporting Actor category. There were many who believed Fassbender deserved an Oscar nom for his searing portrayal of a sex addict in ‘Shame.’ The Academy often recognizes people late, so I’m banking on them honoring Fassbender here … unless, of course, one of the many ‘Slave’ co-stars gets a meatier part. We’ll know once the movie begins to screen.

    Fox Searchlight
  • 4

    Jared Leto, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

    A lock? If ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ catches on the way that I believe it can (and probably should), then yes, Leto is a sure bet to earn a nomination playing a transgendered man who gets caught up in Matthew McConaughey’s scheme to smuggle unapproved HIV medications into our country. The recent trailer makes Leto’s performance look bold, risky but not showy. Everything I’m being told says that he’ll be here on Oscar night.

    Focus Features
  • 5

    Geoffrey Rush, ‘The Book Thief’

    A guess, pure and simple, but Rush is a respected actor and a recent Oscar nominee (for ‘The King’s Speech’) who is acting in what looks like sure-fire Oscar bait. Michael Petroni’s WWII-era book is beloved. The recent trailer hits all of Oscar’s favorite sentimental notes. And if Rush is his usual excellent self, a nomination is possible – though all of the names listed below him are waiting for their chance to move up.

    Fox 2000
  • 6

    Honorable Mention

    Casey Affleck, ‘Out of the Furnace;’ Javier Bardem, ‘The Counselor;’ Josh Brolin, ‘Labor Day;’ George Clooney, ‘Gravity;’ Steve Coogan, ‘Philomena;’ Bradley Cooper, ‘American Hustle;’ Benedict Cumberbatch, ‘August: Osage County;’ Joel Edgerton, ‘The Great Gatsby;’ Colin Farrell, ‘Saving Mr. Banks;’ Ben Foster, ‘Lone Survivor,’ Harrison Ford, ’42;’ James Franco, ‘Spring Breakers;’ John Goodman, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis;’ Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Prisoners;’ Jonah Hill, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street;’ Matthew McConaughey, ‘Mud;’ Daniel Oyelowo, ‘Lee Daniels' The Butler;’ Tim Roth, ‘Grace of Monaco;’ Mark Ruffalo, ‘Foxcatcher;’ Channing Tatum, ‘Foxcatcher’

    A24 Films