- Benedict Cumberbatch (August : Osage County)'Little' Charles (August : Osage County) is a flashy role and with the Weinstein-machine behind the film and all the great buzz he is destined to receive this year (Star Trek : Into the Darkness, Twelve Years a Slave, The Fifth Estate), I think he will be the one to beat. Also, he could pull off the rare double duty if his take on Julian Assange makes the cut in Best Actor.
- Michael Fassbender (Twelve years a slave)Reunited with Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), Fassbender is definitely in good hands, add the fact that the part is really great AND he also plays the title role in Ridley Scott's The Counselor, and he could be another underrated actor having a phenomenal year in 2013.
- Sam Rockwell (The Way, Way Back)On paper he faces internal competition (Steve Carrell), but in reality if Carrell will get awards recognition this year, it will be in lead for Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, so Rockwell, who has been long overdue for his first nomination, might just finally pull it off. If the Sundance reviews are any indication, he is (once again) a memorable scenestealer.
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)After a long break from acting, he is back and if we can believe early signs, he is back with a bang. His role is tailormade for Academy attention : physical transformation ? Check. Likable victim role ? Check. Inspirational film based on a true story ? Check. Long story short, don't be surprised if he goes all the way and wins his first Oscar for this.
- Johnny Depp (Lone Ranger)I admit I don't know much about Lone Ranger, and I could be wrong considering Depp in supporting, so the two things that are worth emphasizing here are 1. in this version, he could be easily co-lead and 2. his first Oscar nomination was for a flashy role like this in a Disney tentpole like this directed by Gore Verbinski.
- Daniel Bruhl (The Fifth Estate)His role (Daniel Domscheit-Berg) sounds similar to Eduardo Saverin (The Social Network), and that part was ignored by the Academy probably because it was oversadowed by the iconic lead character. Bruhl is a great and underappreciated actor and if Bill Condon's film hits all the right notes, he could be a strong contender here, though in the end might face split votes, he is up for Best Actor (Rush), too.
- George Clooney (Gravity)His big Oscar film this year will be obviously The Monuments Men, and according to early reports his role in Gravity is very brief, but if he has just one memorable scene, he will be a player here.
- Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace)As many on this list, he is also up for Best Actor (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), but this role sounds very baity, so if the distributor decides to give him a campaign, he could sneak in here, too.
- Matt Damon (The Monuments Men)He faces stiff internal competition from the likes of Daniel Craig, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, so in the end they might just all cancel each other out.
- Tobey Maguire (The Great Gatsby)
- John Cusack (The Butler)Playing the iconic president, Richard Nixon, worked out perfectly for the great Frank Langella and Cusack is one of those actors who is always great but never receives mainstream recognition (no Oscar nominations to date), so if his screentime isn't ridiculously limited (they do have to get through 8 (!) presidents after all), I genuinely believe he will make a great impression. Problem is that calling his internal competition massive, would be a great understatement.
- James Marsden (The Butler)Like Cusack, playing a legendary president (JFK) automatically puts him on the map, the hard part will be standing out among so many great actors playing all these great roles.
- Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks)Although it seems like Walt Disney is the male lead, I think if Captain Phillips is a hit, they will place him in supporting for this so he wouldn't cancel himself out in Best Actor. Both roles sound excellent, so it definitely looks like he will be finally back to his A-game this year.
- Justin Timberlake (Inside Llewyn Davis OR Runner Runner)He has been doing decent work and this year could be his artistic breakthrough, but there is so little information on his roles, that at this point, that's all I can speculate.
- Brad Pitt (The Counselor)Between his summer tentpole (World War Z), costume drama (Twelve Years a Slave) and Ridley Scott's latest, we will see a lot of him in 2013, question is will one of his performances pique the Academy's interest ? People tend to forget this because of his megastar status, but he is also one of the best working actors without an Oscar today.
- Matthew McConaughey (The Wolf of Wall Street)His stellar artistic comeback (The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Mud) seems to continue this year, but he is another contender who faces stiff internal competition, and in the end, he might emerge as a much stronger contender in the lead race (Dallas Buyers Club).
