From the start of the season, 2005 Best Actor champ Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") dominated this race for his performance as the title character in "The Master." However, in recent weeks support has shifted to 1993 champ Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive"). Now 66, Jones is a standout in "Lincoln," as the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and is the pick of most of our Experts (see latest odds here).
Does Hoffman even belong in this category? After all, he and co-star Joaquin Phoenix shared the Best Actor prize at the Venice filmfest. By positioning Hoffman here, the hope is that he won't siphon off votes from Phoenix who is contending in the lead category. And he is a formidable contender, with far more screen time than any of his rivals.
Dropping down to supporting worked for Benicio del Toro in 2000, after he won the SAG Award for his performance in "Traffic." Likewise, 2002 champ Chris Cooper could have easily contended in lead for "Adaptation"
Robert DeNiro ("The Silver Linings Playbook") won this award in 1974 for "The Godfather, Part II." DeNiro, who also claimed Best Actor in 1980 for "Raging Bull," reaped the last of his six Oscar bids in 1991 ("Cape Fear"). (Track changing odds in this race by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.)
The academy has often feted veteran actors with this prize as a sort of lifetime achievement honor. Just last year, Christopher Plummer became the oldest winner, at age 82, for "Beginners." Another old-timer who won this race was Alan Arkin, who prevailed in 2006 for "Little Miss Sunshine." Now, at age 78, he could contend again for "Argo."
Looking for his first Oscar is Leonardo DiCaprio who lost his first Oscar race ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") to Jones back in 1993. Since then, he has had two Best Actor bids ("The Aviator," 2004; "Blood Diamond," 2006). This supporting award can be a consolation prize for a performer who hasn't won in lead (e.g., Michael Caine for "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Cider House Rules"; Robin Williams for "Good Will Hunting")