I have never before attempted to predict an award season this early and categories such as Best Picture and Director are actually quite easy when you compare to trying to predict the acting categories. An actor's performance can earn a nomination without the film itself getting a push in the major categories.
For example, many asked why I hadn't included films such as Ain't Them Bodies Saints in my 40 film Oscar preview. Well, IFC isn't going to have the budget to push David Lowery's film in all the categories, but the much talked about performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck may be able to get enough outside support to be able to speak for themselves.
Then you have to begin to consider one performance over another. Take Tom Hanks for example. He plays Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks and the title character in Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips. Hanks is a two-time Oscar winner and a five-time nominee, which film does he get nominated for? Both? Unlikely, so which one? This early in the game I'm going with Phillips, but who knows?
Then there's the question of "Who is the lead and who is supporting?"
I don't have any nominees listed for George Clooney's The Monuments Men, because I don't know who might be the lead and who might be supporting. I have no problem waiting to find out, but if you're wondering why the film I currently have listed at the top of my Best Picture and Best Director charts is without a Best Actor nomination at this point, now you know.
The one thing I love about this initial batch of Best Actor nominations, however, is the number of black and minority contenders, and not only are they contenders, but they are strong contenders.
This was something I first noticed as I was working through my 2014 Oscar Preview as I began to realize there could, very easily, be two black nominees for Best Actor and a legitimate shot at three with the likes of Idris Elba in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Chiwetel Ejiofor in Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale. Forest Whitaker also stands a chance for The Butler and you also have Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Michael Peña (Chavez) to consider.
Of course, six contenders out of the 34 total I have listed doesn't exactly mean the Hollywood ranks have somehow found an even race balance, but I thought it was still very encouraging to see the rise of strong minority contenders in major roles up for serious consideration.
As for my current top five, here's how things stand:
1.) Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) - Back with Martin Scorsese for the fifth time, nominated three times before for his work with Scorsese something has to happen sooner or later and this seems like a strong enough project to bring it home.
2.) Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) - As I said, I could also go with Saving Mr. Banks, but I'm allowing my bias for the film I'd rather see control this pick.
3.) Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom) - Not only is Idris Elba a great actor, he's a much-loved actor and now comes the opportunity to play Nelson Mandela in a Weinstein Co.-distributed film? I see the writing on the wall.
4.) Christian Bale (Untitled David O. Russell Abscam Project) - David O. Russell's Abscam project is a tough one to figure out in terms of performances. It seems Bradley Cooper could just as easily be pushed in the lead category, especially if Sony Classics tries to push him in Supporting for Serena. For now Bale is my only one from the film in lead, but I just received the screenplay and I'm tempted to give it a read... though I don't want to spoil the film for myself.
5.) Michael Fassbender (The Counselor) - The fifth slot was tough. I had Bruce Dern for Alexander Payne's Nebraska for a moment as well as Ejoifor and Jordan briefly, but I'm going with Fassbender, not because I necessarily think it will be the best performance, but it's getting to that point where it feels he's due after being overlooked for his work in films such as Shame, Hunger and, I'm sure some would argue, Prometheus. Tough call.
Overall I have 34 names in my Best Actor pool, which you can check out in full right here. I'm sure there will be a rotating door of newcomers and departures, such as likely movement between categories including Ben Affleck (Runner, Runner) and Josh Brolin (Labor Day) whose roles in their respective films I'm not entirely sure of when it comes to their size. But in all I think this is a good starting point considering we're about a year out from the actual ceremony.
So, for now, click here and check out the full field. Add your early predictions below and let me know if you think there is anyone I have overlooked.
Finally, and I'm going to remind you with every one of these early prediction pieces, if you don't have a free RopeofSilicon account you may want to register for one. Later this year, all contenders below the Bubble Line and not among my projected nominees will only be visible to logged in and registered members of the site. So if you haven't registered yet, you may as well do so now. It only takes a second.