If there’s one race this Oscar season that bears watching closely it’s best actor. Ridiculously over-crowded, we could actually easily fill this category two or three times over. This is a year where, in the case of the leading men, they have all come to play and some truly deserving performances not only might not make it to the finish line, they are in danger of not even making it to the starting line. The field is that strong and is topped by a pair of actors who stand a real chance at grabbing their third Oscar, but nothing is certain, especially in a late-breaking group brimming with career-best turns. Here’s a rundown of the contenders and their current place in the race.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Twice a best actor Oscar winner for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007), Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln, one of the most recognizable figures in world history. There are all sorts of landmines he had to avoid, and some have even criticized the vocal choices he made (this is not the Disneyland version of Lincoln), but Day-Lewis nails it like he belongs on that $5 bill and certainly earns as least a share of frontrunner status here.

Related: OSCARS: Handicapping Lead Actress Race

Denzel Washington, Flight
Washington is another two-time winner (Glory, Training Day) but might have topped even those roles with a bravura turn as a troubled drug- and alcohol-addicted pilot who becomes a media hero just as his own demons threaten to do him in. Playing drunk has always been a ticket to the Oscars, but Washington manages to add a strong human element in a riveting performance certain to gain the attention of his fellow actors. (more…)