This column originally ran Thursday.
With no real clarity from the usually reliable guild contests and critics awards, the best picture race is one of the most unpredictable in years. Considering the preferential Oscar voting system, it is not probable there will be a winner on the first ballot because it’s unlikely any film in this great year for films will be able to muster more than 50% of the first-place votes required. The second choice on those best picture ballots could end up being the most important. The top three contenders—12 Years A Slave, American Hustle and Gravity—are in a real dog fight, which means a dark horse like The Wolf Of Wall Street, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club or Nebraska could sneak in if a true three-way split occurs, although I don’t think that scenario is too likely. Never say never though. In 1981 for example no one was expecting a small British film called Chariots Of Fire to sneak in and take Best Picture but indeed it did. The last huge upset in the Picture race was probably Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2005 but judging from voter interviews that year I saw a tidal wave of last minute support. This year I don’t get that. There are lots of opinions out there and it looks like the Academy is just going to have to find that “consensus ” movie, one that definitely won’t be everyone’s first choice to be sure.
Here are my final predictions for all 24 categories, but if you choose to use this for your office pool, please don’t blame me if you get them all wrong. A lot of these are simply coin flips: Gravity vs. Captain Phillips in Editing and Sound; Leo vs Matthew in Best Actor; Her vs American Hustle in Original Screenplay. And just about anything goes in Best Picture. What a year. It seems we’ll all be on the edge of our seats when that last envelope is finally opened on Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre. Here’s my handicap on the way the races might go beginning with a film-by-film rundown on the uber- competitive Best Picture race.
With a director who’s been on a real roll, American Hustle was expected to be an instant major player when it opened in mid-December. It didn’t disappoint and has gone on to be David O. Russell’s most successful film at the box office, a fact that won’t hurt its chances when it comes to voters. With three best picture nominations in the last four years for his films, Russell might be in the Academy’s sights, and this one, with a masterful blend of comedy and drama, could be the ticket.
With six nominations, including the big one, this true-life thriller certainly has its supporters. But when the directors branch shockingly made Greengrass the odd man out and the actors branch bypassed Tom Hanks in what is considered his best performance in years, all bets were off. Those omissions made this an instant dark horse. Recent guild wins at the WGA and the ACE Eddies have helped revive its momentum, but it will take a lot more to pull off a win here.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Dallas Buyers Club’s compelling story of its circuitous 20-year journey just to get to the screen is the stuff of which underdog winners are made. Everyone likes a happy ending, and this micro-budgeted film that only allowed for shooting with available light is on track to win a few Oscars for its stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, and maybe even more. Best picture is still a very big long shot, but miracles have happened before. Could it come in for a Crash landing?
A smash worldwide hit that became the highest-grossing original live-action film of the year, Gravity also has been applauded for its human drama, despite being a sci-fi pic. With a tie for best picture at the PGAs, a ton of BAFTA awards and a convincing win at the DGAs, it still seems dogged by its genre. No sci-fi film has ever been able to transcend the genre and win best picture. Can this beat the odds? It’s conceivable, but Gravity might not have enough gravitas for the Academy’s highbrow tastes.
Easily the quirkiest film of the nine nominees, Spike Jonze’s clever love story for our age about a man and his operating system just might be too out-there for some older Oscar voters, who had a hard time just adapting to online voting much less accepting a premise of love at first megabyte. Still, the movie has a lot of fans, but probably not enough to carry the day much beyond the original screenplay category, where its “originality” cannot be denied.
No question, Alexander Payne is an Academy favorite. His humanist films, such as Sideways and The Descendants, have been in this category before and even won him two writing Oscars, but they always have been overwhelmed in the final vote for picture. Black-and-white movies about plain old folks don’t always have the ingredients for what the Academy considers a Best Picture these days, and that’s a shame. It might just be too “small” to overcome fierce competition.
