After taking home Best Actor honours at Cannes in May, Bruce Dern's hopes of an Oscar nomination are looking increasingly favourable for his career-defining turn in 'Nebraska', in UK cinemas this week.
Last nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1978's 'Coming Home', Dern faces tough competition in a year peppered with against-the-odds stories and Academy favourites. From double Oscar winner Tom Hanks to the welcome 'McConnaissance' of Matthew McConaughey, we take a look at those who could give the 77 year-old a run for his money.
CHRISTIAN BALE (American Hustle):
Oscar winner. Weight loser (and gainer). Method man. Not many names spring to mind quicker than Christian Bale when thinking of commitment to his art. Boasting an impressive cast (Adams! Lawrence! Cooper! Renner! De Niro!), this 2010 Black List script centres around conmen, FBI agents and unpredictable wives. It may sound more 'Sopranos' than Oscar winner, but director David O. Russell is still riding high after 'Silver Linings Playbook's eight nods and the Academy praise an impressive physical transformation - even if Bale did damage his back in the process! Though not as hard-hitting and thought provoking as other offerings in contention, the Brit could just sneak in his fourth nomination for this fictional tale set amidst real life scandal.
BRUCE DERN (Nebraska):
Though Chiwetel Ejiofor and Robert Redford are current favourites to walk away with an Oscar on 2 March, Alexander Payne's black and white road trip is gaining steady steam. Having won Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars for 'Sideways' and 'The Descendants', Payne is definitely in favour with the Academy, but it is his choice of talent over big A-listers that has tongues truly wagging. Though widely considered the role of Dern's lifetime (even by the actor himself), this focus on his co-stars - notably Will Forte's against type, natural turn - will undeniably give his campaign an extra boost.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO (The Wolf Of Wall Street):
Three Oscar nominations and one pair of empty hands; DiCaprio's history with the Academy is so well documented it's spawned a series of tragicomic (but undeniably hilarious) memes. After a decade as Martin Scorsese's muse, their adaptation of Jordan Belfort's book is neatly placed right at the end of this year's biopic-heavy Oscar season. Corruption and excess are themes synonymous with Marty, but don't hedge your bets on Leo squeezing past the frontrunners to gain his fourth nomination in twenty years. However, with Jonah Hill looking set to snatch another Best Supporting nom and trusty editor Thelma Schoonmaker at Scorsese's side, it's safe to put your money on a healthy batch of nominations.
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR (12 Years A Slave):
Making his film debut in Steven Spielberg's 'Amistad', the British actor's career has come somewhat full circle with this tale of slavery serving as the source of his Oscar buzz. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, Ejiofor plays a free man who finds himself abducted and sold into the slave trade. Though he may not have history with the Academy, the actor's critically lauded work on both stage and screen has been recognised by the Golden Globes, Oliviers and the Independent Spirit Awards.
TOM HANKS (Captain Phillips):
Five time Oscar nominee. Two time Oscar winner. Second actor to win back-to-back Oscars. It's fair to say Tom Hanks has form with the Academy. Taking home statues for 'Philadelphia' and 'Forrest Gump' in 1993 and '94 respectively, Paul Greengrass' real life tale of a cargo ship boarded by Somali pirates could just make it a hat trick. But Hanks isn't stopping there. In fact, he looks set to challenge fellow 'Captain Phillips' actor Barkhad Abdi in the Best Supporting category for his role in 'Saving Mr. Banks'. Could it be Oscars number three and four for Hanks come March?
OSCAR ISAAC (Inside Llewyn Davis):
'Drive' lovers Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan once again join forces in this Greenwich-set folk tale. With T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford on musical duties and live performances to boot, the Coens' latest lyrical yarn has been hotly tipped for Oscar glory since its Palme d'Or nomination at Cannes. Leading man Isaac has been gaining a lot of attention on the indie awards circuit, but in a year full of seasoned favourites, he may just have to wait his turn. But, when this is a Coen Brothers production, never say never.
MICHAEL B. JORDAN (Fruitvale Station):
After taking over US television sets in 'The Wire', 'Parenthood' and 'Friday Night Lights', Michael B. Jordan's star is well and truly on the rise. Based on the true story of Oscar Grant and the tragic circumstances that occurred on New Year's Eve 2009, this Weinstein Company backed piece is produced by fellow Best Actor contender, Forest Whitaker. Winning prizes at Cannes and Sundance, Jordan's work in this shocking, raw biopic make him a deserving underdog before continuing his path to the big time with 'Creed' and 'The Fantastic Four'.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY (Dallas Buyers Club):
Impressing in early roles for Steven Spielberg, Richard Linklater and Robert Zemeckis, McConaughey spent the 2000s flirting with subpar romantic comedies. But, thankfully 2011 delivered 'The Lincoln Lawyer', 'Bernie' and 'Killer Joe', setting the Texan back on impressive dramatic track before his acclaimed role as Ron Woodroof in this year's 'Dallas Buyers Club'. The Academy loves a biopic, and, coupled with McConaughey's dramatic physical transformation, they make for a killer combination. Taking home Best Actor at November's Rome Film Festival, McConaughey is a serious contender.
JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Her):
A three-time Oscar nominee falls in love with his new, Siri-esque device to the sounds of Arcade Fire - an Academy match made in heaven? He may not have the Weinstein machine behind him as with last year's 'The Master', but Spike Jonze's latest is gaining extra attention for Scarlett Johansson's super sultry vocal work. Backed by producing wunderkind Megan Ellison, Phoenix may not have Daniel Day-Lewis to contend with this year, but Annapurna Pictures are going to have to work hard if he is to fight it out with the current frontrunners.
ROBERT REDFORD (All Is Lost): Another actor hoping to win a little gold man courtesy of his lost at sea yarn is Robert Redford. He's a four-time nominee, one time winner and 2002 Honorary Academy Award recipient. While Redford's Oscar may have been for directing, not acting, a nomination in January may see this change. J.C. Chandor's 'All Is Lost' sees the sailor - known simply as 'Our Man' - hopelessly stuck out at sea when his yacht is hit by a passing shipping container. With this harrowing, emotional tale of the human condition, Redford is sure to give fellow 77-year-old Dern some tough competition before the race is over.
FOREST WHITAKER (Lee Daniels' The Butler):
One of only eight actors to win an Oscar, BAFTA, Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG award for the same role, Forest Whitaker walked away with 2007's gold man for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. This year he sits at the top of the outsiders for his role as White House butler, Cecil Gaines. Loosely inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, Whitaker's quiet, intelligent and often funny performance is the jewel in Lee Daniels' rather crowded cinematic crown. Academy boxes are ticked due to historical conflict (albeit with a lot of artistic licence) and physical transformation, so there is hope for the Weinsteins' leading man yet.
'Nebraska' is in UK cinemas from Friday 6 December. Watch the trailer below...