One Of These 22 Men Will Probably Win Best Actor At The 2016 Oscars

Could it finally be Leo's year?
Fox/Columbia/Focus Features/Warner Bros.

Welcome to For Your Consideration, The Huffington Post's breakdown of all things Oscars. Between now and February 28, 2016, entertainment editors Matthew Jacobs and Joe Satran will pore over awards season and discuss which films will make the most noise at the 88th annual Academy Awards.

Two weeks ago, we handicapped the Best Actress race, where four of the five slots are essentially locked up. Best Actor, on the other hand, feels like any man's game. We've given the top spot to a movie that hasn't even screened yet because that's how open-ended this derby is. But get a load of the star power sitting among the top ranks: If, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Will Smith and Matt Damon are the finalists, you might believe we've flashed back to circa 2002. But they'll have to throttle a bushel of worthy gentlemen to get there, including a few Hollywood kingfish who've been here before (Michael Caine, Ian McKellen), a few who haven't (Bryan Cranston, John Cusack) and even this year's victor (Eddie Redmayne). Without a reliable idea of who will win, this race will really come down to the studios' campaigns. It'll be a fun one to watch, so here is a ranking of the 22 fellas hoping to find themselves in the warm embrace of a little gold man in a few months.

Brad Pitt, "By the Sea"
Universal Pictures
If "By the Sea" lands any nominations this year, it will be because the Academy wants Brad and Angelina to show up to the Oscars. And who could blame them! The Pitts are arguably the most glamorous couple in the world. But that's more the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's game. (Never forget that "The Tourist" got three Golden Globe nominations.) As it stands, Pitt's chances for a Best Actor nomination are pretty slim. His performance, while characteristically solid, isn't remarkable enough to overcome the perception of "By the Sea" as a vanity project, or its dismal failure at the box office. - Joe Satran
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "The Walk"
Oh, JGL. You really want an Oscar nomination, huh? We don’t blame you. You’re a talented guy! “The Walk,” however, is not the saunter that will get you there. Robert Zemeckis' dramatization of Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers is a technical marvel so visceral that some viewers reportedly threw up in the theater. Place your bets on a slew of below-the-line nods, but Gordon-Levitt will have to take his cartoonish French accent elsewhere. He might have had an easier time generating attention for playing Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s biopic, but that movie was delayed to 2016, so Gordon-Levitt can just sit down for now because this is not his year. - Matthew Jacobs
John Cusack, "Love & Mercy"
Roadside Attractions
Paul Dano is the real star of “Love & Mercy,” but he’s being pushed for supporting. Don’t sleep on John Cusack, though, because he’s pretty great, too. Dano plays Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson during the making of 1966’s “Pet Sounds,” and Cusack plays him as an addled, over-medicated 1980s shadow of his former self. “Love & Mercy” didn’t have the splashiest of releases, especially for a movie about a beloved rock star, but it has won raves dating back to last fall’s Toronto Film Festival. Roadside Attractions distributed screeners, so we know voters will have a chance to see the film. Perhaps they’ll recognize how fresh it is. The movie inverts many of the music-biopic clichés in favor of a deep dive into the mind of a complicated artist. It helps that Wilson supports the film, too -- these campaign events practically write themselves. - MJ
Andrew Garfield, "99 Homes"
Broad Green Pictures
Andrew Garfield gave one of the year’s best performances and you didn’t even notice. In “99 Homes,” he plays an unemployed handyman who takes a gig working for the corrupt real-estate broker who evicted his family from their home. The drama offers a more humanized microscope of the 2008 housing crisis than “The Big Short,” which opens next month and gives Steve Carell far better Oscar odds for a far inferior performance. Garfield, donning an American accent and starring opposite Laura Dern and Michael Shannon, lends agonizing depth to a guy who sells his soul in order to care for his mother and young son. Broad Green Pictures, which is distributing the film, seems to have more juice behind Shannon in the supporting realm, but if we can throw our weight behind one dark-horse contender, Garfield is it. - MJ
Tom Hardy, "Legend"
Universal Pictures
Tom Hardy loves acting with a handicap. A mask covered his face throughout much of his two highest-profile movies so far, Max in "Mad Max: Fury Road" and Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises." And in "Legend," he plays twin gangsters! That sounds like a surefire awards strategy -- but the Academy has actually been surprisingly nonplussed by dual roles in the past. The only actor to get a nomination for playing twins is Nicholas Cage, for "Adaptation," and he lost to Adrien Brody. The general reaction to "Legend" has been pretty lukewarm, so it's probably a long shot. But don't feel too bad for Hardy. There's a good chance he'll score a Best Supporting Actor nomination for "The Revenant." - JS
