Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée's fact-based...

Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée's fact-based drama, "Dallas Buyers Club." Credit: Focus Features

Two of the most famous nominees in this year's best actor category, Bruce Dern and Leonardo DiCaprio, have never won an Oscar. That's somewhat surprising, given DiCaprio's megastardom and Dern's nearly 65-year career. Nevertheless, this may not be either man's year. Another well-known but overlooked actor seems likely to bring it home.

THE ACTOR Christian Bale, "American Hustle"

THE DEAL Just last year, we saw him as both a lean brawler in "Out of the Furnace" and as a paunchy con-man in "American Hustle." Apparently, Oscar voters preferred the latter incarnation.

THE ACTOR Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"

THE DEAL Rave reviews for his performance as a harmless old codger -- an unusual role for the legendarily intense actor -- set the groundwork for Dern's all-out, unabashed, yeah-I-want-it campaign for the Oscar. If nothing else, he's suddenly a magazine-profile celebrity at the ripe age of 77.

THE ACTOR Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

THE DEAL DiCaprio seems drawn to larger-than-life roles -- J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Jay Gatsby -- but he showed a flair for comedy and even sight-gag slapstick in this drug-fueled crime comedy from Martin Scorsese. Oscar voters took notice.

THE ACTOR Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"

THE DEAL The movie is a front-runner for best picture, and Ejiofor deserves this nomination for playing the real-life figure of Solomon Northup, a free black man sold into slavery. As a lesser-known face delivering an interior-driven performance, however, Ejiofor seems a long shot for the Oscar.

THE ACTOR Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

THE DEAL Losing a third of his body weight to play an AIDS victim, the hunky Texan seemed to reach some kind of acting nirvana in this compelling, real-life drama. His win at the Golden Globes boosted McConaughey's fortunes considerably. Once the deserving contender, he's now the man to beat.

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