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Let the Oscar race begin! EW's PrizeFighter analyzes the Best Actor race

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Prize Fighter
Liam Daniel; Albert Watson/A.M.P.A.S.; Jack Englis

It’s only natural to begin our four-month Oscar discussion with what’s sure to be the most contentious race of all: the Best Actor category. Though it’s only November, this is already one crowded arena, filled with performances that span continents, explore disease, and wrestle with failure. And unfortunately, the race can’t hold them all.

This year’s contenders are likely to be a crop of Oscar virgins: performers, regardless of age, who haven’t yet been to the Academy stage or even landed close by. They include the veterans (Michael Keaton as an actor looking for redemption in Birdman; Timothy Spall as British painter J.M.W. Turner in Mr. Turner), the newbies (Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything), and the journeymen, such as Benedict Cumberbatch as code breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Steve Carell as eccentric billionaire John DuPont in Foxcatcher.

Only a few possible nominees have done the rounds before, including Bill Murray as St. Vincent’s not-so-saintly neighbor and Jake Gyllenhaal as the demented nighttime news hound in Nightcrawler.

If you want to lay money down today on sure things, go with Redmayne and Keaton. Carell, with his prosthetic nose and wheezy cadence, is also likely to make the cut, as is Cumberbatch for his layered portrayal of Turing, the WWII hero persecuted for his homosexuality.

It’s the fifth slot that’s filled with so many possibilities. Who nabs it—Spall, Gyllenhaal or Murray? Or will it be one of three actors from three films that have yet to screen? Could newbie Jack O’Connell get the nom for his portrayal of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken? Does Oyelowo have a chance as Martin Luther King in Selma? Or will Cooper land a nomination for the third time in three years for his role as Navy S.E.A.L Chris Kyle in American Sniper, from Academy favorite Clint Eastwood? One thing’s for sure: No one’s going down without a fight.