Top 8 Oscars underdogs: Ralph Fiennes, Miles Teller, Kristen Stewart, …

After a December of critics’ awards and nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Critics’ Choice, a lot of Oscar categories that were wide open seem to have slammed shut, with most slots spoken for and only a small number of plausible candidates still fighting for the remaining seats. Is there any room left to maneuver for the underdogs?

Oscars outrage: What movies and performers are being unjustly ignored?

Yes, if last year is any indication. Remember that Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine“) was nominated for Best Supporting Actress despite being snubbed by Critics’ Choice and the SAG Awards. And Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street“) earned a Supporting Actor bid after missing out on bids at all major precursor events.

Such surprises usually happen when an underestimated cast member emerges from a film we already knew was a contender. For instance, “Silver Linings Playbook” was a top Oscar player in 2012, so we knew voters were watching it. We just didn’t expect them to like supporting player Jacki Weaver so much. Ditto Maggie Gyllenhaal, who snuck into the Oscar race in 2009 for “Crazy Heart,” likely riding the wave of support for eventual Best Actor-winner Jeff Bridges.

Below, eight performers on the fringes of their races whose names might still be called on Jan. 15.

Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel
“Grand Budapest” has exceeded expectations this year, earning Best Picture and Best Director (Wes Anderson) nominations from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice. That’s good news for Fiennes, who has 100/1 odds despite himself being nominated at both events for his uncharacteristically comic performance. Would you believe he hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since “The English Patient” in 1996?

Gold Derby Oscar MVP: Miles Teller bleeds for awards attention in ‘Whiplash

Miles Teller, “Whiplash
Most of the early attention for “Whiplash” has been lavished on Supporting Actor frontrunner J.K. Simmons, but over time the film has become a bona fide Best Picture contender, which indicates strong overall support. None of that has yet rubbed off on leading man Teller, but it still might given the film’s acclaim.

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night
After making a strong showing at early-December critics’ awards (including a Best Actress win from the New York Film Critics Circle), her momentum stalled when she was snubbed at the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, but she’s had another recent surge with a win at the European Film Awards and a Best Actress nod at Critics’ Choice. Despite those gains, she gets 100/1 odds in our predictions, but don’t count her out.

Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, and Carmen Ejogo, “Selma
Like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Selma” got a late start in the Oscar race, so late that it was snubbed entirely at the SAG Awards. But since then It has made appearances at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, earning nominations at both events for Best Picture, Best Director (Ava DuVernay), and Best Actor (David Oyelowo).

Carmen Ejogo on playing Coretta Scott King for second time in ‘Selma’ [Exclusive Video]

The supporting cast has been overlooked thus far, but they could yet pick off a few rivals as the industry catches up with the film. We can be confident academy members will be watching their performances, since the film is receiving major Best Picture buzz, and we know how much voters love actors playing real people: Wilkinson, Roth, and Ejogo deliver noteworthy performances as President Lyndon Johnson, racist Alabama governor George Wallace, and civil rights figure Coretta Scott King, respectively.

Kristen Stewart, “Still Alice
Scoff if you will at the idea of the academy recognizing the Razzie-winning star of the “Twilight” films, but the 24-year-old actress has established impressive industry cred for an actor her age, starring in mainstream hits (“Twilight,” “Snow White and the Huntsman“) and admired indies (“Adventureland,” “Into the Wild”) and working with notable filmmakers like David Fincher and Olivier Assayas.

She has the most prominent and emotional supporting role in “Still Alice,” playing the daughter of Julianne Moore‘s title character, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Like the aforementioned Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” Moore is the heavy favorite to win a lead-acting Oscar, so we know academy members will watch the film, which means like Gyllenhaal, Stewart could capitalize.

Naomi Watts, “Birdman” or “St. Vincent
Because she received a surprise SAG nomination for Best Supporting Actress for “St. Vincent,” we must consider her a serious Oscar contender for her against-type comic performance in that film as an Eastern European stripper, but I suspect she actually has a better shot for “Birdman,” which is a stronger awards contender overall and for which three of her co-stars (Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone) are already likely nominees; Watts’s scenes as an insecure actress making her Broadway debut are showy – full of humor and tears.

Gold Derby Oscar MVP: Don’t overlook Rene Russo in ‘Nightcrawler

Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler
The dark drama about local-news corruption in Los Angeles surprised by making AFI’s list of the best films of the year, and it surprised again at Critics’ Choice with a nomination for Best Picture. With the film steadily growing in stature this awards season, the academy might take the opportunity to recognize Russo, who has never been nominated before, for her role as a desperate news producer who may have to compromise herself for the sake of her job.

Will any of the above actors be nominated? Use our drag-and-drop menu to predict Best Actor, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar categories, as well as Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and more.

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