More than a few observers of the industry have called 2013 a classic movie year, and it's not hard to see why. At least two of the nine films up for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards, which airs on Sunday, March 2 on ABC, have already been hailed as all-time great films that will stand the test of time.
But being great and actually coming away with the Oscar are two entirely separate ideas. With around 6,000 members in the Academy, there could be myriad reasons a voter would cast a ballot for one film over another.
Although there are some sure things heading into the 86th annual ceremony, there are still multiple question marks in big categories, another indication of the quality of films vying for prizes.
Here are our predictions for the eight major categories; we could pretend to be knowledgeable about things like production design and sound mixing, but you'd see right through us.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Four of the five nominees are solid and worthy of being nominated, but there's really only one choice here: John Ridley's script for 12 Years a Slave. Although director Steve McQueen has — and should — get credit for the film's greatness, Ridley's delicate handling of Solomon Northup's biography helped make the film what it is.
Best Original Screenplay
This one is more of a toss-up than the adapted screenplay category. Her, written by Spike Jonze, and American Hustle, written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, are both considered complete visions of their directors, who get extra credit for writing the scripts. With all four actors nominated for American Hustle but none likely to win an award, voters could reward Russell here.
However, Her took home the Writers Guild of America award this year, which has increasingly become an accurate predictor, so look for Jonze to win his first Oscar on Sunday.
Best Supporting Actress
No disrespect to Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, Julia Roberts in August: Osage County or June Squibb in Nebraska, but this is also a two-person race. With Jennifer Lawrence following up her win last year with another great turn in another David O. Russell movie, she could become one of the few people to win an acting award in back-to-back years.
But Lupita Nyong'o's devastating film debut in 12 Years a Slave is impossible to ignore, and with her taking home most of the pre-Oscars awards, this is her statue to lose.
Best Supporting Actor
This is a category that should be much closer than it actually is. Barkhad Abdi made a memorable screen debut in Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper once again held his own in the acting-heavy American Hustle; Michael Fassbender brought tons of nuance to a potentially one-note role in 12 Years a Slave; and Jonah Hill continued to surprise, in a good way, in The Wolf of Wall Street.
But Jared Leto has many things going for him in his role as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, including his six-year absence from movies and his total immersion into the transgender character. Considering he's won virtually every other award, he's the lock of all locks.
There's no hiding in this category, as each nominee is squarely on the A-list in Hollywood. Meryl Streep earned her 18th nomination for August: Osage County, but she has no chance at winning. Judi Dench is fantastic in the under-seen Philomena, but this isn't her year, either. Sandra Bullock is the heart and soul of Gravity, but that film, rightly or wrongly, is viewed more as a success for director Alfonso Cuarón.
That leaves Amy Adams for American Hustle and Cate Blanchettin Blue Jasmine. There's no denying Adams was superb, but Blanchett has had the momentum for many weeks now, and she will take home the award.
The roster of great lead actor performances was so strong in 2013 that this category is equally notable for who's not in it as it is for those who are. No Robert Redford for All is Lost? No Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station? And how in the h-e-double hockey sticks could you leave out Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips?
As for those who actually got nominated, cases could be made Christian Bale in American Hustle, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and especially Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, who has the best chance to pull an upset.
But considering the career renaissance that Matthew McConaughey has undergone in just the past year, his all-encompassing performance in Dallas Buyers Club will rule the day.
Another heavy-hitter category, with the five nominees combining for 32 career Oscar nominations yet somehow only three wins. Each director put a distinctive imprint on his respective film, but it will come down to who was perceived to have the biggest influence in the success of his film.
Gravity was such a phenomenal technical success that choosing Cuarón would be easy were it not for the enduring legacy that Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave will have. Even still, Cuarón will finally win after years of impressive work.
Those two instant classics we talked about earlier? They are Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. No movie in the last 10 years (if not more) has had the wow factor that Gravity did, and 12 Years a Slave is already the definitive movie about slavery in America, so much so that it will be taught in high schools for years to come.
There's been some hubbub that many Oscar voters didn't watch 12 Years a Slave because of its brutal and upsetting content, which is shocking if it's true because they presumably didn't blink an eye at the ultra-violence in last year's Django Unchained. But if that is the case, then Gravity will be the beneficiary.
More than any year in recent memory, the outcome is truly a toss-up, but all signs seem to point toward Gravity winning the big prize.
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