Usually by this point in awards season (if not sooner), it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen on Oscar night. Clear favorites emerge, especially in the best-picture category: “Argo” last year, “The Artist” in 2012. But things could go a few different ways Sunday night at the Academy Awards. So! Here are a few thoughts on who will win, who should win and who might serve as a possible wild card.
Nominees: “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Will win: “12 Years a Slave”
Should win: “Gravity”
Wild card: “American Hustle”
“Gravity” was my pick for the year’s best film. It’s both an incredible technical achievement as well as a profound emotional experience. But “12 Years a Slave” is just too important, too powerful. Director Steve McQueen makes you squirm, think, confront uncomfortable emotions and feel deeply. It’s beautifully shot and acted. It matters. I’m not sure I ever want to spend another night watching it, but “12 Years a Slave” will take the top prize Sunday.
Nominees: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”; David O. Russell, “American Hustle”; Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”; Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”; Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Will win: Cuaron
Should win: Cuaron
Wild card: McQueen
Here’s one of those weird years where different films will win best picture and best director. What Cuaron has done with “Gravity” is just too groundbreaking, too magnificent. It took several years and an army of geeks pounding away at computers, but Cuaron has changed the way movies will be made moving forward. His film is so awesomely beautiful and technically dazzling, it had me on the edge of my seat and the verge of tears for 90 tight minutes. He deserves this prize.
Nominees: 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.”
Will win: McConaughey
Should win: Ejiofor
Wild card: DiCaprio
“The McConaissaince” will be complete when the winner of the best-actor category is announced Sunday night. Over the past few years, McConaughey has transformed himself from a smug, rom-com bimbo to a serious actor capable of versatility and depth. The line he walks in “Dallas Buyers Club” is impressive because his character, the real-life Ron Woodruff, undergoes a change of mind and heart once he’s diagnosed with AIDS, but he remains kind of an asshole. Yet, we can’t help but root for him to find an answer to his disease and survive. Ejiofor is quietly dignified and powerful as Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave,” and undergoes a great transformation of his own, but I suspect it’s McConaughey’s year.
Nominees: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”; Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”; Judi Dench, “Philomena”; Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County.”
Will win: Blanchett
Should win: Blanchett
Wild card: None
Blanchett is the juggernaut. No one can stop her. As a damaged Blanche DuBois figure in “Blue Jasmine,” she’s selfish and condescending, fragile and desperate. She’s kind of an awful human being, and yet you still find yourself hoping that she’ll turn it around, build a new life for herself and find some happiness. But man, it would be nice to Adams finally win an Oscar. She is just too damn sexy in “American Hustle” — formidable in two distinct personalities. Some other year, it will be hers. This year, it’s Blanchett’s.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: 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.”
Will win: Leto
Should win: Fassbender
Wild card: Abdi
Leto has won every single award imaginable leading up the Oscars, and is the front-runner in the supporting-actor category Sunday night. I’m not in love with his performance as an AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club” the way most people are. I think it’s a little superficially showy and stereotypically drag queeny. Fassbender is truly frightening and disturbingly unpredictable as a plantation owner in “12 Years a Slave” but, for whatever reason, he isn’t even part of the convesrsation. Maybe his character is just too evil. I also have these wild fantasies of seeing former limo driver and first-time actor Abdi win for “Captain Phillips.” Weird things happen in the supporting-acting categories, so who knows?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”; Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”; Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”; Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”; June Squibb, “Nebraska.”
Will win: Nyong’o
Should win: Nyong’o
Wild card: Lawrence
Nyong’o is such a discovery and such a force as Patsy, Fassbender’s character’s favorite slave. She brings such raw fear and humanity to the part. She is going to be a superstar, and deservedly so, but first she’ll win Sunday night. Lawrence is a hilarious scene-stealer as a trashy trophy wife in “American Hustle” — and she does rock the cleavage and big hair in those flashy, ’70s get-ups — so it wouldn’t be a total shock to hear her name called. We know from her win last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” the she gives one doozy of an acceptance speech.