The 86th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and the major awards are anything but settled.
Sure, you can rack up the stats in your office pool by picking Gravity to win pretty much all of the technical categories, but if you need help with some of the bigger awards, I've got you covered. Aside from Before Midnight, I've seen all the movies nominated in the eight major categories, so here are my completely unemotional bets.
Well, they're not completely unemotional -- I'm still mad Emma Thompson didn't get nominated for Best Actress.
In any case:
- Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Should Win: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
Who Will Win: John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
12 Years A Slave was a masterful film, and John Ridley deserves praise for his brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir. But the film is more of a triumph of performances, directing and atmosphere than of dialogue.
Philomena's a lighter movie, but Coogan and Pope succeeded in making a fascinating story even more poignant and humorous, mostly by writing a scene where Judi Dench references Big Momma's House 2.
- Best Original Screenplay
Who Should Win: Spike Jonze, Her
Who Will Win: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Jonze, whose idiosyncratic work has long been admired without much awards show fanfare, has a chance to win his first Oscar for the exquisite world-building of Her.
But people seem to love American Hustle, even though it's essentially just a bunch of yelling, fun costumes, and ... wait, what was that movie about again?
- Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave
Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Despite my love of June Squibb in Nebraska, this is a two-horse race, with the hottest movie star on the planet going up against an unknown in her first film role. Both are electrifying in their own polar opposite ways, though the more-deserving Nyong'o may lose out to the sentiment to anoint Lawrence as the next Katharine Hepburn.
- Best Supporting Actor
Who Should Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Who Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actor is always the most competitive field, since Hollywood is full of juicy, showy side roles for white movie stars to play.
But it's tough not to give it to Jared Leto this year for his tender performance as transgender AIDS victim Rayon, partly because I didn't realize it was him until the movie was over.
- Best Actress
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sorry Sandra, Meryl, Judi and Amy. You were all good, but Blanchett's worst scene in Blue Jasmine is better than your best in your four movies.
O.K., no -- Dench's aforementioned Big Momma's House 2 scene was obviously the best. But besides that one.
- Best Actor
Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
DiCaprio has the worst luck. The guy's going to go down as one of the best talents of his generation and yet he's trending toward Susan Lucci territory with his amount of near-miss losses.
His performance as uber-slimeball Jordan Belfort is the best of his career, but he won't beat McConaughey, whose career renaissance is in full swing and whose performance in Dallas Buyers Club is almost just as good as DiCaprio's in Wolf.
- Best Director
Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Gravity looks like it has Best Director locked up for its visionary Alfonso Cuarón, who delivered the most mind-blowing cinematic experience of the year. The Academy likes to reward directors who undertake big, ambitious projects and deliver them at a level of high art, or at least high pop art (see: Peter Jackson for Return of the King and James Cameron for Titanic). Cuarón did just that.
- Best Picture
What Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street
What Will Win: 12 Years A Slave
The Best Picture field is packed with the greatest slate of films in years, ranging from crackling thrillers (Gravity, Captain Phillips) to riotous comedies (American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street) to creative masterpieces (Her).
Hustle has a lot of momentum, and I wouldn't be surprised if it took the top prize since it features a ton of young, hot movie stars who all put on great performances.
But 12 Years A Slave isn't just a great film -- it's an important one. Brutal and uncompromising, it's the movie we've always needed to show the true horrors of the slave experience.
That should guilt the Academy into giving it the prize.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter for live reactions to the Oscar ceremony @sweetestpete.
Picks for the rest
- Best Animated Feature: Frozen
- Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
- Best Documentary, Feature: The Act of Killing
- Best Documentary, Short Subject: "CaveDigger"
- Best Live Action Short: "The Voorman Problem"
- Best Animated Short: "Get A Horse!"
- Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
- Best Original Song: "Happy," from Despicable Me 2
- Best Sound Editing: Gravity
- Best Sound Mixing: Gravity
- Best Production Design: Gravity
- Best Cinematography: Gravity
- Best Makeup: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
- Best Costume Design: American Hustle
- Best Film Editing: Gravity
- Best Visual Effects: Gravity