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The greatest Best Actor race? Where does this year's class rank in Oscar history?

This year’s Best Actor race is shaping up to be one of the greatest of all time. And by greatest, I mean both the most competitive and also the most outstanding, in the sense that each nominee is excellent — hypothetical winners in almost any other year. They also reflect the depth of superb male performances in 2013. Consider: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Joaquin Phoneix (Her), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) all missed the cut.

EW’s Owen Gleiberman recently analyzed this year’s Best Actor race, calling it the most “fiercely, thrillingly white-hot competitive” race in memory. Matthew McConaughey is the presumed front-runner for his transformative performance as an HIV patient in Dallas Buyers Club. He’s won most of the pre-Oscar prizes, and the media is still enamored with the McConaissance that has him tackling challenging projects after more than a decade of playing shirtless dudes. Chiwetel Ejiofor breaks your heart as Solomon Northup in the epic 12 Years a Slave, an unforgettable movie experience that depends almost entirely on his graceful performance. Leonardo DiCaprio — who’s never won an Oscar despite being Hollywood’s most famous face for 15 years — is making a strong late push for his performance as a crooked financier on The Wolf of Wall Street. Bruce Dern would become the oldest Best Actor winner if he takes home the prize for his stoic role in Nebraska as an aging man who sets out to collect his dubious sweepstakes winnings. And Christian Bale, an Oscar winner who is likely on the short list of greatest working actors in their prime, is the so-called long-shot for his amazing performance as a 1970s scam artist who gets in over his head with crooked pols and the FBI. It truly is a murderer’s row: three glamorous Hollywood leading man in the prime of their careers, one old-timer conjuring up screen magic to remind audiences of his greatness, and one completely mesmerizing performance from an English actor who finally received the leading role that was equal to his obvious talents.

So is this the greatest “class” of Best Actor nominees in history? And if not, where does it rank? Today, on Sirius radio, EW’s Darren Franich, Lanford Beard, and I nominated the best Best Actor races in Oscar history. Darren selected 1968, the year Rod Steiger took home the trophy for In the Heat of the Night, edging Warren Beatty (Bonnie & Clyde), Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke), and Spencer Tracy (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner). Lanford chose 2006, the year Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote, with Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) in the mix.

Click below for one guy’s top 10 all-time Best Actor races, with the main criteria being iconic performances and legendary actors. Feel free to disagree in the comments. READ FULL STORY

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