The Weinstein Co.’s little English film—a true-life story about a woman searching for the son she had to give up for adoption—has connected with Oscar voters in a big way. But with no directing nomination for Stephen Frears, it starts out behind in the race for best picture. Can simply loving a movie with heart and heartbreak be enough to pull off a huge upset? Harvey Weinstein’s campaign is based on that premise, and it would be foolhardy to count him out completely.
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Since the fall fests, Fox Searchlight’s true drama about a free black man sold into slavery has been regarded as the one to beat. After stumbling in a couple of early critics contests, it recovered with picture wins at the Globes, CCMAs and PGAs (where it tied with Gravity) and then at BAFTA where it came through in the end. Will the Academy award it or will those who feel the film was too brutal hold it back? “Important” films have always done well in this category and of all the contenders, 12 Years meets that criteria best. It also presents the Academy with an historic opportunity.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Martin Scorsese’s controversial look at the rise and fall of a Wall Street player almost didn’t make the race as the director tried to trim the film to three hours before its release. It not only made the date and earned five key Oscar nominations, it has become his most successful movie at the boxoffice. Still, there seem to be just as many in the Academy who resisted the film as those who fervently loved it. Could it sneak in if the frontrunners split the vote? It’s possible, not likely.
The Winner: GRAVITY ( but it looks like a photo finish with Hustle and 12 Years on equal footing in this race. I’m torn folks)
Cannes Best Actor winner Bruce Dern, at 77, would be the oldest to win in this category, and he gives a career-capping performance. Chiwetel Ejiofor was heartbreaking in 12 Years a Slave, but he’s been overlooked a lot this season until that BAFTA win. Christian Bale likely is running in the back of the pack. This seems to be a race between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey, who coincidentally shared a memorable scene together in The Wolf Of Wall Street. DiCaprio—who won comedy prizes at the Globes and CCMAs and was probably too late for serious SAG consideration—has gotten a huge awards push but a BAFTA win was needed and he didn’t get it. McConaughey is this year’s golden boy, and his wins at SAG, the Globes and CCMAs cement the impression that it’s his time for an Oscar.
The Winner: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Christian Bale American Hustle ;Bruce Dern Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf Of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years A Slave.
Ever since Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine came out in August, this has been Cate Blanchett’s Oscar to lose. Even a reprised Allen scandal can’t tarnish this one for her. Though Amy Adams, in her first time in the lead actress race after four supporting nominations, is an attractive alternative, she will probably have to wait one more year. Sandra Bullock was brilliant in Gravity, but it’s a genre that never rewards actors. And Meryl Streep did everything she could in August: Osage County, which was enough to guarantee an incredible 18th nomination, but she just won her third Oscar two years ago.
The Winner: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
The Competition: Amy Adams American Hustle; Sandra Bullock Gravity; Judi Dench Philomena; Meryl Streep August: Osage County
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
In a category that often honors veterans, the nominee list has a surprising number of fresh faces. Of the five, only Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill have previous noms. Jared Leto, one of the first-timers, has won just about every critics group award as well as honors from the Globes, CCMAs and SAG. Heartbreaking in his first film role in six years, Leto is the clear frontrunner, but Cooper provides some daunting competition and Abdi actually took the BAFTA in this category (Leto was not nominated).
The Winner: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
The Competition: Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave;
Jonah Hill The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Supporting actress usually honors newcomers, so 12 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o had better get her speech ready. Ever since she burst on the screen at the film’s first showing in Telluride, people have been screaming “Oscar”; for now, she’s made do with SAG and CCMA awards. But then out of the blue came another astonishing performance from Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, which garnered her the Globe and NY Film Critics awards and then a win at BAFTA. Could 84-year-old June Squibb sneak in and upset them all for her hilarious role in Nebraska? And then there’s August Osage County’s Julia Roberts, who is better than she has been in years. I’m just not sure but have made the switch from Nyong’o's heartbreaker of a role to Lawrence for a second consecutive Oscar win. Call me crazy.
The Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
The Competition: Lupita Nyong’o 12 Years a Slave; Sally Hawkins Blue Jasmine; Julia Roberts August: Osage County; June Squibb Nebraska
No matter which way the best picture winds blow, there’s no question Alfonso Cuaron has this one in the bag. The technical achievement that carried this emotional story made Gravity an astonishing film. In a category that also includes Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne and David O. Russell, it seems nuts to call anyone a shoo-in. But even against 12 Years a Slave’s Steve McQueen, this is DGA-, Globe- CCMA and BAFTA winner Cuaron’s to lose.
The Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
The Competition: Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave; Alexander Payne Nebraska; David O. Russell American Hustle; Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
No one has emerged as a clear frontrunner in this category based on the precursor awards. John Ridley’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiography was a daunting challenge, and Ridley did a masterful job bringing it to the screen for a contemporary audience. Billy Ray won the WGA award for Captain Phillips, and that can be a strong indicator except that neither 12 Years nor Philomena (which won at BAFTA) were eligible under the WGA’s strict rules. And because Phillips, largely a directorial showcase, beat The Wolf Of Wall Street at WGA, it doesn’t give Wolf scribe Terence Winter much hope here. The Academy might want to honor the trio from Before Midnight for successfully carrying out a story of a relationship over the course of two decades, but it’s the only screenplay nominee without a best picture nom. Despite a lack of previous wins, 12 Years is probably the one to beat but don’t count out Philomena in an upset.
The Winner: John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
The Competition: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope Philomena; Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke Before Midnight ; Billy Ray Captain Phillips; Terence Winter The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Even though David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s terrific American Hustle lost to Spike Jonze’s inventive Her at the Globes, the CCMAs and WGAs, all is not lost. Hustle picked up steam at the BAFTAs (where Her was not nominated). This is still a contest, as many Academy members seem to prefer Hustle to the more out-there tone of Her which certainly is the definition of “original ” screenplay if they take it literally.
The Winner: David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle
The Competition: Woody Allen Blue Jasmine; Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack Dallas Buyers Club; Spike Jonze Her; Bob Nelson Nebraska
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Denmark’s The Hunt, from director Thomas Vinterberg, and Paulo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty have the most heat, but a sleeper could be in the wings with Belgium’s well-liked Broken Circle Breakdown .Voting is open to all Academy members for the first time and DVD screeners were sent to the membership. Watching these films on the small screen could favor a quieter more intimate drama like The Hunt over the sweeping visuals of The Great Beauty
The Winner: The Hunt
The Competition: Broken Circle Breakdown Belgium ;The Great Beauty Italy; The Missing Picture Cambodia; Omar Palestine
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Frozen, Disney’s triumphant return to animated musicals, has run away with all the key prizes from the Globes to CCMAs to the PGAs to the Annies. Nearing $1 billion at the global boxoffice with much life left, and with a number-one soundtrack and a new singalong theatrical version, Frozen is sizzling hot. Two other blockbusters, DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods and Universal’s Despicable Me 2, have enjoyed impressive campaigning from their distributors, but it’s unlikely to stop Frozen’s momentum.
The Winner: Frozen
The Competition: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, The Wind Rises
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
In this strong bunch, the most politically urgent film is Netflix’s first-ever nominee, The Square. There is great respect, however, for Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing, which is weird and remarkable in every way. These films have lots of supporters but not on the scale of the heaven-sent musical showcase, 20 Feet From Stardom, which details the lives of backup singers. Music-oriented docs rarely get nominated, but Searching For Sugar Man actually won last year, and that could be the start of a trend.
The Winner: 20 Feet From Stardom
The Competition: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The stunning sets and art direction from The Great Gatsby’s two-time Oscar winner Catherine Martin (Moulin Rouge) and Beverley Dunn should own this category. It was a winner at the Art Directors Guild Awards, but Her and Gravity also won in their respective categories, so don’t count them out.
