Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Narrowing the Field
Not a loser in the bunch. Carell totally transformed himself to play a monster of privilege. And Cooper inhabited the body and soul of traumatized Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. But it's not their year. This is a three-way race that pits two British thespians playing real people — Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist robbed of movement and speech by ALS; and Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a math genius persecuted for the then-crime of homosexuality — against an American actor, Michael Keaton, playing a Hollywood star making a comeback, which many see as him playing a fictional version of himself.
Here are five who've got as much game as the real nominees. David Oyelowo is electric as Martin Luther King in Selma — oh, wait, he's black. There's Jake Gyllenhaal as a new kind of media creature in Nightcrawler, Timothy Spall as an artist unbound in Mr. Turner and Tom Hardy in a tour de force as a man alone in a car in Locke. And Chadwick Boseman soars as James Brown in Get On Up. Oh, wait, he's black.
The popularity of Cumberbatch (go, Sherlock!) cannot be underestimated. In a battle between Redmayne and Keaton, he could be the spoiler.
Redmayne has detractors who feel that Daniel Day-Lewis did the disability thing better in My Left Foot. Others feel Redmayne will be hurt by being seen in a bad movie, Jupiter Ascending, during the voting. I feel his Theory performance is magnificent in every detail. That should count.
Keaton. Come on, people. This dude's been the shit for years. Beetlejuice, Batman, you name it. And no Academy love. Not even a nomination. In Birdman, he has the role of his career and crushes it. How do you resist? You don't.