Albert Brooks "A Most Violent Year"
Johnny Depp "Into the Woods"
Mark Ruffalo "Foxcatcher"
Martin Sheen "Trash"
J.K. Simmons "Whiplash"
Commentary - Narrowing down this field, any of the fields for that matter is so difficult at this stage that you wonder how you come to any conclusion. This is a category for me that has been kind of a dud for a while now. This year's crop was the best in several years, yet ended with no mystery to it. Don't get me wrong, loved Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (and Plummer in Beginners and Waltz in Django), but I do hope this category is either as strong or stronger than last year, and no matter what, at least a little bit of a race. Into the Woods is one of the biggest question marks going into this season. Will it be Chicago or Nine? Also with such a large cast, it will be difficult to discern this early on, who will emerge from the pack. Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, and Daniel Huttlestone are all talents trying to get their first nomination. But according to fans of the play, while Johnny Depp's The Wolf is a small part, it is also an incredibly memorable one. Depp hasn't been in the Oscar game the last several years. But he proved he can carry a musical with Sweeney Todd, and at one time was an Academy favorite. This could be his ticket back into the race. This year, the slate was full of first time or second time nominees. There wasn't really a veteran among the bunch. This is kind of unusual, because this category has always been chocked full of veteran actors, particularly under-rewarded ones. This year, three major veterans, none of which have received enough attention (in my opinion) have flashy roles that could finally get them some spotlight. Albert Brooks was horribly snubbed in 2011 for Drive, but this year, he returns in a similar role with A Most Violent Year. The pedigree this time around looks more Oscar friendly, and voters may still feel bad enough to get him a consolation nod. Of course, he also could get in because he is fantastic and nails it. Either way, he is a strong contender. Two personal favorites of mine could enter this race for the first time this year. J.K. Simmons got rave reviews for his role in Whiplash out of Sundance. He has been bouncing around the independent circuit for years, churning out great role after great role. If the film, which apparently could alienate some viewers, gains traction, Simmons might get a well-deserved career nomination. The other potential is Martin Sheen. In all of his years in film, Sheen has never received an Oscar nomination. I find this inconceivable, but alas it is the truth. This year, his role in Stephen Daldry's Trash could be the right fit. So far, all of Daldry's films have received at least one acting nomination, and if Mara's nod comes for Carol, then Sheen could be the recipient of the film's good will. A guy can hope at least. Finally, I had predicted Mark Ruffalo to get in for his physical transformation in Foxcatcher, but then they moved the film. If it is as good as I think it will be, I still expect him to be a huge contender. The rest of the field is deep including: Robert Duvall opposite Robert Downey Jr., The guys from The Grand Budapest Hotel, Idris Elba (who many felt was deserving last year for Mandela), Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Benicio Del Toro, Liev Schreiber, the guys from Interstellar,Unbroken (too many in a largely unknown cast to determine who will emerge as of now), and Cameron Crowe's untitled new entry, David Oyelowo, James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman in posthumous roles, John Goodman, Gary Oldman, Adam Driver, and the potentially deep casts of Get on Up and Gone Girl.