Conventional wisdom would tell you the Oscar acting races are, for the most part, all but settled. And we haven't even carved the Thanksgiving turkey! But then, last November's conventional wisdom had
An early look at the four acting races:
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Bubbling under: Bill Murray, "St. Vincent";
Not yet seen: Jack O'Connell, "Unbroken"
For your consideration: Playing a (mostly) moral businessman trying to keep his hands clean in "A Most Violent Year," Isaac delivers a performance every bit as good — and wholly different — as his work as the uncompromising folk singer in the Coens'
Analysis: This category is always crowded, but this year ... wow. When immensely likable performances from Murray and Boseman have to fight hard for attention and Tatum's only chance for a turn at the podium will come as a member of the "Foxcatcher" ensemble (thank you, Gothams!), you know the house is full. When nominations arrive in January, people will talk of snubs. But when the choices are this plentiful, hurt feelings are inevitable.
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Amy Adams, "Big Eyes"
Bubbling under: Jessica Chastain, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby";
Not yet seen: Emily Blunt, "Into the Woods"
For your consideration: Slate, "Obvious Child." Comic actors always have a difficult time with the academy, so it's going to be especially tough sledding for Slate, seeing as how she's starring in a romantic comedy centered on an abortion. But Slate is so funny and emotionally open as a self-involved New Yorker in this survivor's tale that it's hard to imagine anyone forgetting her once they've seen the film.
Analysis: Actors sometimes win
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Not yet seen: Miyavi, "Unbroken";
For your consideration: Perry, "Gone Girl." C'mon. You knew the guy had comic acting chops from all those "Madea" movies, right? No? Well, surely you're aware now that you've seen Perry playing a slick attorney who makes his $100,000 retainer seem like a bargain. Perry's line delivery summing up the Dunnes' marriage at the end of the film can't be repeated and shouldn't be forgotten.
Analysis: Simmons' bullying music instructor is really a co-lead in "Whiplash," giving him a juicy role and a big advantage in this category. Norton and Ruffalo seem solid bets, and the underrated Hawke will hopefully join them, though many voters may ding him, thinking he's merely playing a version of himself in "Boyhood." (OK, Hawke did come up with the track list for the solo Beatles "Black Album," but he should be celebrated for that!) The fifth slot has no shortage of applicants. At this early date, we'll go with the legend — Duvall — as we know plenty of academy members who love his fearless turn in "The Judge."
Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Vanessa Redgrave, "Foxcatcher"
Prime contenders: Carrie Coon, "Gone Girl"; Jessica Chastain, "Interstellar"; Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"
Not yet seen:
For your consideration: Russo has won career-best reviews for her work in "Nightcrawler." Playing an L.A. news director desperate enough to hire Gyllenhaal's wacko, freelance cameraman to boost her station's ratings, Russo taps into an aching vulnerability, particularly during that showcase, six-minute Mexican dinner scene.
Analysis: Does anyone have to see Streep as the Witch in "Into the Woods" to know that her 19th Oscar nomination is in hand? Probably not. But Arquette, who, like Simmons, has a meatier part than her competitors, is the standout in this category. Has there been a better movie mom? Outside of the character's unfortunate choice of men, I mean. No!