The Winner: The Great Gatsby
The Competition: American Hustle, Gravity. Her, 12 Years A Slave
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin’s superior work is the frontrunner, although the 1970s creations of Michael Wilkinson for American Hustle are equally deserving. Patricia Norris took the Costume Design Guild’s honor but she has never won an Oscar and is an icon among costume designers. In this case the entire Academy votes and they will be more impressed with…
The Winner: The Great Gatsby
The Competition: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years A Slave
Anything but ASC and BAFTA winner Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning and visionary work for Gravity would be a shock here.
The Winner: Gravity
BEST FILM EDITING
Until ACE gave Christopher Rouse the Eddie for Captain Phillips, I would have sworn this statuette had already been engraved for Gravity. But honoring Rouse’s work here would be good for a film that was unfairly snubbed for its director and star.
The Winner: Captain Phillips
The Competition: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The hair and makeup team’s entire budget for Dallas Buyers Club reportedly wasn’t even enough to cover their nominees Adruitha Lee’s and Robin Mathews’ limo ride to attend the Oscars. Bad Grandpa deserves the win, but I don’t think the Academy has the nerve to make a Jackass movie an Oscar winning film.
The Winner: Dallas Buyers Club
The Competition: The Lone Ranger, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
Any one of the five nominees could pull off a victory here. On a hunch, I will say this is where the Academy might reward six-time nominee Alexandre Desplat’s lilting Philomena. The Academy owes 11- time nominee Thomas Newman some sort of bauble and his work on Saving Mr. Banks would be a nice place to start but that was the Disney film’s only nomination in a category that includes three Best Picture nominees and yet another nod for 49 time nominee and 5 time winning icon John Williams (The Book Thief). Best Picture juggernaut Gravity from Steven Price is the front-runner here but I have a hunch that it’s…
The Winner: Philomena
The Competition: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Saving Mr. Banks
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Bono and U2 took the Globe for their beautiful poem to Nelson Mandela called “Ordinary Love,” but Disney’s Frozen anthem, “Let It Go,” just might be starting a movement. Pharrell Williams’ snappy “Happy” is also getting added heat but…
The Winner: Let It Go from Frozen
The Competition: ”Happy” from Despicable Me 2, “The Moon Song” from Her, “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
BEST SOUND EDITING
Gravity nails it. But Captain Phillips and Lone Survivor shouldn’t be counted out, especially the latter as war films always do well in this category.
The Winner: Gravity
The Competition: All Is Lost, Captain Phillips, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Lone Survivor
BEST SOUND MIXING
Again, this should go to Gravity, but Captain Phillips and Lone Survivor are strong competition. If Gravity loses in these categories it could be a very long night for the space epic just as it was for another breakthrough 3D masterpiece, Avatar a few years ago.
The Winner: Gravity
The Competition: Captain Phillips, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Easily Gravity. You’re kidding, right? You mean there are four other nominees in this category???
The Winner: Gravity
The Competition: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
The Lady In Number 6 covers subjects the Academy often honors in this category: aging and Holocaust survivors. How can it lose? The subject of the film , Alice Herz Sommer passed away Sunday at the age of 110. It should be an emotional moment.
The Winner: The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life
The Competition: CaveDigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, Prison Terminal: The Last Days Of Private Jack Hall
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Get A Horse! is an inventive 3D toon , and the best film Mickey Mouse has been in since Fantasia. It’s also the first animated Disney film solely directed by a woman, Lauren MacMullan. Room On The Broom and Mr. Hublot provide rich delights and could have won in any other year.
The Winner: Get A Horse!
The Competition: Feral, Mr. Hublot, Possessions, Room on the Broom
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
The clear jewel here is Denmark’s touching Helium, about a hospital worker and a dying boy. All the contenders are from other countries outside of the U.S. and only one , Britain’s The Voorman Problem is in English. That might give it an advantage but it’s Helium that has the heart.
The Winner: Helium
The Competition: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?), The Voorman Problem
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.