The sense of place and uniformly superb performances make it worth seeing, and maybe ultimately singing along with.
The calendar year of the Oscar pundit is coming to a close. The final votes are being turned in this week and after Sunday, March 2, those who dedicate their time to awards season will begin the speculation on whether it will be "Into the Woods", "Interstellar" or some film we do not know about yet that will be the favorite for Best Picture of 2014. That can wait until Monday though. For now we will dig into this year's envelopes and determine what might be inside.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
If "American Hustle" had maintained the momentum it had as the new challenger for those 7-8 days back in January, Bradley Cooper might have been the one to steal this award. Jonah Hill's prize was his second nomination and the same could be said for Barkhad Abdi in his first film role. Michael Fassbender has picked up a few awards from America's heartland but Jared Leto has won every major precursor award leading up to the Oscars except for BAFTA.
WILL WIN: Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The toughest category of the night to call is this one. Lupita Nyong'o has been the clear victor with most critics, though she was runner-up in New York to her competitor Jennifer Lawrence. This practically set the stage for game of see-saw in the big precursor awards: SAG, LA, Chicago and the BFCA for Nyong'o; NY, BAFTA and the Golden Globes for Lawrence. It may simply come down to knowing that a win for Jennifer would make her just the third actress in history and sixth actor overall to win back-to-back Oscars joining Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks. Is the Academy ready to give her that honor at the age of 23? At this stage in her life, with three nominations and an Oscar already under her belt, Lawrence could be poised to be the Barry Bonds to Meryl Streep's Hank Aaron. Only without the performance enhancers and hatred. Her time will come again. Lupita's is now.
WILL WIN: Lupita Nyong'o "12 Years a Slave"
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
This is another two-horse race that could be closer than some believe. "Sideways", "Slumdog Millionaire", "The Social Network", "Midnight in Paris" and "Django Unchained"—all Oscar-winning scripts that were also chosen as the best of the year by the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. This year both organizations chose Spike Jonze's "Her". On the other hand, for all of "American Hustle"'s ten nominations, this seemed like the most likely token they would throw its way. It's David O. Russell's second year in a row as a nominee for both directing and writing. Maybe it is his time as well. After all, the Globes and BFCA also agreed on "Up in the Air" in 2009. The considerable backlash on "American Hustle" (mostly from critics in the argument over which is the real faux Scorsese film, that or "The Wolf of Wall Street") may be what give the well-respected Jonze his own overdue Oscar.
WILL WIN: Spike Jonze "Her"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley's adaptation of Solomon Northup's story was not eligible for the Writer's Guild Award. Thus, that award went to Billy Ray for "Captain Phillips". Now, with Ridley seemingly back in the driver's seat, there is still the looming possibility of an upset in this category. Call it a hunch more than anything else, but keep one ear open for "Philomena". 2009's "Precious" was the last major surprise in this category; winning without a significant precursor victory. ("Philomena" just won BAFTA and also was not eligible for the WGA.) "12 Years a Slave" is the favorite but never underestimate the power of a Weinstein campaign. Do you have the guts to go for the underdog?
WILL WIN: John Ridley "12 Years a Slave"
This Oscar has been Matthew McConaughey's to lose since he first took the role of Ron Woodroof and dropped to 135 pounds. Between "Bernie", "Killer Joe", "Magic Mike", "Mud", his brief stint in "The Wolf of Wall Street" and all the love he is receiving on HBO's "True Detective", few have had the kind of run over the past few years that McConaughey has. Though there is some talk out there that this is the year the Academy will honor four-time nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, that "his time" argument applies just as much to the first-time nominee.
WILL WIN: Matthew McConaughey "Dallas Buyers Club"
Cate Blanchett has won 28 awards from regional critic groups and Guilds. Her competition has won a total of four combined. Her sweep of the majors, as mentioned last week, puts her in the same league as Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Colin Firth ("The King's Speech"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen"), Mo'Nique ("Precious") and Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds"). This may be the easiest call of all the acting categories.
WILL WIN: Cate Blanchett "Blue Jasmine"
Two years and five months from the start of principal photography to its release last October, "Gravity" became Alfonso Cuarón's crowning achievement. Dedication plus quality plus a victory from the Directors Guild makes this the first check one should make in their Oscar pool. The last seven winners of the Directors Guild Award and 11 of the last 13 also saw their film win Best Picture.
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón "Gravity"
Best Picture winners tend to carry a lot of Oscars in other categories in their wake. ("Argo" and "Crash" were the only Best Picture winners to have less than four total Oscars since 1976's "Rocky".) On Sunday night, be prepared to count the number of Oscars each film wins. "Gravity" is going to be well out in front after dominating the technical achievements. If it starts getting overtaken there then maybe the tide will have shifted enough to see "12 Years a Slave" or even "American Hustle" come through by night's end. If the latter can grab those Screenplay and Supporting Actress trophies (as well as Editing) we could see an upset in the making. But that's a very specific set of circumstances. "12 Years a Slave" also seemingly needs to see some consistency in those categories (and possibly grab a tech win) to complete its journey to Best Picture. If it loses either of those, you can call the final award for "Gravity". If Steve McQueen's film wins those majors, you can still probably call the win for Alfonso Cuarón and his team.
WILL WIN: "Gravity"
IF WE PICKED THE WINNERS: "12 Years a Slave"—Essay by Matt Zoller Seitz
Animated Feature: "Frozen"
Documentary: "20 Feet from Stardom"
Foreign Language Film: "The Great Beauty"
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki "Gravity"
Costume Design: Patricia Norris "12 Years a Slave"
Editing: Christopher Rouse "Captain Phillips"
Makeup: Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews "Dallas Buyers Club"
Original Score: Steven Price "Gravity"
Original Song: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez "Let it Go" from "Frozen"
Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn "The Great Gatsby"
Sound Editing: Glenn Freemantle "Gravity"
Sound Mixing: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro "Gravity"
Visual Effects: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, and Neil Corbould "Gravity"
Animated Short Film: "Get a Horse!"
Live Action Short Film: "The Voorman Problem"
Documentary Short Subject: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
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