The 86th Academy Awards ceremony is coming up this Sunday, March 2, and we’re hoping it won’t be a total snooze. Ideally, we could have taken a few more risks in our predictions, but too many races feel like near-locks, or battles between two longshot front-runners. We’d love to be surprised, but we also like to be right, so in cases where there is an overriding front-runner, we’re going with the obvious choice. Things might be different if we had money riding on our Oscar predictions, but we’re just playing for bragging rights. And the predicted Academy Award winners are….
The nominees: “American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Philomena,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her,” “Captain Phillips,” “Nebraska,” “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”
Might Win: “American Hustle”
Want To Win: “Her”
Among the nine Best Picture nominees, there are only three likely possibilities – “12 Years A Slave,” “American Hustle,” or “Gravity,” though I am not alone in keeping my fingers crossed for a dramatic upset by “Her.” Eight of the nominees scored over a 90 percent favorability rating on Rotten Tomatoes – with “Wolf of Wall Street” pulling up the rear at a very modest 77 percent. “Gravity” slightly edged out “12 Years” with a 97 percent to the latter’s 96 percent; “Her” and “Dallas Buyers Club” are tied for third at 94 percent. Alas, the Oscars are not chosen by professional film critics – many of whom were seduced enough by visual and technical mastery in "Gravity" that they were able to overlook a flat and very hokey script. I suspect (hope) that the Academy won’t be as forgiving in the Best Picture category, and instead give “Gravity” an honor in directing and/or cinematography.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Might Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Want to Win: Joaquin Phoenix, “Her” (who was not nominated)
My slight hesitancy in choosing McConaughey over Ejiofor is the likelihood that Jared Leto will win Best Supporting Actor, which will mean that “Dallas Buyers Club” wins both Lead Actor awards but (probably) nothing else. McConaughey clearly wants it more than any of the other nominees, and has been campaigning hard. While on the one hand we could argue that Academy members who vote for him here might as well be voting for his performance in “True Detective” – a series that could not have been better timed to promote his talent – on the other hand we could also argue that his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” doesn’t hold a candle to what he does with Rust Cohle. That said, we’re giving him the edge. The McConnaisance is an unstoppable force of nature, and McConaughey’s acceptance speech is bound to be a highlight of the ceremony.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
The nominees: Sandra Bullock, “Gravity;” Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine;” Amy Adams, “American Hustle,” Judi Dench, “Philomena;” Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County.”
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Might Win: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Want to Win: Dame Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Kind of a no-brainer, though an Adams upset wouldn’t be a huge shock. I’m dying to see how Blanchett handles Woody Allen-gate in her speech. She has to thank her director, and she can’t completely ignore the controversy – or can she?
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The nominees: Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave;” Jonah Hill, “Wolf of Wall Street;” Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club;” Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips;” Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle.”
Will Win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Might Win: Michael Fassbender or Barkhad Abdi
Want to Win: Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Leto’s chances are almost as good as Anne Hathaway’s were last year, even if Fassbender might be ever so slightly more deserving. While it’s easy to imagine that the crusty old Academy will balk at giving the top honor to an actor in a transgender role, we have to remember that William Hurt won an Oscar in 1985 for his portrayal of a gay transvestite in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” And women in transgender roles have seen numerous nominations and multiple wins through the years. Let’s just hope that Leto doesn’t screw up his acceptance speech as he did at the Golden Globes.
Best Actress In A Supporting Role
The nominees: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle;” June Squibb, “Nebraska;” Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County;” Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine;” Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave.”
Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o
Might Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Want to Win: Anyone but Julia Roberts
Until recently, it looked like Lawrence might have had a bit of an edge here, but Nyong’o’s red carpet dominance coupled with a touch of collective J-Law fatigue appear to have turned things around, as far as prognostications are concerned. As has been said repeatedly, does the Academy really want to make Lawrence a two-time Oscar winner before she’s 25? Is she really *that* good? More importantly, does she even want it? It sure doesn’t seem like it – she has hardly been campaigning, and didn’t even show up to accept her BAFTA. Never mind that Nyong’o’s role was far more demanding than Lawrence’s; though for my money, J-Law’s “American Hustle” performance was far and away better than her Oscar-winning role in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
The nominees: David O. Russell, “American Hustle;” Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity;” Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave;” Alexander Payne, “Nebraska;’ Martin Scorsese, “Wolf of Wall Street.”
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Might Win: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Want to Win: Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
If it were up to me, “Gravity” wouldn’t have a real shot at anything but a Best Cinematography Oscar. But it is not up to me, and prognosticators more experienced than I am are betting on a Cuaron win here. If he loses, it will likely be to Steve McQueen, who brought a distinctive visual artistry to “12 Years a Slave” that we rarely see in historical epics. I’d be happy to see McQueen take it home, and I’d be thrilled with an upset by Alexander Payne – especially since the magnificent “Nebraska” may not have a chance in any other category.
Best Documentary Feature
The nominees: “The Act of Killing,” “Cutie and the Boxer,” “Dirty Wars," “The Square,” “20 Feet From Stardom”
Will Win: “20 Feet From Stardom”
Might Win: “The Act of Killing”
Want to Win: “The Act of Killing”
Two of the year’s best documentaries – “Blackfish” and “Stories We Tell” – weren’t nominated, so any prediction here is tinged with some bitterness. I wouldn’t be surprised if either “20 Feet from Stardom” or “The Act of Killing” won, but the former seems to have the most momentum. A possible dark horse is “The Square.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
The nominees: “Philomena,” “Before Midnight,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips,” “Wolf of Wall Street”
Will Win: “12 Years A Slave”
Might Win: “Philomena”
Want to Win: “12 Years A Slave”
A win for “12 Years a Slave” here isn’t quite a lock, but it’s damn near close. If it doesn’t win this category, it will likely be due to multiple wins in other areas.
Best Original Screenplay
The nominees: “American Hustle,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Her,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska”
Will Win: “Her”
Might Win: “American Hustle”
Want to Win: “Her”
I am not sure how I feel about the fact that a win for Best Original Screenplay is the only real shot “Her” has of winning an Oscar – when the screenplay itself is the only area where you can find any real quibble with the movie. Sure, the central premise was as fetching as can be and largely well-executed, but there are too many holes and too many questions unanswered. What happens when the people who have written and received Theodore Twombly’s ghostwritten love letters see those same letters in his book? What do the OS’s have in store (if anything) for humanity? Why didn’t we see any of the characters in a car – in Los Angeles? Why are the waistlines of the men’s pants so damn high? We could go on. But still, we’ll take what we can get.
The nominees: “The Grandmaster,” Philippe Le Sourd; “Gravity,” Emmanuel Lubezki; “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Bruno Delbonnel; “Nebraska,” Phedon Papamichael; “Prisoners,” Roger A. Deakins
Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”
Might Win: Phillipe Le Sourd, “The Grandmaster”
Want To Win: Lubezki or Phedon Papamichael, “Nebrasksa”
“Gravity” absolutely deserves to win one Oscar and one Oscar only, for Emmanuel Lubezski’s masterful cinematography. We feel quite confident that justice will be served in this category. And if it’s not, we’d love for “Nebraska” to get the upset.
*You may or may not have noticed that we did not predict a win for “American Hustle” in any of the above categories. We certainly didn’t plan on shutting it out of our prognostications altogether; it’s just the way it happened. I’ll admit that I’m a little uncomfortable with this omission, but not enough to revise any individual picks. And we didn’t offer predictions in every category; just the ones we feel equipped to. “American Hustle” is nominated in several categories not listed here, and we certainly don’t think it will leave the Oscars completely empty-handed.
The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, will air Sunday, March 2, on ABC starting at 8 p.m.