Oscars cliffhanger: Can Benedict Cumberbatch pull off another upset?

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays persecuted World War II hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” ranks third in our Oscar predictions for Best Actor, but are we underestimating him? Remember how Cumberbatch recently made fools of award pundits at the Emmys when he pulled off a shocking upset for his role in “Sherlock: His Last Vow.”

Will Benedict Cumberbatch win at Emmys AND Oscars in same year?

Our Oscar odds currently favor a face-off between frontrunner Michael Keaton (“Birdman“) and challenger Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything“). At last August’s Emmys, Cumberbatch was actually way down in fourth place for Best Movie/Miniseries Actor. We gave him 50/1 odds, thinking he couldn’t muscle past what looked like a tight three-way race between “The Normal Heart” star Mark Ruffalo and “Fargo” leading men Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman.

Maybe Cumberbatch expected he would lose, too. Neither he nor co-star Freeman, who ended up winning Movie/Mini Supporting Actor for “Sherlock,” showed up to accept their surprise trophies.

Cumberbatch looks like a reasonably safe bet for an Oscar nomination for “The Imitation Game” at the very least, so he’ll more than likely make the trip to the main event, just in case. But even though surprises are much more common at the Emmys than at the Oscars, where dozens of precursor awards drain much of the suspense, there are reasons for him to be hopeful. His role fits the usual Oscar formulas.

Oscars news: Benedict Cumberbatch on reality of ‘The Imitation Game’

First, he plays a famous real-life figure, which seems like almost a prerequisite these days; seven of the last 10 Best Actor winners played real people, including Sean Penn as another gay icon, slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in “Milk.”

Playing a tragic LGBT figure doesn’t hurt either. In addition to Penn, Tom Hanks won as a man dying of AIDS in “Philadelphia,” and William Hurt won as a gay prisoner shot to death in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Among women, Hilary Swank won Best Actress as murdered transgender man Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry,” while Charlize Theron prevailed for “Monster” as lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was executed for her crimes.

Cumberbatch is also at the height of his career. Like Jennifer Lawrence when she won Best Actress for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cumberbatch is balancing prestige projects like “The Imitation Game” and “12 Years a Slave” with blockbusters like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the “Hobbit” films, and the recently announced Marvel comic book adaptation “Doctor Strange.” Add in that that Emmy-winning role in “Sherlock,” he’s a far more prolific star than most of his competitors.

Do you think Cumberbatch will surprise at the Oscars the way he did at the Emmys? Use our drag-and-drop menu to make your Best Actor predictions, 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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