Will win/should win:
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Role: Levee, a mercurial musician who refuses to accept the limitations society hands him.
In his favor: He's extraordinary in the film (and its real star). He has run the table in preliminary awards. He made "Rainey" while ill with cancer, telling no one. This is the last chance to honor a stunning talent.
Then again: Even Tom Hanks couldn't break into this strong field. It's easy to imagine any of them winning.
"Sound of Metal"
Role: Rock drummer Ruben, who refuses to accept that his hearing is shot.
In his favor: Ahmed dominates the movie, with most of "Metal" taking place in Ruben's head. It's an intensely vulnerable part and the actor, whose peers gave him an Emmy for "The Night Of," aces it.
Then again: Think of him as Serena Williams to Chadwick Boseman's Naomi Osaka. Great, but the competition has a little more.
Role: A man (named Andre in the play version but renamed Anthony in the movie, ahem) grapples with memory loss.
In his favor: A nominee last year for "The Two Popes," he's esteemed by his peers and his title role is a flashy one that calls for Mr. "Silence of the Lambs" to feel all the feels.
Then again: In many a year, this performance would be a slam-dunk for a Henry Fonda-style career-capping trophy, but this field is too strong.
Role: Herman Mankiewicz, who won an Oscar for co-writing "Citizen Kane" but some say was slighted by colleague Orson Welles.
In his favor: Never underestimate Oscar voters' love for a movie about themselves, especially one that says they deserve more attention than they already get.
Then again: He won three years ago and affection for "Mank" is strong, but is the performance that special?
Role: Jacob, who hauls his Korean-American family to Arkansas for a chance to fulfill his dreams.
In his favor: The movie has become a standard-bearer for the types of stories that Hollywood hasn't been telling, and Yeun's quiet performance anchors the poignant drama.
Then again: His flashy, mysterious role in 2018's "Burning" is the sort that could have won an Oscar, but this reflective one may be too quiet.
Missed the cut
"Da 5 Bloods"
Role: Paul, a Vietnam vet who wears a MAGA hat and suffers from PTSD.
Why he had a chance: He took the New York critics' award for this performance, he has surprises up his sleeve (wait, he's English?) and he has given a long list of fine performances, many as a member of Spike Lee's loose acting company.
Then again: "Da 5 Bloods" is an ensemble film, which limits his screen time.