Could Bruce Dern (‘Nebraska’) upset at Oscars by winning over academy contemporaries?

While much of the Best Actor Oscar discussion has revolved around Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave“), Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“), and Robert Redford (“All is Lost“), Bruce Dern (“Nebraska“) has slowly been rising in the ranks.

The strongest factor  working in his favor: he personifies the academy demographic.

In our experts’ predictions he’s currently in third place (11/2 odds), up from fifth (14/1 odds), where he sat at the beginning of December. Seeming more or less safe for a nomination now – “more or less” because nothing is guaranteed with those wacky Oscars – we have to wonder if he could even win.

I wrote before about whether Redford or Dern could win Best Actor as a de facto lifetime achievement award, as sometimes happens with veteran actors at the Oscars – actors like Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), and Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) finally won their first awards after spending decades in the industry.

But now it looks like Redford is down for the count – he may not even be nominated at the Oscars after snubs from his industry peers at SAG and BAFTA – so Dern might have the veteran vote to himself.

It’s more than just the fact that the academy might want to honor a veteran’s career. Dern is someone the average academy member can relate to. According to the now famous Los Angeles Times study the academy is 94% white, 77% male, and has a median age of 62.

That of course doesn’t mean academy members will vote for someone just because he’s white, male, and elderly, but consider that Dern might also be relatable to voters in another way: most voters of a certain age probably aren’t superstars like Redford or Tom Hanks. Many might be like Dern: coming up during the ’60s and ’70s, working steadily and earning some recognition along the way but never quite becoming a household name.

Now Dern has one of the biggest showcase roles of his career at age 77, and the idea of a late-career surge might be appealing to voters who, in addition to being contemporaries of Dern, love an underdog story that ends in success. That’s part of the appeal of “Nebraska,” which has a late scene in which Dern, as down-on-his-luck Woody Fox, gets a moment to cruise triumphantly through a hometown full of neighbors who had written him off years ago. Dern could get a similar moment accepting Best Actor on the Oscar stage.

Dern has been campaigning heavily this season, attending events, shaking hands, telling stories, graciously heaping praise on his directors and costars, past and present. It’s clear how proud he is of “Nebraska,” and how much he appreciates his moment in the spotlight. Sometimes Hollywood awards come down to who voters want to hug, and he’s miles ahead in that department.

Is Dern a stronger contender than we’re giving him credit for? Predict Best Actor below and discuss his performance and his chances in the comments:

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