The Oscars, Earth's most grandiose employee recognition awards, airs Sunday at 8:30 pm on ABC (preceded by 90 minutes of inane interviews and fashion chatter from the red carpet). Here's a look at the races.
Lot of fine movies here. My favorite is Her, Spike Jonze's funny, sweet and thought-provoking love story. The film looks at how we relate now, with mobile devices allowing us to compose our thoughts from a safe distance, and speculates on how we will relate in a few years when the first self-aware computer-operating system goes on sale. Alas, Her will not win Best Picture. Some found it too talky and others refused to even watch the movie, believing any story involving a person falling in love with a computer to be too ridiculous to warrant a look. Such a shame.
Her isn't the only nominee that doesn't have a prayer with the voters. You can count out Nebraska (too small and quirky) and Philomena (charming, but minor). Forget about Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips too, as both films are regarded more as actor's vehicles. The Wolf of Wall Street won't win because it's raunchy and some believe it glorifies bad people.
American Hustle is a dark horse contender. It's showy and has a well-liked acting ensemble (remember, the bulk of the voters are actors). Gravity has a real shot. It's a visually dazzling film that manages to pack an emotional punch as well. But I'm guessing it will be rewarded in other categories, while 12 Years a Slave takes the top prize. It's an important film that feels like an important film. It's British and Oscar voters looove Brits. Plus, the Academy has long been criticized for under-representing black artists and a win for 12 Years means the show will close with a stage filled with mostly black faces from a prestigious film.
SHOULD WIN: Her
WILL WIN: 12 Years a Slave
Christian Bale — American Hustle
Bruce Dern — Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio — The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor — 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey — Dallas Buyers Club
For months I was sure Chiwetel Ejiofor had this locked up. He is so powerful in 12 Years a Slave — appropriately restrained given his character's nightmarish circumstances, while superbly utilizing those remarkably expressive eyes. But the momentum is now with Matthew McConaughey for his stunning work in Dallas Buyers Club. How good is he? He lost 30-40 pounds for the role and after a few minutes you don't even think about the weight loss. Since 2011 McConaughey has been on a career-redefining streak with films like The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, Killer Joe and Mud. His work in Dallas Buyers Club is perhaps his best yet and he will be rewarded Sunday.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN: Matthew McConaughey
Amy Adams — American Hustle
Cate Blanchett — Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock — Gravity
Judi Dench — Philomena
Meryl Streep — August: Osage County
In the first sentence of my Blue Jasmine review last summer, I predicted Cate Blanchett would receive a Best Actress nomination for her performance as a woman reeling after her husband's arrest for Bernie Madoff-level financial chicanery. The other fine performers in this category have been touted as dark horse contenders, but that's just fancy dancing from journalists trying to keep things lively. Blanchett has this award sewed up.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN: Cate Blanchett
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi — Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper — American Hustle
Michael Fassbender — 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill — The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto — Dallas Buyers Club
Barkhad Abdi — the lead pirate in Captain Phillips — deserves the award. He makes his character terrifying while somehow still remaining sympathetic. And it was his first acting job! I would be delighted to hear his name called, but it's not going to happen. Jared Leto is going to win for Dallas Buyers Club. He's been winning this category in other award festivities for months now and will do it again this weekend.
SHOULD WIN: Barkhad Abdi
WILL WIN: Jared Leto
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins — Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence —
Lupita Nyong'o — 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts —
August: Osage County
June Squibb — Nebraska
The prize will be won by either Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle or Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave. Lawrence steals scenes with her bracing performance, while Nyong'o makes you ache for her character. Since Lawrence won Best Actress last year, I'm betting voters will opt for Nyong'o. But it's going to be close.
SHOULD WIN: Jennifer Lawrence, just barely
WILL WIN: Lupita Nyong'o, just barely
Steve McQueen — 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell — American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron — Gravity
Alexander Payne — Nebraska
Martin Scorsese — The Wolf of Wall Street
It's a race between Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. My guess is that Cuaron will take the trophy for his groundbreaking work. The award will make a nice consolation prize as well, since 12 Years is going to win Best Picture.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN:
Alfonso Cuaron — Gravity
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Dallas Buyers Club
If Her is to be rewarded, this is the category. Spike Jonze's screenplay for his visionary film is rich and rewarding. I look at the other nominees and can't imagine any of them getting more votes than Her, which puts the "original" back in Original Screenplay.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN: Her
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Before Midnight is impressive and the collaboration between filmmaker Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy might take the prize, but John Ridley's adaptation of Solomon Northup's 12 Years a Slave will likely resonate more with voters.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN:
12 Years a Slave
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
Disney's biggest hit in years is a lock.
SHOULD WIN/WILL WIN: Frozen
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The seamless mix of live action and computer animation will lead to a Gravity win.
COSTUME DESIGN: The 1920's outfits of The Great Gatsby will beat the groovy excess of American Hustle.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: The Act of Killing is as mesmerizing as it is horrifying. It's by far the best of the two nominees screened in Indianapolis.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Haven't seen any of them, but The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life is about a 109-year-old piano-playing Holocaust survivor, so ...
FILM EDITING: Gravity gets the nod because it flowed so realistically.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Italy's The Great Beauty is the favorite. The dark horse is Denmark's The Hunt, which opens locally soon.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Can Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger beat Dallas Buyers Club? Only if there are a lot of wise-ass voters.
ORIGINAL SCORE: Gravity vs. Disney's Frozen — too close to call.
ORIGINAL SONG: Let It Go from Frozen.
PRODUCTION DESIGN: I'd vote for the futuristic Her, but The Great Gatsby's opulence will win.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM: My favorite is Possessions, but the steam-punky Mr. Hublot has the best chance of beating Disney's Get a Horse!, which screened theatrically before Frozen.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: I'm rooting for the harrowing Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), but the child soldier story Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me) will likely win.
SOUND EDITING: Gravity
SOUND MIXING: Inside Llewyn Davis could eke out a win over Gravity, but probably not.
VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity and it's not even close.