Ian McKellen, "Mr. Holmes"
Roadside Attractions
Ian McKellen has never won an Oscar. Not once! That's crazy. Will "Mr. Holmes" change his luck? Probably not. It just hasn't made much of a splash since its July release. That's sort of a shame -- because it's actually an interesting, fresh take on the Sherlock Holmes saga, and McKellen is as good as he's ever been in the lead role. Also, given that Michael Fassbender feels like a lock for a nomination for "Steve Jobs," McKellen's inclusion would mean that two of the five nominated actors would have played Magneto in the "X-Men" movies. Alas. Let's hope this legend gets more juicy parts in years to come. - JS
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Southpaw"
The Weinstein Company
Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Nightcrawler” snub was one of 2015's great Oscar tragedies, and Harvey Weinstein has been milking that sentiment since “Southpaw” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. With Gyllenhaal by his side, Weinstein pledged to secure a nomination for the 34-year-old actor. It probably won’t go Harvey’s way, but Gyllenhall does have a few other carrots in his corner. Because they tend to be triumphant survival stories, the Academy has always appreciated boxing movies, from “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” to “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Fighter.” “Southpaw” exists in the same vein: Gyllenhaal plays a prizefighter struggling to put his career back together after his wife is killed. It’s an impressive performance, and voters get hard-ons when actors change their physiques the way Gyllenhaal bulked up for the role. The hurdle, then? As far as boxing flicks go, “Southpaw” is quite clichéd, and the reviews when it came out in July weren’t too kind to the overall film. There will be a consensus among awards groups that Gyllenhaal has done better work before and will do better work again. - MJ
Tom Courtenay, "45 Years"
Artificial Eye
Who is Tom Courtenay? Great question! The 78-year-old British actor isn't particularly well known on this side of the pond, despite 51 credits to his name. But he has the longest Oscar pedigree of anyone on this list. He got a Supporting Actor nod for "Dr. Zhivago" in 1966, a year before Michael Caine landed a Best Actor nomination for "Alfie." And he was even in contention for Best Actor once before, in 1984. So it wouldn't be hard to build a narrative around him as a hardworking, slightly anonymous actor finally landing the role of a lifetime. Call it the Frank Langella Strategy. "45 Years" is a fairly quiet movie, with a modest budget, but its director, "Looking" creator Andrew Haigh, gives it a certain cool factor. Charlotte Rampling, who plays Courtenay's character's wife in the movie, probably has a better shot than Courtenay, but there's a real chance that they'll both score nominations. They already won Best Actor and Best Actress at this year's Berlin Film Festival. If their awards momentum continues, Courtenay could quickly become a very serious contender. - JS
Abraham Attah, "Beasts of No Nation"
Whereas most studios shy away from bandying child stars as lead performers, Netflix is all in with 15-year-old Abraham Attah, whose gifted work carries “Beasts of No Nation.” Attah plays a West African child soldier, and he holds his own opposite the swagger of Idris Elba’s vicious warlord. Attah captured the emerging-performer prize at the Venice Film Festival, and an Oscar nomination really isn’t impossible: Quvenzhané Wallis and Keisha Castle-Hughes recently earned Best Actress nods at 9 and 13, respectively. “Beasts” tanked at the box office, but we can chalk that up to its joint Netflix release, as Ted Sarandos said the movie attracted 3 million viewers within its first week. The streaming service, making its first bid in the major categories, has a fierce campaign planned, with A-list screenings hosted by the likes of Ben Affleck, Sting and Sally Field. Attah has been front and center, so don’t count him out. - MJ
Géza Röhrig, "Son of Saul"
Sony Pictures Classics
If Géza Röhrig had a campaign song for this year's Oscar race, it would be Katy Perry's "Dark Horse." Cannes Grand Prix winner is the Hungarian actor's first movie, but he's so great as an Auschwitz prisoner that he's managed to insinuate himself in the awards conversation this year. The Academy rarely honors foreign-language projects in the acting categories, but it's not unheard of: The clearest precedent for Röhrig is Roberto Benigni, who piloted his role as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp to a victory in this category in 1999. The main challenge (as with many of the performances in this middle tier) will be getting Oscar voters to see the movie. A nomination for Best Foreign Language Film -- Hungary submitted it as its contender -- would help Röhrig's chances of a win if he lands a nomination, but that's a big "if." - JS
Michael B. Jordan, "Creed"
Warner Bros.
