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Who Will Capture This Year’s Oscars?

It’s that time of year again – time for my predictions of the winners at the annual Academy Awards. Most of the major honors appear fairly clear-cut at this point, but, even with that said, here are my predictions for who will take home statues this year:

Best Actor

The Field: 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 Likely Win: Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey has a virtual lock in this category at this point. Having previously won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards for best actor, there’s no reason to believe he’ll falter at the Oscars.
Who Should Win: Matthew McConaughey. I’d be very happy to see McConaughey take home this very well-deserved award, given the field of nominees. I’d be equally pleased with wins by either Christian Bale or Bruce Dern, though I believe neither of them stands a realistic chance at this point.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Bruce Dern and Leonardo DiCaprio. While I seriously doubt either of them will capture top honors in this category, if I had to name a dark horse(s), I’d select these two performances, based on the strength of previous wins (Dern at the Cannes Film Festival, DiCaprio at the Golden Globes).
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Matthew McConaughey. The other four candidates should be happy with their nominations, since those distinctions are probably all they can expect out of this year’s competition. Among those likely to go home empty-handed, the nominee who has perhaps suffered the greatest awards season letdown thus far would have to be Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was considered a strong early contender but whose backing has failed to materialize (though, given the often-overwrought nature of his performance, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by this, either).
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: The best actor field was considered a very crowded pack at the start of awards season, and many other performances were looked upon as being in the running, including Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”), Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”), Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Her”), Forest Whitaker (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”). And all of these candidates, as well as most of the actual nominees, gave very commendable performances. However, my two favorite lead actors of 2013 were, regrettably, overlooked – Idris Elba (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Fifth Estate”). Elba was fortunate enough to garner a Golden Globe nomination, but Cumberbatch was summarily ignored; both oversights were, in my opinion, quite unfortunate. Others who were worthy of consideration (though who were almost assuredly nowhere on the nominations radar) included Mads Mikkelsen (“The Hunt”), James Cromwell (“Still Mine”), Terence Stamp (“Unfinished Song”) and Riz Ahmed (“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”).

Best Actress

The Field: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”; Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”; Judi Dench, “Philomena”; Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Who Will Likely Win: Cate Blanchett. This has been Blanchett’s award to lose ever since “Blue Jasmine” was released last summer. Like her best actor counterpart, she has cleaned up in prior awards season competitions, capturing the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and, again, there’s no reason to believe she’ll come up short at the Oscars.
Who Should Win: Anyone except Sandra Bullock. This is a very strong field of contenders, and virtually everyone in it would be a very deserving winner. The exception, however, is Bullock, who’s clearly outclassed by her competitors. While I have been very impressed by a number of her past performances, “Gravity” was not one of her stronger roles, and I’m hard-pressed to fathom how she managed a nomination, especially given some of those who were overlooked (see below).
Possible Dark Horse(s): Amy Adams and Judi Dench. Although neither of them is likely to pull off an upset, if there were spoilers to be considered, I believe Adams and Dench would be the most likely candidates. Adams’ win at the Golden Globes and Dench’s popularity as a perennial sentimental favorite give them a slight edge over everyone else in the field except Cate Blanchett, though I don’t believe either of them has enough clout with Academy voters to overtake the frontrunner.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Cate Blanchett. Nevertheless, the nominees who best fit this bill, in my opinion, are Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock. It’s hard to ever think of Streep as an also-ran, though, unfortunately, the perennial nominee is unlikely to get much traction out of this performance, especially since some detractors felt she overacted in a role that fell into the nebulous territory between lead and supporting actress (and then there’s also the fact that she just won a few years ago for “The Iron Lady” (2011)). And, even though Bullock received a lot of overhyped early buzz for her underwhelming performance, her star has faded (and rightfully so) with the passage of awards season.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: It’s an absolute crime that this field didn’t make room for Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”); it absolutely boggles my mind how she could have been left out (especially given Bullock’s inclusion). Given the strength of Thompson’s performance, as well as those turned in by four of the five named nominees, there was precious little room for anyone else to break through, even though there were a few potentially noteworthy contenders, including Bérénice Bejo (“The Past”), Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”), Brie Larson (“Short Term 12”), Geneviève Bujold (“Still Mine”) and Andrea Riseborough (“Shadow Dancer”), though they were all long shots at best.

