The Oscar bout for Best Actor has just begun, and for the only time since 1934, all the nominees could be first-timers

By Nicole Sperling
November 07, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

In another year, Timothy Spall would be a lock for an Oscar nomination. The longtime character actor (he played Wormtail in the Harry Potter films) shines in his leading role as the titular painter in Mr. Turner. Instead, he’s duking it out in a bloody Best Actor brawl. With the exceptions of Bill Murray (St. Vincent), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), and potential spoiler Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), all the contenders this year are vying for their first nod. Leading the pack are Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton for his performance as a former superhero actor in Birdman. But they’ll need to watch their blind sides for Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game). Still unseen are David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and newbie Jack O’Connell’s POW survivor in Unbroken. One thing’s certain: No one’s throwing in the towel.

The Contenders
How the best actor race looks right now

Sure Things
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Serious Threats
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner

Potential Spoilers
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
David Oyelowo, Selma
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper