Predictions, photo gallery: Picking winners in a wide-open Oscar race
In the world of Oscar prognostication, this year's Academy Awards are considered "wide open" in that there are at least a few categories where there's an outside chance that a favorite in a major category could get knocked off by a fast-rising contender.
The up-and-down assessments for the 86th Academy Awards to be handed out Sunday at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre are mostly focused on the three films that earned the most nominations: "American Hustle" (10), "Gravity" (10) and "12 Years a Slave" (nine).
It's been the perceived wisdom for months that "12 Years a Slave" would be the Best Picture front-runner because of the importance of its subject matter slavery of African Americans in the early 19th century and the lushly realized historical setting.
Of course, if those were the criteria, we would have been celebrating last year's Best Picture win for Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" same era, same issue rather than seeing Ben Affleck hold a statuette for "Argo."
The other two contenders have factors in their favor. "Gravity," the box-office champ in this field, is a technical wonder and the Academy voters sometimes like to prove that they're not overly artsy and insular. "American Hustle" is an actor's movie and the only movie this year that scored nominations in all four acting categories.
Otherwise, it looks like a quiet year at the Oscars, as many of the main categories seem to have been settled months ago. But you never know when an upset will hit.
Here are my fearless predictions in the major categories for Oscar night. (For the technical, craft, short-film and specialty categories, find my predictions on The Cricket blog http://www.sltrib.com/Blogs/moviecricket.)
Nominees • 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."
Who will win • Matthew McConaughey, who has been showing his acting chops more than his abs recently, famously lost 45 pounds to play HIV-infected Texas good-ol'-boy Ron Woodroof. Even with strong contendors in Ejiofor and a much-hyped DiCaprio, McConaughey's got this one in the bag, alright.
Who should win • Ejiofor's quiet resiliency as the enslaved Solomon Northup wasn't as flashy as McConaughey's Woodroof or DiCaprio's high-flying stock trader, but his performance was more moving. (If we're allowing write-in votes, I'd pick Robert Redford for his one-man performance in "All Is Lost.")
Nominees • Amy Adams, "American Hustle"; Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"; Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"; Judi Dench, "Philomena"; Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County."
Who will win • There's been talk of a late surge by Amy Adams as the tough con artist with the bruised heart. Don't believe it. Cate Blanchett's take on a modern-day Blanche Dubois is a lock.
Who should win • Sandra Bullock had to play much of "Gravity" as a soloist, while also dealing with the demands of an effects-heavy production.
Nominees • 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."
Who will win • McConaughey's co-star, Jared Leto, also went through a physical transformation not only as an HIV sufferer, but as a transsexual. Oscar voters love that sort of performance.
Who should win • Barkhad Abdi made us feel the menace of Somali pirates and understand what forced him into this life. And he did it as a first-time actor going up against one of America's greatest stars, Tom Hanks.
Nominees • Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"; Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"; Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; June Squibb, "Nebraska."
Who will win • Oscar voters love to discover new actresses, especially in this category. This year, that's Lupita Nyong'o, who became a star for her role as a long-suffering house slave. There's been talk of Jennifer Lawrence snatching this one away from Nyong'o, the way she stole "American Hustle," but don't count on it.
Who should win • June Squibb's salty performance as the frustrated wife of Bruce Dern's ornery alcoholic was a pure delight.
Nominees • Alfonso CuarÃ³n, "Gravity"; Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"; Alexander Payne, "Nebraska": David O. Russell, "American Hustle"; Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Who will win • Best Director usually matches Best Picture but expect a split this year, with Alfonso CuarÃ³n receiving the reward for pulling off the technically demanding "Gravity."
Who should win • CuarÃ³n continues to do things with a camera that other directors can only dream about.
Nominees • Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, "American Hustle"; Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"; Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, "Dallas Buyers Club"; Spike Jonze, "Her"; Bob Nelson, "Nebraska."
Who will win • The favorites here are the retro-cool of "American Hustle" and the charming future of "Her." This may be the one category the Academy uses to honor David O. Russell's much-nominated con-game caper.
Who should win • Spike Jonze's microchipped romance is, by definition, the most truly original screenplay in this bunch. Also the sweetest, most thought-provoking and spellbinding.
Nominees • Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"; Billy Ray, "Captain Phillips"; Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, "Philomena"; John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"; Terence Winter, "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Who will win • John Ridley, for translating Solomon Northup's story to a modern audience while keeping some of the 19th-century flavor intact.
Who should win • As raunchy and reprehensible as its characters' behavior could sometimes be, Terence Winter's dissection of greed and excess in "The Wolf of Wall Street" was never less than fascinating.
Nominees • "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years a Slave," "The Wolf of Wall Street."
What will win • OK, that three-movie race is really a two-movie race, because "American Hustle" doesn't stand a chance. It's between the stately "12 Years a Slave" and the space-going "Gravity" and, in this case, the gravity of the subject matter will send "12 Years a Slave's" producers (including Brad Pitt) to the podium to collect the last statuettes of the night.
What should win • Three of these nine nominees were on my top 10 list: "Her," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave." Of those, "Her" was the most touching and most challenging, and would get my vote.
The 86th annual Academy Awards will be handed out at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.
When • Sunday, March 2, starting at 6:30 p.m.
TV • On ABC, KTVX Ch. 4 in Salt Lake City.
Pre-show • Red-carpet coverage on ABC runs from 3 to 4 p.m. , then from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and on E! (Ch. 59 on Comcast; Ch. 236 on DirecTV; Ch. 114 on Dish) at 2:30 p.m.
Live-tweeting • Join The Tribune's Sean P. Means on Twitter for live commentary on Oscar night: @moviecricket.