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Pop Off: Academy Awards predictions

By Brendon Field
On February 24, 2014

The biggest night in Hollywood and the basements of movie buffs, the 86th Academy Awards, are to be presented this Sunday. Here are my predictions for the major categories.
Best Actor: This looks to be a two horse race between Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club" and Bruce Dern for "Nebraska." Chiwetel Ejiofor remains a dark horse for "12 Years A Slave," but seems to have a lost a little momentum since its release. Dern is a beloved veteran who has been working for 50 years, but the Academy loves comebacks, and no actor has had a bigger career reinvention than Matthew McConaughey. Seeing as the Academy missed their last opportunity, choosing Sean Penn for "Milk" over Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler," I don't think they will again. McConaughey will take home his first Oscar.
Best Actress: Some of the nominations here (Judi Dench, Meryl Streep), seem almost obligatory for the Academy, so I think this will come down to Sandra Bullock for "Gravity" and Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine." Bullock has the benefit of a role that was physically challenging as well as a lot of solitary screen time. But Blanchett has been winning almost every other award in the business, and I think the Academy will follow suit.
Best Supporting Actor: Like the last several years, Supporting Actor looks to be the most hotly contested acting prize. Oddly enough the biggest names, Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle") and Jonah Hill ("The Wolf of Wall Street") look to be the only ones out of contention. Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") achieved the rare feat of a nomination on his introductory role. But Michael Fassbender's performance in "12 Years a Slave" was being talked about for nearly a year before the film was released. But I predict this will go to Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club," where plays a transgender woman. The Academy made the mistake of overlooking Jaye Davidson for his transgender role in "The Crying Game" in 1992. They better not make it again.
Best Supporting Actress: This category looks to be the biggest toss-up. I don't think Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle") will win two years straight, and Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine") has been earning nominations, but no wins. Nobody seems to be talking much about Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") either. June Squibb could win, but I'm going to go with Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years A Slave," because "12 Years" likely won't go without at least one acting win, and this seems like the most probable place.
Best Director: Alonso Cuaron will win for "Gravity," I don't want him to, but he will. After finally seeing "Gravity" this past weekend, I can safely say it's the most overhyped and overrated movie of the past year. Cuaron's direction was incredibly uneven, with some terrible cinematography decisions and the only two characters being stock. But Ang Lee's win for "Life of Pi" last year shows the Academy doesn't consider the quality of the script when voting for Best Director.
Best Picture: This year's Best Picture race looks to be one of the most interesting of the past decade, easily the most since the field was expanded beyond five. Since "Argo" was only the fourth film Oscar history to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination, it won't likely happen two years in a row. This narrows the field to "12 Years A Slave," "Gravity," "American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Nebraska." The first three appear to be the frontrunners, with "12 Years A Slave" winning the British Academy top prize, "Gravity" (tying with "Her") for Best Film from the Los Angeles Film Critic Assocation, and "American Hustle" winning Best Picture - Musical or Comedy (stronger than the Drama field this year) at the Golden Globes. But it's been awhile since a Best Picture upset, and I think "The Wolf of Wall Street" might come out on top. The Academy likes movies that address current and prominent American problems, in "The Wolf of Wall Street's" case, that's financial corruption and income inequality. I think it hard-nosed and unapologetic portrayal of racism in "Crash" is what put it ahead of "Brokeback Mountain," and like "Crash" it had a slightly polarizing effect. As for "Gravity," I just really don't want it to win. Both "12 Years A Slave" and "American Hustle" were acclaimed, but their release seemed to bring only a respectful splash of applause. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is the nominee with the most important message, as well as the movie people seem to be most passionate about. I would be happy with most nominees winning, but I would be thrilled if "The Wolf of Wall Street" earned Best Picture.

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