Best Supporting Actor

The Field: 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 Likely Win: Jared Leto. Like his counterparts in the lead performing categories, Leto has swept prior competitions, taking home honors in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award programs, and there’s no reason to think he won’t win here, too.
Who Should Win: Jared Leto. He’s clearly the class of the field and richly deserves to take home the award.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Barkhad Abdi. The first-time nominee, who had never acted before, garnered a lot of attention for his debut performance. But, as commendable as Abdi’s portrayal was, I don’t believe it’s strong enough to overtake the momentum that Leto has going for him.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Jared Leto (are we seeing a pattern here?). Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jonah Hill in particular should be content with their nominations.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: I was very surprised to see the omission of James Gandolfini (“Enough Said”) from this field, given his inclusion in the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award competitions, as well as the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards program. Some have contended that those nominations were more sentimental tributes than meritorious recognitions, but, regardless of how one views the intents behind them, they were nevertheless given for a fine performance that could have warranted Oscar consideration as well. I was also surprised at the exclusion of Daniel Brühl, primarily for his role in “Rush” but also for his underrated performance in “The Fifth Estate,” portrayals that were both noteworthy. I was also impressed by Jeremy Renner’s performance in “American Hustle,” perhaps even more so than the somewhat-overwrought portrayal turned in by Bradley Cooper, but, given the crowded nature of the field, it would have been difficult for two actors from this film to make their way onto the slate of candidates. The most egregious oversight, however, was the complete lack of recognition (both in the Oscar nominations and in all of the season’s other awards competitions) for Harrison Ford (“42”), easily the best performance he has given in years, if not in his entire career. Other supporting performances of note included the eclectic mix of portrayals turned in by Geoffrey Rush (“The Book Thief”), Fred Melamed (“In a World”) and Michael Shannon (“Man of Steel”).

Best Supporting Actress

The Field: 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 Likely Win: Lupita Nyong’o. Of all the acting categories, this is the only one where the likely winner doesn’t have a complete lock on the award. Though Nyong’o has the momentum in her favor, having won the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards in this category, she hasn’t swept the early competitions, which makes her projected victory a little less certain. With that said, however, she did earn the SAG Award, and that’s often a strong indicator of who wins the Oscar, a trend that’s likely to hold here.
Who Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence. I’m amazed at the level of her talent, and I believe this is her best role to date. The Hollywood Foreign Press obviously concurred, bestowing the Golden Globe Award on her hilarious portrayal. Unfortunately, despite this win, I don’t believe she has enough momentum to stave off Nyong’o, especially since she just won an Oscar last year for “Silver Linings Playbook.” In the alternative, I would also be happy with wins by either Julia Roberts or June Squibb, both of whom turned in very solid performances in their respective roles.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Jennifer Lawrence. If anyone is capable of pulling off an upset in this category, it’s Lawrence. However, again, I don’t believe there’s enough gas in the tank to see this happen.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Lupita Nyong’o (though I’m a little less sure of that statement here than in the other acting categories). To me, however, the also-ran label is most applicable to Sally Hawkins, a capable but far from award-worthy performance. This is a nomination that would have been much better allocated to one of the many other fine performances that didn’t make the cut.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: Perhaps the biggest surprise was the very noticeable snubbing of Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award nominee Oprah Winfrey (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”), who gave a strong, if not necessarily award-winning, performance (but one that certainly could have merited an Oscar nod). Another portrayal worthy of note was that turned in by Scarlett Johansson (“Her”), though its strictly vocal nature probably worked against her (despite a Critics Choice Award nomination). But Winfrey and Johansson were not alone in their lack of recognition. There were many fine contenders in 2013, including Margo Martindale and Juliette Lewis (both of “August: Osage County”), Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer (both of “Fruitvale Station”), Jennifer Garner (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Unfinished Song”), Naomie Harris (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”), Susan Sarandon (“The Company You Keep”), Allison Janney (“The Way, Way Back”), Jennifer Coolidge (“Austenland”) and Annika Wedderkopp (“The Hunt”).

