I look at the rest of the nominees at this year’s Academy Awards – Best Picture and Best Director, and the Acting and Screenplay categories – and credit who I think will win (and who should!). The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

BEST PICTURE

American Hustle Captain Phillips Dallas Buyers Club Gravity Her Nebraska Philomena 12 Years a Slave The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Will Win: Gravity

Could Win: 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle

Should Win: Gravity

 

American Hustle, for many prognosticators, became the Best Picture favourite after it won Best Ensemble Cast at the SAG Awards. I genuinely feel like Hustle deserved this award, but the snub for 12 Years A Slave at that point was a telling one. At the Golden Globes 12 Years A Slave came from nowhere (literally winning nothing else) to nab Best Picture (Drama). It also won the BAFTA for Best Film (curiously winning just one other award – Best Actor). Gravity is going to win more Oscars than 12 Years A Slave, and I’m convinced that Gravity has a lot of support. The tie at the Producer’s Guild of America (between 12 Years and Gravity) is proof of this. I have been backing Gravity from the beginning – none of this Best Pic/Director split business – and have stuck with it ever since I first watched (and was disappointed by) 12 Years A Slave.

 

From the rest of the group Hustle (with ten nominations) has a genuine chance. AMPAS have loved Russell’s previous three films (but he should have won last year with the vastly superior Silver Linings Playbook). Nebraska (six, including Best Director/Actor/Original Screenplay), The Wolf of Wall Street (five, including Best Director/Actor/Adapted Screenplay) and Captain Phillips (a genuine chance for Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Editing) are not without a show. Personally, I rank all three ahead of both 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle.

 

But this has come down to 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. Whether the AMPAS honours a film that tackles the harrowing truths about America’s past, or a film that has expertly utilized the best of present technology, and laid a platform for future achievements, remains to be seen. 90% of Oscar prognosticators are going with 12 Years A Slave. No cinematic experience came close to Gravity in 2013. I hope voters saw the film in the theatre and not their televisions (or heaven forbid, their laptops). 

 

BEST DIRECTOR Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Alexander Payne, Nebraska David O. Russell, American Hustle Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Will Win: Cuaron - Gravity

Could Win: McQueen - 12 Years A Slave

Should Win: Cuaron. Second choice: Payne.

 

Cuaron won at the Globes, the DGA and the BAFTA’s, and I feel he will prove to be the winner. Scorsese receives his second straight nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street. Made at age 71 it is one of his most explosive and energetic films. Payne likely bumped out a worthy Paul Greengrass (for Captain Phillips), but he is at his absolute best helming the flawless Nebraska. It is one of the top films in contention, but by far the most subdued direction nominated. David O. Russell had his best ever chance last year with Silver Linings Playbook. I’m still upset about him not winning. A win here would surprise, even if American Hustle eventually takes out Best Picture. McQueen is Cuaron’s primary threat. He is one of the boldest directors in the business, and after his second masterpiece Shame was overlooked by the Academy, I am glad to see him recognized here. Will he win for 12 Years A Slave? It is possible. I don’t hold it in such high esteem, and I think Cuaron (who has proven he is a genius and should have received a nomination for his previous film, Children of Men, back in 2006) is a worthy winner.

 

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

 

Will Win: McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

Could Win: DiCaprio - Wolf of Wall Street, Ejiofor - 12 Years A Slave

Should Win: For recent body of work: McConaughy. For lone nominated performance: DiCaprio, from a very strong field.

 

Firstly, as great as Christian Bale is in American Hustle he should be at 100/1 odds here. I was surprised to hear his name called over Hanks, Redford and Phoenix. Dern was one of the favourites at some point (along with Ejiofor) but support for him seems to have waned. He is brilliant in Nebraska, and I’d love to hear his name called, but I feel like a younger man is going to take home this year’s Best Actor. Throw a dart at McConaughey, DiCaprio and Ejiofor, and you may hit the winner. When McConaughey and DiCaprio won at the Golden Globes they were surprises (at least for me). Having now seen their films, and their intense commitment to their roles, I wouldn’t have voted for anyone else. McConaughey beat out Ejiofor at the SAG, which gives him the edge, but DiCaprio wasn’t nominated. At the BAFTA’s Ejiofor won over DiCaprio, but McConaughey wasn’t eligible. McConaughey will likely gain favour for his incredible recent body of work (Killer Joe, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Mud, True Detective currently on TV), which could steer voters to award him for Dallas Buyers Club, but if Leo has a shot to win, it is this year. Portraying hedonistic stockbroker Jordan Belfort is perhaps his career-best work. If McConaughey wins I will forever be disappointed that he wins for ‘this film’, but we are witnessing one of the greatest acting career resurgences perhaps of all time.

