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'Unbroken' could stir Oscar acting pot

Jack O'Connell and Miyavi could jump into Oscar acting races for 'Unbroken'

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 Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Emma Thompson as lock-solid nominees, and their fine work went ignored. Although there aren't any late-arriving acting showcases like "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" this season, you might want to become acquainted with these two names: Jack O'Connell and Miyavi, who anchor director Angelina Jolie's sweeping epic, "Unbroken."

An early look at the four acting races:

LEAD ACTOR

Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Michael Keaton, "Birdman"

Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"

David Oyelowo, "Selma"

Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"

Prime contenders: Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"; Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"; Jake Gyllenhaal, "Nightcrawler"; Ralph Fiennes, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"; Matthew McConaughey, "Interstellar"

Bubbling under: Bill Murray, "St. Vincent"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Inherent Vice"; Chadwick Boseman, "Get On Up"; Channing Tatum, "Foxcatcher"; Ellar Coltrane, "Boyhood"; Ben Affleck, "Gone Girl"; Miles Teller, "Whiplash"; Oscar Isaac, "A Most Violent Year"; Brendan Gleeson, "Calvary"

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' "Inside Llewyn Davis." It's a low-key turn that brings to mind Al Pacino's intense work in "The Godfather." In other words: brilliant.

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.

LEAD ACTRESS

Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"

Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"

Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"

Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"

Amy Adams, "Big Eyes"

Prime contenders: Shailene Woodley, "The Fault in Our Stars"; Hilary Swank, "The Homesman"; Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"

Bubbling under: Jessica Chastain, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"; Lindsay Duncan, "Le Week-End"; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Belle"; Anne Hathaway, "Interstellar"; Jenny Slate, "Obvious Child"; Keira Knightley, "Begin Again"

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 Oscars for their careers and not the role in question, so it wouldn't be unusual to see Moore land her first Academy Award for what is essentially a well-acted TV movie. But there are plenty of other options, including, yes, Woodley, who effortlessly puts across her cancer-stricken heroine's goofy gallows humor, raw-edged wit and despairing nihilism in the commercial hit "The Fault in Our Stars."

SUPPORTING ACTOR

J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"

Edward Norton, "Birdman"

Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"

Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"

Robert Duvall, "The Judge"

Prime contenders: Tom Wilkinson, "Selma"; Josh Brolin, "Inherent Vice"; Logan Lerman, "Fury"; Tyler Perry, "Gone Girl"

Bubbling under: Christoph Waltz, "Big Eyes"; John Goodman, "The Gambler"; Tim Roth, "Selma"; Neil Patrick Harris, "Gone Girl"; Martin Short, "Inherent Vice"

Not yet seen: Miyavi, "Unbroken"; Johnny Depp, "Into the Woods"

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."

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"

Laura Dern, "Wild"

Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"

Emma Stone, "Birdman"

Vanessa Redgrave, "Foxcatcher"

Prime contenders: Carrie Coon, "Gone Girl"; Jessica Chastain, "Interstellar"; Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"

Bubbling under: Carmen Ejogo, "Selma"; Rene Russo, "Nightcrawler"; Tilda Swinton, "Snowpiercer"; Lorraine Toussaint, "Selma"; Kristen Stewart, "Still Alice"; Katherine Waterston, "Inherent Vice"; Sienna Miller, "American Sniper"

Not yet seen: Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"

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!

Twitter: @GlennWhipp

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