Best Actor 2014: Oscar contenders include Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a hundred times: the Best Actor Oscar race is crowded this year. And that’s really putting it lightly. The amount of contenders that would be shoo-ins in any other year is unfortunate, really, because someone is going to come up with the short straw, and it won’t be pretty.

The roles are as varied as ever, con artists and bandits, leaders and slaves, heroes and everymen. The actors behind the work represent a brilliant cross-section of the industry, ages ranging from 16 to 77, legends rubbing elbows with up-and-comers.

Also notable is the prevalence of minority hopefuls. There’s a real opportunity for the Academy to break down a few barriers, but even if those ideals aren’t met, the line-up is sure to be filled out with top-tier work because the good news is, many of these performances absolutely deserve to be in the conversation.

Have a look at the gallery story below to read up on the 26 names we think are in the pool, and feel free to give us your thoughts on this year’s Best Actor race in the comments section.