Best Director

The Field: David O. Russell, “American Hustle”; Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”; Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”; Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”; Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Who Will Likely Win: Alfonso Cuarón. This is yet another category that’s a virtual lock. Cuarón has cleaned up in all of the major competitions leading up to the Oscars, taking home top honors at the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Directors Guild of America Award programs. Again, don’t be surprised when Cuarón’s name is called on Oscar night.
Who Should Win: David O. Russell. “American Hustle” was easily my favorite film of 2013, and that’s largely attributable to the efforts of Russell, who directed a great picture. He truly deserves to win.
Possible Dark Horse(s): David O. Russell and Steve McQueen. The logic behind this has to do with the films that are the frontrunners for best picture (see below). Rarely is there a split between the film that wins best director and the movie that captures best picture, though it has happened on occasion, and it’s something I expect to occur this year. Since “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave” are the leading best picture candidates, that would thus make either Russell or McQueen the likely winner in this category if there’s no split between the best director and best picture award winners. However, despite the strong best picture award prospects of those films, I don’t believe their directors have enough momentum to overtake Cuarón, whose award is likely to be a “consolation prize” for “Gravity” not winning best picture.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Alfonso Cuarón. While the also-ran appellation certainly fits all of Curaón’s fellow nominees, it’s most applicable to Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese, both of whom turned in noteworthy work but should be content with their nominations.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As someone who wasn’t a fan of either “Gravity” or “12 Years a Slave,” I believe this category certainly had some room for other more deserving candidates. Among the directors of films up for best picture, for instance, I would much rather have seen nominations given to Stephen Frears (“Philomena”) and Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”). Other worthy nominees would have included Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt”), Denmark’s entry in the best foreign language film category, as well as the directors of three terrific but very overlooked pictures, Bill Condon (“The Fifth Estate”), Henry-Alex Rubin (“Disconnect”) and Shane Carruth (“Upstream Color”).

Best Picture

The Field: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”
What Will Likely Win: Interestingly enough, this is the only major category where there’s any significant suspense about who the winner will be (but what better category than the top prize!). In my opinion, this is a two-horse race between “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.” So who will win? It depends on how one handicaps it. Both films came up winners in their respective genre categories at the Golden Globe Awards. “12 Years a Slave” also took the top honors at the Critics Choice Awards, while “American Hustle” won the best acting ensemble category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (often a strong indicator of the eventual Academy Award best picture winner). As deserving as “American Hustle” is, however, the Oscars tend to recognize serious fare more often than comedies, which would seem to give an edge to “12 Years a Slave.” However, given the underperformance of “12 Years a Slave” in the awards contests leading up to the Oscars (it hasn’t dominated those competitions to the degree many thought it would), Academy voters may be hesitant to reward the film with its biggest prize, especially in light of the momentum “American Hustle” seems to be building. So, in light of all that, I’d call the race a virtual toss-up at this point, but, if I were pressed to pick a winner, I’d be more inclined to go with “12 Years a Slave.” I believe the largely conservative Academy voters will play it safe and go with this picture, because they’re likely to see it as indicative of the kind of grand, sweeping epic that Hollywood likes to believe it makes all the time (regardless of how true that actually may be).
What Should Win: “American Hustle.” This is the class of the field in my opinion. It’s so much better than the highly overrated “12 Years a Slave” and dark horse “Gravity” (see below). In fact, from a quality standpoint, the only films in this category that can hold a candle to it are several of the also-rans (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena”) (see below), but, as good as those contenders are, I still can’t choose them over their more worthy competitor.
Possible Dark Horse(s): “American Hustle” and “Gravity.” Given the momentum that “American Hustle” could be amassing as a legitimate contender, it might be a stretch to call it a long shot. “Gravity,” however, is most definitely a dark horse, especially if it takes best director honors and there’s no split in the best picture/best director awards, as is typically the case. Even though “Gravity” has momentum in the director’s category, however, I don’t think it has enough backing to take top honors.
Also-Rans: Anything that isn’t “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle” or “Gravity.” It seems a shame to relegate several of the films to this status (most notably “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska” and “Philomena”), but they and their less-noteworthy peers (especially “Captain Phillips,” a very mediocre offering that had no business being named a best picture candidate) will have to settle for the accolades afforded by their nominations.
What Else Should Have Been Considered: It’s hard to believe that “Blue Jasmine” failed to earn a nomination, especially given Hollywood’s love affair with Woody Allen’s pictures. I also would have been pleased with a nomination for “The Hunt,” even though foreign language films are rarely able to grab nominations outside of that category. Others that should have merited consideration include “The Fifth Estate,” “Disconnect,” “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “Still Mine.”

The Oscars will be handed out in televised ceremonies on Sunday March 2. (Oscar® and Academy Award® are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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