- Jeremy Irvine (The Railway Man)After landing the lead in Steven Spielberg's War Horse, he went on to star as Pip in Great Expectations, yet playing the young version of Colin Firth's character in this baity Oscar-film, could be his greatest acting challenge to date.
- Stellan Skarsgaard (The Railway Man)As the supportive best friend of the troubled lead character, we can expect another nuanced, spectacular performance from one of the best character actors in the business, although he might be overshadowed by the villain played by Hiroyuki Sanada.
- Daniel Radcliffe (Kill your darlings)Playing Allen Ginsberg puts him on the map, but if the film ends up being too obscure and little seen, he probably won't have a chance especially because like so many in this race, he has to outshine SEVERAL co-stars in the end.
- Colin Firth (Devil's Knot)His big Oscar play seems to be in lead for The Railway Man, but that doesn't mean he can't be a worthy and memorable supporting player in Egoyan's film.
- Chris Hemsworth (Rush)In his first prestige film, action superstar Hemsworth plays James Hunt the great rival of the legendary Niki Lauda and though the film seems to be all about the latter, if the material is good enough, Hemsworth could be a real scenestealer here.
- Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)Playing David Schultz, the victim of John Dupont played by Steve Carrell, could be another excellent role for Ruffalo.
- Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)After emerging as the biggest movie star of his generation, he now has a real shot to convince critics he is worth all the fuss.
- Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine)Despite his personal scandals, Alec Baldwin is a remarkable actor and if Woody Allen wrote him a juicy role, he will definitely knock it out of the park.
- Javier Bardem (The Counselor)He was remarkably close to become the first Bond villain (or Bond actor for that matter) to receive an Oscar nomination, but clearly it wasn't meant to be. Could he be back in the game so soon ? Probably.
- Ewan McGregor (August : Osage County)Although he doesn't have the flashiest role in the film, or even the flashiest MALE role, he is a splendid actor who in my opinion was robbed this year (The Impossible) and on so many occasions in the past, so if the Academy embraces this Weinstein production in a big way, hopefully there will be room for Ewan McGregor.
- Russell Crowe (Winter's Bone)Russell Crowe, Will Smith and Matt Bomer could easily cancel each other out, but if the film becomes the magical movie experience it is supposed to, there might be room for at least one of them in the Oscar race.
- Tom Felton (Therese Raquin)The sickly, ill-fated husband is a juicy role, so if the film will be seen by enough people, his turn might not fade into oblivion at the end of the year.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man)He could be lead, I don't know, what I do know that whatever his role is, he is automatically in consideration.
- Peter Sarsgaard (Night moves)Playing a radical environmentalist in a Kelly Reichardt film, could be something very unique and memorable...but it could be also something too edgy for mainstream recognition.
- Jesse Eisenberg (Night moves)Ditto.
- Steve Coogan (Philomena)Between this, Toronto hit What Maisie Knew and The Look of Love, he is bound to receive acclaim this year, question is, will that be enough ?
- Ian McKellen (The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug)He didn't make it last year, he probably won't make it this year, maybe for the third and final chapter ?
- Kyle Chandler (The Spectacular Now)Apparently he has a brief but memorable role as the 'loser father', so if the film continues to wow audiences like it did at the Sundance Film Festival, he might emerge as a stronger than expected contender.
- Alexander Skarsgaard (The East)I might be wrong, but if he indeed plays the charismatic cult leader, then he really has a flashy role in this, add the acclaim he had already received for What Maisie Knew, and 2013 could really be his artistic breakthrough even if it won't translate into Oscar-love.
- Ben Foster (Ain't Them Bodies Saints)He has been doing spectacular work for years now, so if this will be the role that will finally earn him an invitation to the 'club', then so be it.
- Michael Shannon (Mud)This Jeff Nichols regular and previous Oscar nominee always manages to steal scenes and if Mud isn't forgotten by the end of the year, hopefully he won't be either. Although the child performances (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland) might receive more attention when all is said and done.
- Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines)Based on reviews, I think he is a co-lead in this, but if Serena is a hit, he probably won't have two lead campaigns.
- Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan)Playing a villain is always a great acting challenge, and Branagh will obviously hit it out of the park, the interesting part that he also directs the film.
- Tommy Lee Jones (Malavita)After a career-best year, he could be back in the Oscar race this year already, that is if Luc Besson's film isn't just mindless (though enjoyable) entertainment.
- Joaquin Phoenix (Lowlife)Although he seems to have a baity lead role in Spike Jonze's Her, if he plays the villain in Lowlife, he could be a viable contender in both category.
- Vincent Cassel (Trance)A great international talent, Cassel always delivers, so if the early release date doesn't hurt his film that much, he might be closer to this than we give him credit for.
- Adam Levine (Can a song save a life ?)I am usually not a fan of 'acting' singers but John Carney (Once) obviously cast him for a reason, so if the role is right and his performance is a revelation, then so be it.
- William Hurt (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)I don't know what his role is, what I do know that he has the rare gift to wow even when his screentime is VERY limited (A History of Violence).
- Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners)This could be a co-lead role and the film could be just another popcorn thriller, but if critics embrace is, then it will be a whole different ball game for everyone involved, and as a result, they will probably place Gyllenhaal here to avoid split votes with co-star Hugh Jackman.
- Tim Roth (Grace of Monaco)Prince Rainier III is a prestigious role, although early reports suggest it is a controversial take on him, but nonetheless the great Tim Roth will most certainly do wonders to it.
- Tom Sturridge (Effie)Again, he does sound like the male lead, but if awards strategies come into play, he could end up here...that is if the film won't be forgotten by the end of the year.
- Will Forte (Nebraska)Playing the son of an alcoholic, on a road trip with his father, might just be something completely unexpected from him...and in this case, with Alexander Payne in the director's chair, 'unexpected' could be spectacular.
NEXT YEAR ?
- Michael Pitt (The First)It could be all about Mary Pickford (Lily Rabe), but if there is one thing this former Boardwalk Empire scenestealer had already proved, that he should be never underestimated.
- Jude Law (The Grand Budapest Hotel)Even though Wes Anderson's quirky supporting players rarely pique the Academy's interest, Jude Law (or co-stars Bill Murray and Adrien Brody) might be able to pull through.
MASSIVE INTERNAL COMPETITION
The (Other) Men of 'The Monuments Men'
Daniel Craig, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin
The (Other) Men of 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Jonah Hill, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin
The (Other) Men of 'August : Osage County'
Demot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard
The (Other) Men of 'The Great Gatsby'
Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
The (Other) Men of 'Saving Mr. Banks'
Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak
The (Other) Men of 'The Butler'
Robin Williams (Dwight Eisenhower), Alan Rickman (Ronald Reagan), Nelsan Ellis (Martin Luther King Jr.), Alex Pettyfer (Thomas Westfall?), Liev Schreiber (Lyndon B. Johnson), Terrence Howard (Howard), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Carter Wilson), Jesse Williams (Rev. James Lawson), Lenny Kravitz (James Holloway), David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines)
The (Other) Men of 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Garrett Hedlund, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham
The (Other) Men of 'Kill your darlings'
Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jack Huston
The (Other) Men of 'Twelve Years a Slave'
Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Dwight Henry
The (Other) Men of 'The Counselor'
Bruno Ganz / John Leguizamo (The Counselor)
The (Other) Men of The Fifth Estate'
Dan Stevens, Anthony Mackie
The (Other) Men of 'Prisoners'
Paul Dano, Terrence Howard
The (Other) Men of 'Winter's Tale'
Will Smith, Matt Bomer
The (Other) Men of 'Blue Jasmine'
Bobby Canavale, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Andew Dice Clay
The (Other) Men of 'Noah'
Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth
The role of Henry Wheeler (Labor Day)
Gattlin Griffith , Tobey Maguire, Dylan Minnette