Michael B. Jordan has grown up before our eyes. He first caught our attention in the pilot of "The Wire," when he was the only kid in his posse who knew that Alexander Hamilton was not a president. And he secured a permanent place in our hearts in the finale of "Friday Night Lights," when he told Eric Taylor, "You changed my life, coach." (TBH, I'm getting teary-eyed just remembering that moment.) At 28, Jordan has become one of our most promising actors. He was unjustly snubbed at the Oscars two years ago, when the Academy failed to nominate his stellar performance in "Fruitvale Station," which was directed by Ryan Coogler. But now they have a chance to rectify that mistake: Jordan has teamed up with Coogler again for "Creed," the latest installment, bizarrely, in the Rocky Balboa saga. He plays up-and-coming boxer Adonis Johnson, the son of Rocky's erstwhile rival Apollo Creed. The "Rocky" connection is a mixed blessing. It will surely help fill theaters, raising the profile of the movie. And the original "Rocky" won the Oscar for Best Picture. But some consider that win -- over "Network," "Taxi Driver" and "All the President's Men" -- an embarrassment to the Academy. So voters might be loath to return to that well. Michael B. Jordan certainly feels like a future Oscar winner, but this might not be his year. - JS
Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo"
Bleecker Street
Bryan Cranston is already halfway to an EGOT: He won four Emmy Awards for his indelible performance as Walter White on "Breaking Bad" and a Tony for playing Lyndon Johnson on Broadway. Could "Trumbo" bring him one step closer to the Holy Quartet? Maybe! Cranston plays a real person, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, in the movie, like seven of the last 10 Best Actor winners. And Cranston's acting is great. Duh. But the reviews have been pretty weak, as have the box-office receipts. That's a hard double-whammy to recover from. - JS
Samuel L. Jackson, "The Hateful Eight"
The Weinstein Company
It was long speculated that Samuel L. Jackson would compete in the supporting field, where he's earned the only nomination of his career, for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” Jackson could score his second nod for another Quentin Tarantino picture, the post-Civil War Western “The Hateful Eight.” The movie's only contender in the lead races, he plays a former Union soldier turned bounty hunter. "Eight" is arguably the most-anticipated fall feature not named “Star Wars,” but that may not be all good: The production started as a leaked script and is now clouded by boycott threats from the police unions whose brutality Tarantino has protested. That probably won’t dampen its box-office odds, but, coupled with inevitable N-word tallies and early rumors of misogyny, “The Hateful Eight” will have to rise above its filmmaker’s notorious reputation. Jackson could be just the guy to do it, and awards maestro Harvey Weinstein will surely find a way to spin the controversy to bolster the project's Oscar edge, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the movie collect Tarantino’s requisite screenplay recognition and nothing else. - MJ
Steve Carell, "The Big Short"
Paramount Pictures
Michael Scott earned his serious-actor bona fides with 2014’s Foxcatcher,” which netted him a nomination in this category earlier this year. There was a certain novelty to seeing Steve Carell disappear behind a prosthetic nose and the gait of a deranged multimillionaire’s puffed-up machismo. His stint in “The Big Short,” based on Michael Lewis’ book about the late-2000s financial crisis, is far less showy. The movie was a last-minute addition to the year’s calendar, leaving some prognosticators wondering whether “Short” could be an 11th-hour champion, à la 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby.” Initial reviews out of last week's AFI Fest were positive but tepid, as Adam McKay's documentary-like dramedy can be a tough swallow. Carell can probably rely on a nomination from the Golden Globes, where "Short" will compete as a comedy. But it’s supporting player Ryan Gosling who elicits the most laughs, and amid an A-list cast in a movie that’s more about the logistics of the economic collision than it is the characters, Carell will need to campaign rigorously to make the cutoff. One thing's going for him: There's a plethora of white men in this movie and a plethora of white men in the Academy. - MJ
