Celebrity The Race Is On! See Who's Earning Oscar Buzz Who will snag a Best Actor or Actress nomination on Jan. 15? We're betting on some of these superstars (Reese, Gugu and Eddie, you listening?) By Tom Gliatto and Kate Hogan Published on December 4, 2014 09:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos 01 of 20 AMY ADAMS, BIG EYES The Weinstein Company Over the past few years, Adams has grown from one of the movies' most adorable actresses to one of their most impressive and versatile. The only constant from role to role are those eyes, which are large, clear, penetrating and illuminating. Eyes are especially important in Tim Burton's account of the bizarre career and life of artist Margaret Keane. For years Keane churned out paintings that were instantly recognized as classics of kitsch culture – saucer-eyed portraits, usually of limp, sad children – but she let her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), sign his name to the canvasses. Why did Keane hand her artistic soul and freedom to this monster, who manipulated, dominated and terrified her? What makes Adams so good here, and so fascinating, is that Keane's spine is never in doubt. That makes it all the more upsetting that she lets it be bent so far back. 02 of 20 BEN AFFLECK, GONE GIRL Merrick Morton It isn't easy to play the "bad" guy, but Affleck does it oh so well in this adaptation of Gillian Flynn's hit novel. His handsome face is just right for the role of Nick Dunne, the husband of a missing woman (Rosamund Pike) who doesn't earn any sympathy from the media or the public as the search to find her wears on. Hard to say if that infamous nude scene will help or hurt his chances, but it's obvious the actor is committing himself to these stoic roles, à la 2012's Argo. 03 of 20 JENNIFER ANISTON, CAKE Cinelou Considering that her last two roles were a stripper (We're the Millers) and a sex-obsessed dentist (Horrible Bosses 2), it's pretty amazing to see what Aniston does in Cake as chronic pain sufferer (and painkiller addict) Claire Bennett. The actress went on a transformative journey for this film, and admitted she had a hard – though enjoyable – time making her character endearing. Even without a bit of makeup or her usual glam, Aniston won't let us take our eyes off her. 04 of 20 STEVE CARELL, FOXCATCHER Sony Pictures Classics The lovable star of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin went to a very dark place to play the rich, powerful and seriously demented John du Pont, who died while in prison for the murder of Olympic wrestler David Schultz. Du Pont had welcomed Schultz and his brother, Mark, to a deluxe wrestling camp on the family estate, but seems to have been delusional about nearly everything, including coaching. The movie portrays him as a disturbing mind-meld of crackpot grandeur and repressed homosexuality. Carell plays du Pont as a hideous, oversized baby and wears a large, false nose that makes him look like Penguin dressed down for the weekend. Creep of the year. 05 of 20 BRADLEY COOPER, AMERICAN SNIPER Warner Bros Cooper is unflinching as Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper at the center of Clint Eastwood's harrowing war epic. Backing up American troops as they go on raids and street patrols in Iraq, Kyle becomes legendary among his comrades as a pinpoint sniper who takes down assassins before they can fire a first shot. Back home, though, he obsesses about the brothers he has left behind unprotected in the Middle East, and his steely resolve to return to battle exasperates his wife, who begs him to stay stateside and raise his kids. Tough but tortured, Cooper captures the cool complexity of a bona fide war hero. 06 of 20 MARION COTILLARD, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT The buzz that began at Cannes grew even more fervent at the New York Film Festival, as Cotillard's dark turn in Two Days, One Night left critics on both sides of the Atlantic raving. Directed by indie darlings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days tells the story of Sandra, a wife and mother in the grips of depression who suffers through a grueling and oppressive daily routine. Already an Oscar winner for 2007's La Vie en Rose, Cotillard is an awards frontrunner to be reckoned with. On Dec. 1, the New York Film Critics Circle was the first group to bestow her with a 2014 Best Actress award (for both Two Days, One Night and the period drama The Immigrant). 07 of 20 BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, THE IMITATION GAME The Weinstein Company Cumberbatch can do anything – Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek villain, Tolkien dragon. But this acclaimed biography of Alan Turing, the visionary British mathematician who helped break the Nazi's "Enigma" code in World War II, is an actor's dream, and Cumberbatch makes it reality. This Turing is too brilliant to "read" the code of acceptable society correctly, and yet he also has to figure out how to disguise his (at the time, criminal) homosexuality. Cumberbatch's Turing is unblinkingly courageous, every inch the genius, wryly funny and, finally, tragic. 08 of 20 JAKE GYLLENHAAL, NIGHTCRAWLER Chuck Zlotnick He's the no. 2 creep of the year, behind Carell in Foxcatcher – but so much more fun. Gyllenhaal, playing scraggly, lank-haired loner Louis Bloom, who stumbles into his dream job as a news-video chaser, is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Bloom's solution is simply to hack away at that hole with any sharp instrument he can find. He commits fraud, blackmail and worse (much worse) to control the bottom-feeding crowd that helps fill out the evening news. Bloom, in short, is the worst human imaginable, but Gyllenhaal gives him a feverish sincerity and drive that somehow make him delightful company. 09 of 20 OSCAR ISAAC, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR A24 This uncommonly intense actor, who generated awards speculation last year as a failed folk singer in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, has kicked up even stronger buzz with his surprise win from the National Board of Review (he shared the prize with Birdman's Michael Keaton). He plays an immigrant businessman trying, against increasingly desperate odds, to keep his fuel-oil company going in New York City, 1981 – the city's deadliest year on record. 