- Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)Now that Les Miserables has lost its supposed runner-up status due to mixed early reviews, Daniel Day-Lewis is truly unstoppable. Not that we considered any other option seriously from the moment we heard Daniel Day-Lewis (!) will play Abraham Lincoln (!) in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (!).
- Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)Even though I still think he is the only viable threat for an upset in this category, the fact that his film hasn't been doing as well recently as it was expected to, pretty much means Jackman won't have the luxury to rely on a strong BP-contender/frontrunner and he probably needed that to have even a remote chance to beat Day-Lewis. IF his film picks up steam (much better reviews, great Box Office, BP/BD nominations), he could be cautiously considered for an unlikely victory again, until then, it's Daniel Day-Lewis's to lose. For what it's worth, it's nice to see this remarkably talented, criminally underrated actor in the Awards Race. I firmly believe Jean Valjean is his first great role that allows him to show his remarkable range as an actor.
- Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)He received career-best reviews and surprisingly enough emerged as the STRONGEST Weinstein-contender in this category (sorry Phoenix), so he can definitely count on the powerful Weinstein-push and a Best Picture nomination, as well. Two things could seal the deal for good : stronger Box Office and a Best Director nod. Not that he couldn't land a nomination without those two, but it would be definitely easier.
- John Hawkes (The Sessions)I am ecstatic the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Screen Actors Guild and the HFPA recognized his stellar work, I was worried the unspectacular BoxOffice, seemingly fading buzz and the massive competition would hurt him, but I'm glad he is doing so well. Despite his excellent precursors, I'm still not done with the worrying-part, though : Joaquin Phoenix is still a major threat and if he makes the cut, he will probably knock out one of the two contenders (Hawkes, Washington) who cannot rely on a Best Picture nomination.
- Denzel Washington (Flight)He is a beloved Academy-favorite, receiving career-best reviews (which says a lot when the career in question has already delivered 2 Oscars) for a film that is also a critically acclaimed Box Office hit. But if Phoenix gets nominated, someone has to go...
- Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)So far for me the big question of the season had been whether 'The Rant' could hurt him in the long run. I didn't think it would, or more like, with her groundbreaking work and fantastic reviews, I didn't think it COULD. Well, I was wrong. The SAG-exclusion alone hurts him enough, but the fact that his competition is so remarkably fierce (ALL five pulled off the usually ironclad SAG/GG/BFCA trio), is just another barrier that will be remarkably hard to overcome. He could be the rare 6th who doesn't even come close to that 5th slot. Having said that, he is also a contender with very passionate supporters, so if the Academy voters want to recognize arguably one of the best performances in recent years, they WILL vote for Joaquin Phoenix.
- Richard Gere (Arbitrage)The Golden Globe nomination helped him stay in the conversation, but frankly, if the Academy snubbed him when he was the male lead of their Best Picture winner with a Golden Globe Award and a SAG nomination under his belt, I simply don't see how they could go for him when he is in a little-seen indie that has failed to garner much buzz (so far). Still, IF they eat up the 'career nomination' campaign, he might come closer to his first nod than I give him credit for.
- Billy Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson)With the Academy-friendly December release date and the recent Golden Globe nomination, he might still have a tiny shot thanks to the early Academy-deadline, but mainly due to the poor reviews his film has been receiving, he will probably sit this one out.
- Jack Black (Bernie)I saw this film last year at the London Film Festival and it has been fascinating to see how Black's performance has managed to keep staying in the conversation to this day. Having received the Golden Globe nomination, he can only qualify as a 'Viable Surprise' officially, but if he actually makes the Oscar-cut, make no mistake, it will be a shock.
- Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock)It seems Helen Mirren stole the show from the actual lead, nothing new on that front, she managed to pull off a Lead Oscar nomination for a Tolstoy-film for which the actor playing Tolstoy got a supporting nod. Still, Hopkins is a highly acclaimed British veteran playing one of the greatest cinematic icons, so IF the British-vote backs him up (=Bafta-nod), then he might be able to shock us all in the end...how Hitchcockian of him THAT would be.
- Ben Affleck (Argo)As the Million Dollar Baby-year proved, when the Academy REALLY loves a film, they could easily go for its lead even if the contender in question had been flying under the radar. The question remains : will they REALLY love his film ?
- Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi)Ditto.
- Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained)Ditto.