Plenty of variety for Oscar voters to choose from in this category, which didn't deviate too far from my own preferences. The only actor who could claim to be snubbed is Daniel Bruhl, who was excellent in Rush. I must admit I'm saddened by it. I thought he was good enough to be nominated back in 2005 for the wonderful German comedy Goodbye, Lenin, and a nomination looked like it was in the cards this time, especially after being up for the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and SAG Award. That said, there is a certain justice to this cruelty, as a nomination for him here would've been blatant category fraud, so let's be happy we skirted that controversy.
Jared Leto's work in Dallas Buyers Club has led the pack all the way this year, dominating the regional critics awards and sweeping the Globe, Critics Choice, and SAG honours. He may have hit a slight speed bump (more like speed dimple) after giving a Globes speech that was a bit odd and rough around the edges. Obviously, he learned to have something more polished prepared in the (very likely) events that he won at the CCMAs and SAG, which of course he did. The only foreseeable obstacle is that he is not nominated for the BAFTA, and with Oscar polls opening just two days before that show, whoever triumphs there might have the opportunity to swoop in and siphon off some votes for himself. Nevertheless, it seems foolish not to predict Leto for the Oscar anyway.
But who does stand the best shot at taking that consolatory BAFTA?
Instinct says it might be Irishman Michael Fassbender winning if 12 Years a Slave sweeps the British awards, as some are anticipating. His is the sort of sociopathic monster performance that would easily have won a few years ago, when this category was being dominated by murderous villains (Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Christoph Waltz). But recent years have shown the Academy leaning towards more likeable characters (played by Christopher Plummer, and... Christoph Waltz, again). Even if 12 Years a Slave ends up winning big with the Academy, I can't imagine them warming up to Fassbender's disquieting depiction of evil. Not even Relph Feinnes could win for his brilliant turn in Schindler's List. Some evil performances just hit too close to home.
Or maybe BAFTA voters will spring for Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (not the correct movie to nominate him for, in my opinion). This is his second Oscar nomination in as many years for a David O. Russell film, and it is certainly a popular film. There's an inkling that a film with four acting nominations is unlikely to lose them all (that only ever happened once in 1952 when Sunset Boulevard went 0/4), so he may win some passion votes from Hustle's most ardent fans, but for the Academy Award it probably won't be enough to surmount Leto.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the truer threat to Leto's triumph is the only one who wasn't up for any of the precursors (including BAFTA): Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street. He campaigned super hard in the late stages of Phase 1, and that certainly paid off, as he has now become one of the most unlikely two-time-Oscar-nominees in recent memory, and for a broadly comic performance, no less. If the surge of support for The Wolf of Wall Street is going to show itself anywhere, this may be its easiest target.
Will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Runner-up: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Should've been nominated: Bradely Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines