This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations. On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy. Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:
WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS. As many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds. Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list. Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman. The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death. Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)
In 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era. The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves. With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer. If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup. Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud. This film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible. A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary. Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor. DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).
4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)
In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians. Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals. It would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part. Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010). However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving. This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film. Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).
5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize. Bruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role. Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy. Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way. In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances. Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).
Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)