The best actor race is certainly whittling down. A week ago there were several promising candidates such as John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Albert Brooks and Eddie Redmayne who are safe to take out of the running. I suppose that should count Dwight Henry out of contention as well as he should have received notice before now for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
There are eight actors who pose a threat on Oscar night. Matthew McConaughey has taken a hit after missing out on the Globes, somewhere he should have done well. However he is experiencing quite the career comeback and has been noticed by several critics groups. Leonardo DiCaprio received a bump from the Globe nomination, however he has not been showing up much. Although the frontrunner to win early in the race he will only get noticed if AMPAS notices Django. The actor that also, surprisingly, has a shot is Javier Bardem for his role as a Bond villain. Both he and Dench had received some notice from critics, but his SAG nomination should be taken seriously. This may be the Academy's way of acknowledging Bond's anniversary and a type of supporting performance they too often ignore (in my opinion blockbusters have some of the best supporting performances).
Meaning that my predicted five are Christoph Waltz, Alan Arkin, Robert DeNiro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones. All of these are associated with best picture contenders and are scene stealers. This is a category that could surprise easily because I would not say that anyone is a lock to win. Jones seemed like a lock a month ago, but I am not as sure right now, Hoffman or DeNiro could too. Even Waltz isn't out of the question. The most interesting thing is that all of these five have won in the past.
If you are looking to bet money on somebody, take the safe bet and go with Tommy Lee Jones. But definitely watch this category closely, because it could change in the coming weeks.