2. Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years A Slave
This is the other contender in the field that I see as a "for sure" lock. While there has been a perceivable backlash against the film since it was crowned "THE MOVIE TO BEAT!" post-Toronto, including some very bizarre criticism (such as scolding it for not telling the story of the "right" kind of slave), the fact remains 12 Years a Slave will be a major Oscar contender. It's true the film has not yet dominated the precursor circuit as some were predicting it to, but it has garnered at least partial mention from every critics group thus far, and I can't imagine the backlash growing to the point where Chiwetel Ejiofor some how misses out on a Best Actor nomination altogether(because at that point, the backlash against the backlash would kick in). Regardless of all the day-to-day fickleness in the Oscar season, 12 Years a Slave has many passionate admirers, and at the very center of the film is the lead performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film is the story of Solomon Northup's unbelievable journey and as an audience, we constantly see the events of the film through his eyes. This puts the burden of the movie's work on the shoulders of Ejiofor, who not only owns this challenge, but exceeds it. While it's true that Northup as presented in the film is a bit of a cypher, the emotion bubbling below the surface is always beautifully expressed through Ejiofor's eyes. He may not say all he's thinking, but Ejiofor's performance never muddles where Solomon's head is at. You can never say never of course, but unless 12 Years a Slave monumentally underwhelms at this year's Oscars, I think you can count Ejiofor as a Best Actor nominee.