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.


American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club





12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

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.


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.




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


Sally Hawkins — Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence

American Hustle

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.


Alfonso Cuaron — Gravity


American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

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.



12 Years a Slave

Before Midnight

Captain Phillips


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.


12 Years a Slave



The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine


The Wind Rises

Disney's biggest hit in years is a lock.



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 MIXING: Inside Llewyn Davis could eke out a win over Gravity, but probably not.

VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity and it's not even close.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.

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