Michael Caine, "Youth"
Fox Searchlight
Michael Caine is amazing. You know? It's easy to take him for granted, but he nails every scene he's in. He's won two Oscars, so it wouldn't be fair to say that the Academy doesn't appreciate him. But his last nomination was in 2003. We really wish that he'd been nominated for his affecting performance as Alfred in one of the "Dark Knight" movies, but since it's too late for that, we'd happily settle for a nod for "Youth." Caine rocks as retired conductor Fred Ballinger in Paolo Sorrentino's first movie since "The Great Beauty." It may not be the showiest performance of the year, but it's one of the most carefully attenuated and moving. - JS
Will Smith, "Concussion"
Columbia Pictures
Will Smith -- once the Greatest Movie Star in the World -- has been chasing Oscars for a while now. He was nominated for "Ali" back in 2002 and again for 2006's schmaltzy "The Pursuit of Happyness." And "Concussion" may just be his most awards-baity movie yet. He plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the real-life Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovered that playing pro football can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's a more reserved, serious role than most people expect Smith to take on, and he shines in the movie. He even pulls off a decent Nigerian accent. The main issue is that people don't think "Concussion" is very good -- but plenty of actors less well-liked than Smith have managed nominations, and even wins, for mediocre films. - JS
Johnny Depp, "Black Mass"
Warner Bros.
Johnny Depp recently said he never wants to win an Oscar. Does that mean voters will cross his name off their ballots in favor of someone who actually cares? Probably not: Depp dragged himself to last weekend’s Governors Awards, where honorary Oscars are presented. The event doubles as an A-list campaign stop, so perhaps Depp is willing to play the game after all. His performance as notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is unlike any of the manic character parts he’s done since his previous nomination, for 2007’s “Sweeney Todd.” Retreating behind thick makeup (and not the Mad Hatter kind) and alarming powder-blue contact lenses, Depp masters that proverbial goal of disappearing into the role, even if the movie is just OK. He’ll need an amplified media presence to get him over the edge, though. Star power and decent “Black Mass” box office helps, but Depp hasn’t done Oscar-caliber work in years. - MJ
Tom Hanks, "Bridge of Spies"
When Steven Spielberg makes a movie, the Oscars pay attention. The same goes for Tom Hanks, who was left out of the nominations last year for “Captain Phillips,” a far more nuanced role than “Bridge of Spies.” But Spielberg’s Cold War drama, in which Hanks plays an American lawyer negotiating the release of Soviet captives, is the sort of grand, traditional storytelling that now feels like an anomaly in Hollywood. Some critics have called “Spies” Spielberg’s best work since “Saving Private Ryan,” which feels generous (have they seen “Lincoln” or “Catch Me If You Can”?), but it’s not completely misguided. Hanks gives a reliable performance, even if it's more understated than many of his peers'. The movie played well at its New York Film Festival premiere and has performed decently at the box office, which means Hanks could lock up the sixth nomination of his career. - MJ
Matt Damon, "The Martian"
20th Century Fox
