Here's how I would line up the nominees. In descending order:
Tie, Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club," and Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave."
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Christian Bale, "American Hustle"
Five top-shelf performances here, although I would have bumped Bale to fit in Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips," Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station" and Robert Redford in "All Is Lost." I know, too many. But it was a good year for actors.
I get why McConaughey is the favorite, since he is not only excellent but is demonstrating that entertaining actors can also have epic moves. Still, Ejiofor. another actor who has worked a lot and is due, was remarkable in "12 Years": I'd give him an award based only on the spiritual-singing scene.
Bruce Dern's nomination is well deserved, but in this category his win would be largely a sentimental vote by the academy. DiCaprio was flashy, and Bale was intriguing; still, they're not on the level of other contenders in this category.