Well, friends, the big night is right around the corner: on Sunday evening at eight, after hours of insufferable people screaming on a red carpet, Ellen DeGeneres will tell some jokes, montages will unspool, songs will be sung, and Hollywood will hand out some little gold statues. The winners aren’t always predictable — some of the voters might not be quite as tuned-in as you’d think (leading to some truly bizarre choices over the years), and this year’s crop of exceptional films have made the race a bit more competitive than usual. But here’s our best guesses for who will take home the major awards come Sunday, along with who we’d give them to if we were the only ones voting.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG “Happy” (Despicable Me 2) “Let It Go” (Frozen) “The Moon Song” (Her) “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
PREDICTION: “Let It Go” PICK: “The Moon Song”
Look, I know everyone’s wild about “Let It Go,” with all the karaoke-ing and spoofing and meme-ing and whatnot, but to these ears, it sounds like a Celine Dion B-side. I’d give it to Karen O’s simple, lovely “Moon Song,” which beautifully encapsulates the gentle, longing spirit of Her.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight) Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena) John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall St)
PREDICTION: 12 Years a Slave PICK: Before Midnight
The Best Picture winner almost always wins its screenplay category, and since (spoiler) 12 Years is likely to take the big prize, it will probably take this one too — which is fair, as Ridley’s script is efficient, powerful, and brilliant. But of this bunch, the screenplay that thrills this viewer the most is Before Midnight, the culmination of a beautifully written trilogy that challenges the way we think and feel about attraction, love, and long-term romance.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle) Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine) Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club) Spike Jonze (Her) Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
PREDICTION: Her PICK: Her
This may very well be the tightest race of the night, surprisingly enough. Most pundits agree that it comes down to Her or American Hustle — with the trophy serving as a consolation prize (as it so often does) for a more daring Best Picture nominee. Hustle’s ten nominations make it seem likely to take that prize, but Her won the Golden Globes and Writer’s Guild awards, making this a real toss-up, so I’m just going with my favorite of the two.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE The Croods Despicable Me 2 Ernest & Celestine Frozen The Wind Rises
PREDICTION: Frozen PICK: Frozen
The Miyazaki lobby is dedicated, but they’ve got nothing on Disney, who can own this category pretty much any year they put out something decent.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE The Act of Killing Cutie and the Boxer Dirty Wars The Square 20 Feet From Stardom
PREDICTION: 20 Feet From Stardom PICK: The Act of Killing
This one, most awards-watchers agree, is between the disturbing critics’ pick The Act of Killing and the crowd-pleasing 20 Feet from Stardom (with The Square as potential spoiler) and it’s always tough to know which way the Best Documentary prize will go. But last year — the first in which all Academy members could vote in the category — it went to Searching for Sugar Man, another music-based popular favorite. That scenario seems likely to play itself out again, and it doesn’t hurt that 20 Feet is fascinating, well-made, and utterly delightful, if not as potent or powerful as Killing.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM The Broken Circle Breakdown The Great Beauty The Hunt The Missing Picture Omar
PREDICTION: The Great Beauty PICK: n/a
Everyone seems to agree that the striking and stylish Great Beauty has got a lock on this one (but beware — this is a category where upsets are not unheard of). I’ll refrain from making a pick here, since I’ve seen embarrassingly few of the nominees. Sure did like that Broken Circle Breakdown, though!
BEST DIRECTOR David O. Russell (American Hustle) Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) Alexander Payne (Nebraska) Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
PREDICTION: Alfonso Cuarón PICK: Steve McQueen
The consensus seems to be that voters will split the recognition between the two frontrunners, Gravity and 12 Years, by giving Cuarón Best Director and McQueen Best Picture — the idea being that 12 Years is the more important film, but Cuarón’s film was such a massive technical achievement that its direction was somehow a harder job, or something. It’s a great movie, but that’s some awfully simple thinking that rather downplays McQueen’s accomplishment (the challenges, on a technical, physical, and emotional level, of making 12 Years were immense). And traditionally, when nominations permit, Best Director and Best Picture usually go to the same movie (over the past ten years, they’ve only split twice), so it might not shake out that way. But this distribution of prizes has been talked about so much, it may well have just willed itself into existence.
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 Leo (Dallas Buyers Club)
PREDICTION: Jared Leto PICK: Barkhad Abdi
It’s become fairly fashionable to side-eye Mr. Leto (and Dallas Buyers Club in general), whose against-type transgender transformation is exactly the kind of showy role the Academy loves to reward. But it is a fine performance, as keenly drawn and sensitive as Leto himself has proven not to be in his acceptance speeches (look for a very carefully crafted one on Sunday night). That said, a return visit to Captain Phillips confirms that while Hanks is the remarkable main attraction, Abdi’s masterful and chilling performance is every bit his equal.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) June Squibb (Nebraska)
PREDICTION: Lupita Nyong’o PICK: Lupita Nyong’o
There has been chatter — and some precedent (Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards particularly) — that Lawrence could take this one home. But as much as (almost) everyone loves J-Law, it seems insane that the young actor could win two Oscars in the space of two years. Nyong’o comes with a great story (it’s her feature debut, for God’s sake), has been delightful on the awards circuit, and most importantly, gives a heart-wrenching, astonishing performance in 12 Years. She’ll win it, and she should.
BEST ACTOR 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)
PREDICTION: Matthew McConaughey PICK (tie): Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern
McConaughey is the acknowledged frontrunner here, and seems a safe bet — though he was far better (if not as scary skinny!) in last year’s Killer Joe and this spring’s Mud, not to mention on True Detective, a television performance that is surely affecting voting. But it won’t be the first time an actor got his Oscar for the wrong movie (how ya doin’, Scent of a Woman), and it surely won’t be the last. Yet I challenge anyone with a soul and a pair of working eyeballs to compare McConaughey’s (very fine!) work with Ejiofor’s “Roll Jordan Roll” scene or Dern’s farmhouse visit and tell me he deserves to win.
BEST ACTRESS Amy Adams (American Hustle) Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) Sandra Bullock (Gravity) Judi Dench (Philomena) Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
PREDICTION: Cate Blanchett PICK: Amy Adams
Blanchett was getting Oscar buzz from the moment Blue Jasmine started screening, and it’s a very award-friendly performance, emotional and extravagant and studied — too much so, according to her detractors, though its performative element seems, to this viewer, totally appropriate to the character. Blanchett won once before, but that was almost a decade ago, and she’s done plenty of good work since — plus, they love giving Oscars to Woody’s actresses (though they may feel oogy about it this year, the only possible chink in Blanchett’s armor). I preferred Adams’ scorching, searching, raw work in Hustle, but I seem to be in the minority on that one.
BEST PICTURE American Hustle Captain Phillips Dallas Buyers Club Gravity Her Nebraska Philomena 12 Years a Slave The Wolf of Wall Street
PREDICTION: 12 Years a Slave PICK: 12 Years a Slave
It’s a tricky call. 12 Years is (to these eyes) indisputably the year’s best film, an impressively mounted and impeccably acted emotional gut-punch that deals, in unflinching terms, with a vitally important topic. But it is also hard to watch (as it should be), and one can’t underestimate the possibility of the creaky Academy voting block switching it off, or getting scared away from even seeing it. Yet it seems equally possible that even those voters will cast their ballot in its favor, because it’s the Important Movie That Should Win. Still, don’t rule out the possibility of a Gravity upset.
So those are our guesses and favorites; join us on Twitter Sunday night for color commentary, and keep an eye on this space that night for a post-show wrap-up.