By mid-August, there were already plenty of actor contenders: from Sundance, Daniel Radcliffe, "Kill Your Darlings" and Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"; from Cannes, Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"; Oscar Isaacs, "Inside Llewyn Davis" and Robert Redford, "All is Lost"; and from wide releases, Chadwick Boseman, "42" and Forest Whitaker, "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Fifth Estate"; Idris Elba, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"; Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"; Ralph Fiennes, "The Invisible Woman"; Chris Hemsworth, "Rush"; Hugh Jackman, "Prisoners"; and Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club."
Plus, Tom Hanks is getting good buzz for "Captain Phillips" and for his upcoming "Saving Mr. Banks."
The lead category might already be even more crowded. Josh Brolin ("Labor Day"), Steve Coogan ("Philomena") and Jake Gyllenhaal ("Prisoners") could be considered either leads or supporting. In theory, it seems like a good idea to tout them for the latter, because the lead actor race is so jam-packed. But in fact, the supporting competition is already fierce as well.
The supporting race so far includes Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"; Daniel Bruhl, "Rush"; Chris Cooper, "August: Osage County"; Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"; Harrison Ford, "42"; Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"; Matthew McConaughey, "Mud"; and David Oyelowo, "Lee Daniels' "The Butler."
Upcoming possibilities in the lead actor races include Leonardo Di Caprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Her"; and Ben Stiller, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." And, since the films are unseen, it's hard to know how to handicap the performances in "American Hustle," "The Counselor," "Foxcatcher," "The Monuments Men" and "Out of the Furnace."
At this point, some of these thesps appear to be front-runners, others seem like remote possibilities. But timing is crucial, and contenders can heat up or cool off as the weeks progress. The only prediction: Expect to be surprised at who is classified as giving a comic or supporting performance, as every awards strategist jockeys for maximum exposure.
The race raises a few questions: Will voters recognize the supporting work of George Clooney in "Gravity," in which he made maximum impact with minimal screen time? Will voters embrace James Corden's strong work in "One Chance" as much as Toronto audiences? (The film begins an awards-qualifying run in December.) Will voters remember Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in "Don Jon," Mads Mikkelsen in "The Hunt" and Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines"?
In Toronto, fest artistic director Cameron Bailey introduced "Dallas Buyers Club" to the audience and said that, for whatever reason, audiences are seeing work "at the very top of what is possible in screen acting." Clearly, he's right.
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