 

BEST ACTRESS Amy Adams, American Hustle Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine Sandra Bullock, Gravity Judi Dench, Philomena Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

 

Will Win: Blanchett - Blue Jasmine

Could Win: Bullock - Gravity, Adams - American Hustle

Should Win: Blanchett

 

If there are any certainties amongst this year’s nominees, Blanchett is one of them. If you pay attention to the precursors, Blanchett has won everything, and that should result in her second Oscar for her phenomenally versatile performance as a once-wealthy socialite dealing with psychological trauma in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Sandra Bullock, whose emotional and physically testing work in Gravity outdoes anything I have seen her do previously. While we are in awe of Cuaron’s technical achievements, it is Bullock who makes our heart ache. She’s the next best chance. Meryl is riveting as a cantankerous old gorgon in August: Osage County, and Dench creates a unique version of her dottery old lady in Philomena, working alongside an equally excellent Steve Coogan. Both women are great, but then they always are. As too is Adams, who became a shoo-in for a nomination after winning at the Golden Globes. Her performance in American Hustle, which involves her getting so deep into a con she loses sight of who she really is, is unlike anything Adams has done. She constantly re-invents herself, and is damn convincing every time. I’m not sure I would have personally nominated her, but she is one of the best in the business and she has been gaining momentum. Only Blanchett and Bullock deliver work rivalling their best, despite this category being loaded with talent, and that’s why I think it will come down to them. Bet against Blanchett, I dare you. 

 

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 Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

 

Will Win: Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Could Win: Abdi, Captain Phillips and Cooper, American Hustle

Should Win: Fassbender 

 

This is a category that has become quite easy to predict (if you pay attention to the pre-cursors), but a tough one to personally rank. I thought Leto was solid (not spectacular) in Dallas Buyers Club, but I am not a supporter of the film. For months I have been claiming that this award had to go to Fassbender. From how I saw it, he was the strongest feature of 12 Years A Slave. On a re-watch, I’m not so sure. I thought I saw beneath his ‘pure evil’ the first time around. The second time, it was all I saw. I still think he deserves to win this, but having expected to be blown away by Leto, I can’t say there is one truly outstanding performance amongst this field. I loved that Abdi got nominated for his first ever role in Captain Phillips. While Hanks was unfortunately overlooked, the success of Greengrass’ film rested just as much on Abdi’s shoulders as Hanks’. I also loved Cooper in American Hustle, playing a wildly ambitious FBI Agent so hungry to make arrests that he is blind to the repercussions. The biggest laughs come from Cooper who plays this loose cannon to perfection. Some interesting statistics have come to light – on just two occasions, from the fourteen times when one film has competed for all four acting categories, has that film been shut out. If American Hustle does get shut out, it will be the first time in 63 years. Lawrence and Adams have the best chances (according to the odds), but I personally hope Cooper gets some recognition. He was terrific in The Place Beyond the Pines too. Two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill. That is fun to say. He won’t win for this, but he has a lot of fun playing Belfort’s slimy, oft-Quaaluded best friend Donnie Azoff. With Abdi beating out Fassbender and Cooper at the BAFTA’s (Leto, like McCaonaughey, was ineligible) he can’t be written off. 

 

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

 

Will Win: Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave

Could Win: Lawrence, American Hustle

Should Win: Nyong’o would be a worthy winner, but both Squibb and Hawkins feature in better films and they play an essential (supporting) role in their success. 

