In competitive years for Best Actor surprising results have often emerged. When Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt was up against Daniel Day Lewis for Gangs of New York, Michael Caine for the Quiet American and Nicolas Cage for Adaptation, Adrien Brody won for The Pianist. In 2011, when George Clooney for The Descendants was up against Brad Pitt for Moneyball, Demian Bichir for A Better Life, and Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Jean DuJardin won for The Artist. When Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters was up against Nick Nolte for Affliction, Tom Hanks for Saving Private Ryan, Edward Norton for American History X, Roberto Benigni won for Life is Beautiful. Best Actor, or any acting category for that matter, can often be dominated by one name that wins everything before heading into the race. Daniel Day Lewis was that actor last year for Lincoln. It was clear he would win early on and he had no real competition. But this year it doesn’t seem so clear cut. There are so many formidable contenders who might not even get nominated. Just picking five names right now to get in seems impossible. Picking a winner, even more so. Right now, there are six names for five slots and they are: Chiwetel Ejiofor for his heart-wrenching turn in 12 Years a Slave also seems unbeatable. Matthew McConaughey‘s heartbreaking portrayal of a homophobe turned AIDS activist in Dallas Buyers Club Robert Redford in All is Lost, his best performance, capping off a multi-decade, successful career as both actor and director. Tom Hanks is earning strong praise for his acting in Captain Phillips. Bruce Dern stays in lead for Nebraska I don’t see how they pass him up for his portrayal as an aging man struggling with dementia. Forest Whitaker for The Butler, also one of the standouts of the year. That’s six. Following quickly behind would be Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis and Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station. Leo’s out for Wolf of Wall Street and so is Steve Carell, that only leaves Christian Bale for American Hustle to wait for. Some of my pals on Twitter think Forest Whitaker could be out because he’s won before. That might also count against Tom Hanks, who’s won twice. THe rest of the names have never won Oscars for acting. Bruce Dern’s only been nominated once, in supporting. Redford has been nominated once. Ejiofor and McConaughey haven’t ever been nominated. So that could somehow tip the balance in the race. Finding a winner, though, is tough. There isn’t an Adrien Brody in the bunch because that would ordinarily be Ejiofor but since he’s being touted as the frontrunner he can’t be Brody. I suppose Dern would be the dark horse in that sense. There is no DuJardin, at least not yet, and there certainly is no Roberto Benigni. However the race turns it looks like one of those years where anything could happen.