10 of 20 FELICITY JONES, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING Focus Features As physicist Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne may be the brains behind James Marsh's The Theory of Everything, but Jones is the heart and the pulse. She plays Jane Wilde with a wisdom and intensity that rival that of her on-screen husband, and it is ultimately she who not only holds the relationship together when disastrous medical news is delivered but helps Stephen enjoy some of his happiest days as husband, father and best-selling author. Sweet, sincere and always razor-sharp, Jones all but steals the show, elevating a biopic into a larger vision of love conquering all. 11 of 20 MICHAEL KEATON, BIRDMAN 20th Century Fox As much as Birdman is a story about a tense theater production, a broken family or the current state of blockbuster cinema, it is a portrait of a man coming unhinged. That man is Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a onetime superhero movie star who has fallen on rough times, now adapting/directing a story for Broadway in hopes of reenergizing his career. The only hitch: His lead actor is arrogant and out of control, the town's top critic is out to kill the show and he endures daily hallucinations, where he chats with his mean Birdman alter ego. It's surreal, occasionally silly stuff, and Michael Keaton chews the scenery like a natural. 12 of 20 GUGU MBATHA-RAW, BELLE 20th Century Fox Though also earning accolades for her turn as a pop star in Beyond the Lights, British beauty Mbatha-Raw stunned earlier this year in under-the-radar period piece Belle, in which she played the mixed-race daughter of a West Indian slave and a British aristocrat. Taken in by her aunt and uncle, she leads an almost normal life; however, she still has to take a backseat to the rich whites around her. The actress tackles the tricky role with grace – and spirit. 13 of 20 MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, INTERSTELLAR Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros After last year's Dallas Buyers Club, did anyone consider that McConaughey might go for Oscar gold again? Apparently he did. In Interstellar the actor toed the line between action star and admirable dad, conjuring all sorts of emotions in between. Though the chances of winning a Best Actor Oscar in back-to-back years are likely slim, why couldn't someone as charismatic and multi-dimensional as McConaughey make it happen? 14 of 20 JULIANNE MOORE,STILL ALICE Prospero Pictures Moore's Alice is a woman in free fall, a Columbia University professor and cognitive psychologist who suddenly finds herself battling early onset Alzheimer's disease and grappling with the rapid erosion of her short-term memory. As the film presents the condition from the victim's point of view, Moore underplays her part and sideswipes audiences with the horror of one's life evaporating in front of her eyes. Huge ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival suggest a strong Oscar campaign. 15 of 20 JACK O'CONNELL, UNBROKEN Universal Imagine being asked to play Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner and World War II vet who survived a near-fatal plane crash and 47 days adrift in a life raft thereafter – only to be caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Then imagine that your director is Angelina Jolie. Those are the hurdles O'Connell, not yet a household name, faced when working on Unbroken. But he earned props from his teacher and the subject (who passed away in July at age 97), as well as a Hollywood Film Award. 16 of 20 DAVID OYELOWO, SELMA Paramount Best known for his fiery turn in The Butler, the British actor reteams with producer and costar Oprah Winfrey for a powerful new take on Martin Luther King Jr. that shows the man behind the icon – his brilliant political strategy, his sly humor, his tender regrets over a marriage stretched to the breaking point, and his profound worries about the future: his own, his family's and his movement's. 17 of 20 ROSAMUND PIKE,GONE GIRL 20th Century Fox Director David Fincher awarded one of the year's most coveted movie roles to a relatively unknown British actress who had been building a modest career playing other types of girls: a Bond vixen (Die Another Day) and a petty crook's attractively dim moll (An Education). Pike is as beautiful as any other star in Hollywood, but she's hard to pin down as a personality, and that makes her perfect as Amy Dunne, the elusive (and missing) heroine of this intense thriller about a marriage run aground on some very sharp rocks. The movie's underlying and then overriding nastiness could work against it in awards season, but Pike's performance will be hard to deny. 18 of 20 EDDIE REDMAYNE, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING Universal Pictures There's not much to say about Redmayne's incredible performance as Theory's Stephen Hawking that hasn't yet been said. In fact, the ALS-stricken scientist himself praised the young British actor's work in the film, and reportedly cried when watching it for the first time. Redmayne picks up his mannerisms perfectly, and gives the man the heart he deserves. 19 of 20 REESE WITHERSPOON, WILD Reese Witherspoon. Anne Marie Fox Witherspoon won an Oscar as June Carter Cash in 2005's Walk the Line, and now has a strong shot at a nomination playing another true-life person: She's Cheryl Strayed, who undertook an intrepid, sometimes foolhardy hike across 1,000 miles of trail and by the end had found the meaning of life. Her own life, anyway. The role calls for flinty strength, small but deep wells of vulnerability and redemption without sentimentality – qualities all within in the Witherspoon wheelhouse. 20 of 20 SHAILENE WOODLEY, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS Everett The Fault in Our Stars was one of the year's great weepies – and that's almost exclusively thanks to Woodley. Effortlessly wooing our hearts before breaking them, she played Hazel Grace Lancaster with a natural grace and determination, a 16-year-old girl who has already been battling cancer for years when she meets the handsome Augustus (Ansel Elgort) at a weekly support group meeting. In a romance all but doomed from the start, Woodley transcends the subject matter's despair and gives us one of the year's great young heroines.