Studios have consolidated their awards rallying, concentrating on several sure things rather than go out on a limb. Out on a limb would be voice actors, actors utilizing motion capture, and in some cases, musically inclined actors. And as I’ll address in a later article, it’s a shame that Andy Serkis is not being propagated as a lead actor contender.

The first category I’ll tackle is the Best Actor category.

The Sure Things

Two actors with the best odds for getting nominated have both played Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr has been called one of the greatest actors of our generation, and several critics have mentioned that his performance in The Judge is his best to date. What could hurt his chances is that the film itself wasn’t reviewed very well. Warner Brothers just sent out a batch of screeners to SAG Nominating Committee members. The Judge was one of those mailed out. Although the chatter about his performance has died down due to the poor box office performance as well, it seems pretty certain that Downey Jr. will be nominated.

Benedict Cumberbatch is soaring high. With an unexpected Emmy win for his BBC series, Sherlock Holmes over The Normal Heart’s Mark Ruffalo, Cumberbatch is challenging Matthew McConaughey for hottest actor right now. Last year he had Star Trek, August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate and the 2nd Hobbit movie, and probably other ones. This year The Imitation Game brings him to the forefront of Oscar talk. Unlike The Judge, The Imitation Game is a strong contender for Best Movie. And with the Weinstein Company backing it, it’s sure to get a strong push.

TWC has not sent any screeners however. This may due to the fact that many of their movies are opening late in the year.

Michael Keaton is considered the frontrunner for the prize. He’s been the focus of awards talk just by people viewing the trailer. Birdman seems a role tailor made for Keaton, who played the Batman in two movies. Actually producer John Lesher said the movie’s more about Alejando Iñárritu’s dealing with his own ego than about Keaton.

In the Mix

Last year’s award winner for Dallas Buyer’s Club, McConaughey is part of the conversation, thanks to his turn in Interstellar. The actor really grounds the movie with a palpable vulnerability that is essential for a movie that packs a wallop emotionally as well as in science fiction sense.

Bill Murray most likely will be nominated as well for his crotchety performance in St. Vincent. The argument against him is that he’s essentially playing the same character he’s played before: himself.

Miles Teller delivers a strong performance in Whiplash, but the scenes without the drum kit don’t deliver as much as those with. At Contenders, Teller said he was a drummer prior to the film. While he was the one actually playing drums, thanks to editing and camera work his drum work was enhanced.

Musical or dance talent has never been valued much in the acting category. While recent winners Anne Hathaway, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jennifer Hudson displayed their singing talent, they were as showy and much loved musical theater characters. Teller’s role doesn’t have the nostalgia factor.

Other strong contenders are Bradley Cooper (American Sniper); Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), David Oyelowo (Selma), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Brad Pitt (Fury), Jake Gyllenhal (Nightcrawler), and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). Out of those, only Inherent Vice and American Sniper, both Warner Brothers movies, have screeners in the hands of SAG Nomination Committee members thus far. Nominations are due December 8. While he appeared at Contenders, Jeremy Renner hasn’t gotten much heat for his Kill the Messenger. Redmayne is very good. I just don’t think it’s his time.

Screeners were also sent for Love is Strange featuring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina and Mr. Turner with Timothy Spall. An hour into the movie, and I fail to understand what it’s about.

The first screener that was sent was for Chef which I loved. Another early in-the-year movie was Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a shame Ralph Fiennes isn’t being mentioned more as awards season starts to pick up. Similar to Teller’s supplementing his knowledge with intensive training, Favreau was supervised by Chef Roy Choi who helped the actor-director become entirely convincing as a top-tier chef. Like musical talent however, cooking capabilities aren’t rewarded either.

UPDATE: Latecomer to the awards race and late-arriving screener. Because the movie is about the inability of normal people to react to violence, it doesn’t show off what Oscar Isaac is capable of doing. You wait for an Al Pacino-Robert DeNiro moment, but it just doesn’t come. It doesn’t change my picks.

My prediction for Best Actor nominees: Keaton, Cumberbatch, Downey Jr., Bill Murray, Bradley Cooper

Cumberbatch will probably achieve what McConaughey did not in winning an Emmy and Oscar consecutively (Helen Hunt and Halle Berry were the last to do it, if I’m not mistaken.)

–Ken Choy

UPDATE : Serkis was submitted in the supporting actor category for SAG Awards.

UPDATE 2: Changed the list due to late arriving screeners. Murray deserves a nomination.

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