 

Everyone loves Jennifer Lawrence. I do too. I predicted she would win Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook and I can’t argue with the Academy’s selection. But, the fact that there is talk about her winning again is ridiculous. She has some terrific moments in American Hustle (the kiss in the bathroom) but I left feeling like she was miscast (too young!) and underutilized. Of the central ensemble, she has (by far) the least amount of screen time. She has had a fantastic year (The Hunger Games sequel in addition to the January release of Silver Linings) but she does not ‘steal the show’ in American Hustle as many have claimed. Personally, I enjoyed the performances of Sally Hawkins (as imperative to the success of Blue Jasmine as Blanchett’s monumental work) and June Squibb (a firecracker and a perfect a complement to Dern’s quiet contemplation as Nebraska required), the most from this group, but I believe Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o deserves the award for her remarkable debut in 12 Years A Slave. I think she will win, despite a setback at the BAFTA’s (losing to Lawrence). 

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club Spike Jonze, Her Bob Nelson, Nebraska

 

Will Win: American Hustle

Could Win: Her

Should Win: Nebraska

 

Well we can probably write-off Woody (for obvious reasons), and Borten and Wallack are clearly out of their depth. Jonze won the SAG (against identical competition), which makes him the hot favourite, but there is so much love for American Hustle. Russell and Singer won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. Will it go home empty handed? Much has been said about on-set improvisation, but I personally enjoyed the complexities of the screenplay and the dialogue. As much as say, Bob Nelson’s for Nebraska? No way, but I’d still be content with Russell winning. Jonze’s ideas are so timely, so eerily relevant. He has managed to create a subtle sci-fi about our technology-obsessed selves – featuring a world we will likely inhabit in the not-too-distant future – and set it around a profoundly unnerving but wholly believable core relationship. Quite a feat. Will Jonze get his first Oscar? It’s very possible. This is the tightest category. 

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight Billy Ray, Captain Phillips Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Will Win: 12 Years A Slave

Could Win: Captain Phillips, Philomena

Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street or Before Midnight (come on guys!)

 

The only film nominated here with a legitimate chance of winning Best Picture is 12 Years Slave. How often does a Best Picture winner also fail to win one of the screenplay awards? The Artist didn’t, but it is pretty rare. Gravity won’t either. The point is, if 12 Years A Slave goes on to win Best Picture it is going to win this award. I wasn’t so wrapt in the film’s screenplay, actually. It is episodic and the passing of time isn’t all that well conveyed. Now, the cold distant mood of the film, it’s unsettling theatricality, could be attributed to McQueen’s direction, but save for some shock value, and intermittent tension, I wasn’t left as emotionally affected as I expected.

 

Terrence Winter’s adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoirs has resulted in the rare occurrence of a film bettering the source material. I didn’t like the novel at all. While Jordan’s establishment of his firm from the ground up, and the first-hand recollections of his international money smuggling was fascinating, Belfort’s self-glorification of his actions and his unwarranted storytelling indulgences grew wearying. Winter has changed key names, and made the FBI hunt more prevalent, but has cut out a heap of unnecessary diversions. Belfort’s narrative voice is still there – DiCaprio narrates after all – but there is an indictment of this behaviour, a moral comeuppance present in the final hour. I thought it was a brilliant adaptation.

 

How can we ignore Before Midnight, as perfect a culmination (maybe?) to the Before Trilogy, the creation of Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for almost two decades. Who could have imagined that their story would have ended up here, and yet it makes perfect sense. Meticulously crafted by three artists who know these characters inside and out, we are taken on a rollercoaster of emotions as the honest truths of marriage and commitment come tumbling out. Even though Coogan and Pope’s screenplay for Philomena and Ridley’s for 12 Years A Slave were deemed ineligible for the WGA, neither Wolf or Before Midnight won the award. Billy Ray did. Captain Phillips is a phenomenal film, and maybe I misjudged crediting Ray’s screenplay. Then we come to the BAFTA’s, and who wins here? Not Ridley, Ray or Winter, but Coogan and Pope. There is no longer a clear favourite in this category. Yet, most prognosticators are adamant Ridley will win here. If 12 Years A Slave has a claim for Best Picture, it must win here. It isn’t going to win much else.

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22