Matthew McConaughey accepts his award as best actor International during the Goldene Kamera (Golden Camera ) media award event in Berlin. He's a likely winner in a tight race at this year's Oscars. (Britta Pedersen / AP)
Darned if I know.
That or some variation thereof should be anyone’s response when asked who will win the Oscar for best actor in a leading role this year.
How tight is this race? Robert Redford wasn’t nominated for “All Is Lost.” Forest Whitaker wasn’t nominated for “The Butler.” Freaking Tom Hanks didn’t get nominated for “Captain Phillips,” which featured his best performance in more than a decade.
Each of the five nominees who did make the cut have at least some argument in their favor. Two might ride a sweep to the gold, one might get a veteran’s nod, one has been on a big winning streak of late, the last contender is on his fourth nomination with zero wins.
Who will win? Darned if I know. But let’s take a look at the contenders and then go ahead and hazard a guess anyway. The nominees are:
Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf of Wall Street”: This is Leo’s fourth Oscar acting nomination (he’s actually also up for best picture as one of the film’s producers), and he’s never taken home the gold. So he has some history, as well as some respect. But a win now seems unlikely since his unseemly antics in this movie about a hard-partying stockbroker don’t exactly call for a lot of nuance.
Christian Bale for “American Hustle”: Bale won a supporting actor Oscar in 2011 for “The Fighter,” and here he is again working with writer-director David O. Russell. Plus, the Academy loves physical transformations, and Bale piled on the pounds for this role, not to mention sporting that elaborate, ridiculous comb-over. If “Hustle” begins to sweep the night, as it certainly could, he could pull it off. But the film is rightly seen as more of an ensemble piece, and his recent win could work against him.
Bruce Dern for “Nebraska”: The Academy loves to honor veterans who score a great late-in-life role, and the 77-year-old Dern certainly fits that bill. Plus he’s been openly campaigning for this since the film opened at Cannes last May. But the only other time Dern scored an Oscar nomination was a supporting nod for “Coming Home” in 1979, and he hasn’t exactly been a high-profile player for the past couple of decades. Still, he’s in the game.
Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave”: This is the first nomination for Ejiofor, who has done fine work in cult hits such as “Kinky Boots,” “Serenity” and “Dirty Pretty Things,” and is known as an actor’s actor. The movie and Ejiofor were considered clear frontrunners before “Hustle” happened along. Obviously, his portrayal of a slave carries moral, political and emotional heft; and if “12 Years” sweeps, he’s in. But even if “Hustle” sweeps, this may be where the Academy decides to honor “12 Years.”
Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”: This is McConaughey’s first Oscar nomination, but he’s coming off the sort of career resurrection most actors only dream of. After wasting away in rom-coms and action flicks for too long, suddenly he’s been doing fine work in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Killer Joe,” “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” “Mud” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” along with “Dallas,” all since 2011. It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s also currently killing it on HBO’s “True Detective.” Or that he dropped 45 pounds to play a man with AIDS in a film that has its own moral, political and emotional heft.
Who should win: Honestly, it’s a toss-up between Ejiofor, Bale and McConaughey.
Who will win: Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”
The 86th annual Academy Awards
8: 30 p.m. March 2