POTENTIAL LOCKS // These four men have the most momentum going into next week. Not to say these will be my final picks but all four of them garner Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations and have been talked about by experts since the start of the season, so on paper, they’re the best bets.

  • Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompon (“Birdman”): Without a doubt, Keaton has the best chance of grabbing this nomination as “Birdman” will likely represent in a big way. A resurgence for his career, Keaton is also the odds-on favorite to take home the gold.
  • Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (“The Theory Of Everything”): Redmayne gradually transforms into Hawking, not only delivering his best performance yet and landing on some radars, but helping to tell this inspirational true story.
  • Steve Carrell as John DuPont (“Foxcatcher”): Carrell’s support might be fading along with his film, but there is no denying that he puts aside his funny-guy typecast for this creepy millionaire who becomes obsessed with a wrestler played by Channing Tatum.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (“The Imitation Game”): Cumberbatch has become one of the most reliable actors in Hollywood and with his emotional portrayal of Alan Turing, the support for him appears to be unwavering, playing not only the socially awkward mathematician but the closeted homosexual as well.

POTENTIAL WILD CARDS // To be completely honest, this particular group looks much more promising than even the four that are potentially locked in.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom (“Nightcrawler”): Gyllenhaal has the upper hand in vying for the fifth spot, being the only one of this bunch to have both a Screen Actors Guild nomination and a Golden Globe nomination. His eerie performance as the emotional distant Louis is one of his best and having been nominated before (“Brokeback Mountain”) we know that he is on the Academy’s radar.
  • David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. (“Selma”): Perhaps this is true for any actor seeking a nomination, but Oyelowo’s nomination will hinge on how his film,”Selma,” is received. Playing such a historically influential character in a much talked about film, I would say Oyelowo’s chances are good, but either the Academy will love it or ultimately pass on it.
  • Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner (“Mr. Turner”): Sight-unseen, Spall had early groundswell in this category. Not to say it has completely dissipated but absolutely no one is talking about “Mr. Turner” and I am starting to wonder if it will be nominated for anything at all.
  • Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle (“American Sniper”): After seeing “American Sniper,” Cooper is now at the top of my list for Best Actor hopefuls. Looking at the roles Cooper has already been nominated for, with “American Hustle” last year and “Silver Linings Playbook” the year before, his role as Chris Kyle blows those performances out of the water and then some. Once again, it will depend how the Academy feels about Eastwood and his film, but Cooper is definitely on their radar as well.

POTENTIAL SURPRISES // Best bets would not be on any of these candidates, but never say never. However, they would have to beat out one of the much more deserving candidates listed above and I simply do not see that happening.

  • Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”): Wes Anderson delivers the most dynamic characters in his films and with the strong support behind “Hotel” this year and Fiennes having two previous Academy Awards nominations, it is not too far off to imagine a surprise from him in this category.
  • Ellar Coltrane as Mason (“Boyhood”): Expect “Boyhood” to be a nomination juggernaut next week and with that could easily come a surprise nomination for the title character, a boy turned into a young man before our very eyes. Perhaps you award him for his bravery in front of the camera, or perhaps you wait to see what he does next, but regardless, “Boyhood” still looks to clean house.
  • Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello (“Inherent Vice”): Paul Thomas Anderson and his characters should never be counted out, especially as Phoenix (“Inherent Vice”) is continuously recognized by the Academy, already with three previous nominations and this being one of his most memorable roles yet.
  • Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales (“A Most Violent Year”): Isaac feels on the verge of being recognized by the Academy, first with his role in the Coen Brother’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” last year and now his stellar performance in this year’s “A Most Violent Year”. If this were not such a heated year in the Best Actor category, you would definitely see him with a nomination.

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