In just a few weeks, winners will be announced at the Academy Awards, the culmination of the film awards season. This year’s nominees in the Actor and Supporting Actor categories are a diverse group. Five of the actors are nominated for the first time, and only one actor (Christian Bale) has previously won an Academy Award. With such amazing new or previously unrecognized talent, the race could be open to upset. Will the men of Dallas Buyers Club, who have dominated the race so far, continue their winning streak, or will there be a surprise win at the Oscars?
Although I haven’t seen all of the nominated movies so far, I already have my favorites. Who would you like to see win an Academy Award?
Christian Bale (American Hustle): In American Hustle, Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist forced by the FBI to set up a sting operation in exchange for his freedom. A method actor who exchanges accents at will, Bale has starred in everything from big budget blockbusters (most notably as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight  Trilogy ), to smaller independent films (The Machinist ). This is Bale’s second Academy Award nomination, with a previous win for Supporting Actor in The Fighter .
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street): Recognized for his role as Jordan Belfort, a corrupt New York stockbroker, this is DiCaprio’s fourth Academy Award nomination and his fifth collaboration with director Martin Scorsese. After huge mainstream success in the 1990’s with blockbusters like Titanic  and Romeo + Juliet, DiCaprio has since starred in a number of critically-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated movies. DiCaprio has already won a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe this season, and his fans hope that this might finally be his year at the Oscars.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave): Based on a memoir written in 1853, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Ejiofor’s performance as Northup received praise from critics and movie-goers alike, and has garnered nominations for all the major awards. A previous winner of the BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award (2006) and a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance as Othello (2008), this is his first Academy Award nomination. [Update: On Sunday, 2/16, Ejiofor won the BAFTA for this performance.]
Bruce Dern (Nebraska): In Nebraska, Dern plays Woody Grant, an ornery, alcoholic man who convinces his son to drive him to Nebraska to pick up a sweepstakes prize he believes he has won. This is Dern’s second Academy Award nomination, with the first in 1978 for Supporting Actor in Coming Home . Although a win at the Oscars seems unlikely, he previously won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for this role.
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club): Since his first acting job in the early 90s, McConaughey has been a familiar face (and voice!) in roles spanning comedy and romantic comedy, action/adventure and drama. His work as Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient who smuggled unapproved pharmaceuticals into Texas and distributed them, is the latest in a string of critically-acclaimed performances and earned McConaughey his first Academy Award nomination. With wins already at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, McConaughey seems like the man to beat.
Best Supporting Actor:
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips ): Abdi makes his film debut as Abduwali Muse, a Somali pirate leader who hijacks an unarmed American container ship and takes its crew hostage. Discovered while working as a limo driver in Minnesota, Abdi is one of two actors nominated this year for film debuts. (The other is Lupita Nyong’o with a Supporting Actress nomination for 12 Years a Slave.) While it is doubtful Abdi will win at the Oscars, his performance has been recognized with Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA nominations. [Update: On Sunday, 2/16, Abdi won the BAFTA for this performance.]
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle): Cooper first came to recognition with supporting roles in various television series (Alias ) before starring in a string of successful comedies (The Hangover , The A-Team ). American Hustle, where he plays an FBI agent who forces two con artists to participate in a sting operation in exchange for their freedom, is his second collaboration with director David O. Russell. The first, Silver Linings Playbook , garnered Cooper his previous Oscar nomination.
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave): In his third collaboration with director Steve McQueen (2008’s Hunger and 2011’s Shame ), Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, a psychotic plantation owner who terrorizes his slaves, including Ejiofor’s Northup and Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey. Born in Germany and raised in Ireland, Fassbender has enjoyed immense critical acclaim over the past few years, as well as box office success in movies like X-Men: First Class . This is Fassbender’s first Academy Award nomination.
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street): In The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill plays Donnie Azoff, a salesman who goes into business with DiCaprio’s corrupt Jordan Belfort. This is Hill’s second Academy Award nomination (the first was for Supporting Actor in Moneyball ), and showcases his continued ease in both crowd-pleasing comedies and critically-acclaimed films.
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club): A method actor recognized for his performance as Rayon, an HIV-positive, transgender woman, this is Leto’s first Academy Award nomination. A familiar face in television (My So-Called Life) and film (Fight Club  and Requiem for a Dream ), Leto took a break from acting in the 2000’s to focus primarily on his successful rock band, 30 Seconds to Mars . With wins already at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Critics’ Choice Awards, a win for Leto seems likely at the Oscars.
The Academy Awards air Sunday, March 2nd on ABC.