Let's start with the bad news. The Academy doesn't often gives awards to performances in sci-fi movies. And it doesn't value Damon's brand of naturalistic acting all that highly. (Though Damon shared an Oscar with Ben Affleck for their "Good Will Hunting" screenplay, he is 0-for-2 in the acting categories.) So the deck is stacked against Damon being nominated for "The Martian." But there's plenty of reason for hope. Hollywood loves a success story, and "The Martian has already netted nearly half a billion dollars worldwide, more than almost any other film in the race. What's more, Damon is on screen alone for much of the movie. With all due respect to the strong supporting cast, it's Damon's charismatic, intelligent performance as Mark Watney that makes the movie work as well as it does. Which is really well! He gets the audience to believe that Watney is in serious peril -- and also that he's capable of saving himself. We'd love to see Damon get some recognition for this one. - JS
Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"
Focus Features
If Eddie Redmayne wins for “The Danish Girl,” he’ll be the first performer to collect two consecutive Academy Awards since Tom Hanks in the ‘90s. That seems unlikely, as the Oscars statistically gravitate toward older gentlemen. (Redmayne is a crisp 33 and he looks more like 27.) Still, his turn as a 1920s painter born into a man’s body and coming to terms with her gender identity is delicate and moving. Redmayne studied with the same movement choreographer who coached his Stephen Hawking physique in “The Theory of Everything,” and it shows in how full-bodied this performance is. Not to mention Redmayne knows how to charm a crowd. He has quickly developed a reputation as a nice guy about town, which goes a long way when courting voters throughout months of campaign stops. He was in fine form during the “Danish Girl” premiere party at September’s Toronto Film Festival, where he worked the room like a pro. He's since done the same in New York and Los Angeles during quick breaks from filming "Harry Potter" prequel "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a movie that landed him a glossy Entertainment Weekly cover. Expect a lot more of that charisma in the coming months. - MJ
Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs"
Universal Pictures
Michael Fassbender kissed lots of babies’ heads to promote 2011’s “Shame,” but he came up empty-handed when the Oscar nominations were announced. He’s since decried awards campaigns, saying he’s “not a politician.” It seems like he’ll have an easy time making the shortlist for his title role as the Apple titan in “Steve Jobs,” but his front-runner status has dwindled somewhat in the wake of the movie’s discouraging box-office reports. “Jobs” -- not to be confused with the dismal 2013 biopic starring Ashton Kutcher -- was pulled from some 2,000 theaters in its third week in wide release. Yikes. But this is an actor’s movie, heightened by a talky Aaron Sorkin script. The Academy’s acting branch will probably take kindly to this resolute performance, which favors a reflective encapsulation of Jobs’ legacy rather than an impersonation of him. - MJ
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
20th Century Fox
Here's the thing about "The Revenant": Nobody's seen it. Alejandro González Iñárritu's epic tale of the American frontier won't be released until Christmas, and it's one of the few Oscar contenders that hasn't yet been screened for critics. So it's possible that DiCaprio's performance as gritty survivalist Hugh Glass is terrible, and that he won't even be a contender come Oscar season. But let's get real. DiCaprio probably won't be terrible. The mature phase of his career, which began in 2002 with "Gangs of New York," has been marked by an almost unprecedented string of memorable roles, three of which ("The Aviator," "Blood Diamond" and "The Wolf of Wall Street") garnered Oscar nominations. Add in DiCaprio's 1994 nomination for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and a Best Picture nomination for "Wolf," and it's hard to escape the conclusion that he's long overdue for a statue. And "The Revenant" looks like the ticket: Michael Keaton nearly won last year for an Iñárritu movie, "Birdman," and DiCaprio has said in interviews that he went to extreme lengths to get into character. Homeboy ate raw bison liver! On camera! In a field that looks slightly less competitive than it has in the past couple years, the Best Actor Oscar is DiCaprio's to lose. - JS

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