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2014 Academy Awards: Who should win & who will win

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With the 84th Academy Awards just days away, here are the obligatory predictions for who will go home with Oscar gold on March 2.

If these predictions pan out, then the awards would be pretty evenly distributed among the field - but without any major awards going to 'American Hustle' ... which is the only film nominated in all six major categories (film/director/actor/actress/supporting actress/supporting actor).

If you're planning an Oscar cram session, 'Captain Phillips,' 'Dallas Buyers Club,' 'Gravity' and 'Nebraska' are currently available on DVD/Blu-ray and VOD.

And day 2 of AMC Theaters 'Best Picture Showcase' will play in select AMC theaters March 1. The 12-hour marathon of five Best Picture contenders includes 'Nebraska,' 'Captain Phillips,' 'Her,' 'American Hustle' and 'Gravity.'

*********** BEST PICTURE

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

Should win: 'Her'
Will win: '12 Years a Slave'

'Her' was my pick for the best film of 2013 - but the best film doesn't always win the top Academy Award. Although this is a neck-and-neck race between 'Gravity' and '12 Years a Slave' - where 'Gravity' could very easily win this award - '12 Years a Slave' has the lethal combination of great performances, true story and a focus on America's worst sin. 'American Hustle,' with its strong all-around cast performances, could be a surprise winner if 'Gravity' and '12 YAS' split votes.

*********** DIRECTOR

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

Should win: Alfonso Cuarón
Will win: Alfonso Cuarón

Fun fact - the director who wins 'Best Director' award from the Directors Guild has gone on to win Best Director at the Academy Awards all but seven times since the DGA Awards began. Cuarón, who won the DGA honor this year, is one of two absolutely certain locks this year.

*********** ACTOR

Christian Bale for 'American Hustle'
Bruce Dern for 'Nebraska'
Leonardo DiCaprio for 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Chiwetel Ejiofor for '12 Years a Slave'
Matthew McConaughey for 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Should win: Matthew McConaughey
Will win: Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey faces stiff competition from Ejiofor and a surging DiCaprio, but the 'Dallas Buyers' star will win this award not just based on his incredible performance, but because he has been arguably the best actor over the past two years. With his incredible turns in 'Bernie,' 'Mud,' 'Magic Mike' and 'True Detective,' McConaughey has finally become the great actor he was projected to become. Ejiofor has every claim to this award and a win by him would not be a shock or upset. But DiCaprio's performance in 'WoWS' is not on par with any of the other nominees - if he wins, it will be a sort of 'body of work'/lifetime achievement award and not because his Jordan Belfort was a dynamic performance.

*********** ACTRESS

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

Should win: Cate Blanchett
Will win: Cate Blanchett

There are only two, 100 percent certain locks in this competitive Award Season - and Blanchett's brilliant performance in 'Blue Jasmine' towers over all her competition. Blanchett will win this award, you can take that to the bank. The unlikely dark horse could be the oft-nominated Streep, whose great performance is the only interesting aspect of the mundane 'Osage County.'

*********** SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi for 'Captain Phillips'
Bradley Cooper for 'American Hustle'
Michael Fassbender for '12 Years a Slave'
Jonah Hill for 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Jared Leto for 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Should win: Barkhad Abdi
Will win: Jared Leto

Leto has all the Award Season momentum - he's won virtually every Supporting Actor award out there for his strong performance in 'Dallas Buyers.' That said, Abdi's character is the most dynamic in the field: his Somali pirate shifts effortlessly from charming, aggressive and desperate.

A win by Hill would be a travesty.

*********** SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins for 'Blue Jasmine'
Jennifer Lawrence for 'American Hustle'
Lupita Nyong'o for '12 Years a Slave'
Julia Roberts for 'August: Osage County'
June Squibb for 'Nebraska'

Should win: Lupita Nyong'o
Will win: Lupita Nyong'o

For all its horrific depiction of slavery atrocities, the most gut-wrenching aspect of '12 YAS' is Nyong'o's performance. She is the human factor that truly transforms '12 YAS' from an observational condemnation of slavery into a powerful, if difficult-to-watch, damning of a terrible American institution. But any awards Nyong'o did not win this year went to J-Law - whose unstable, x-factor of a character was a combustible force in 'American Hustle.'

*********** ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

'Before Midnight' - Written by Richard Linklater
'Captain Phillips' - Screenplay by Billy Ray
'Philomena' - Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
'12 Years a Slave' - Screenplay by John Ridley
'The Wolf of Wall Street' - Screenplay by Terence Winter

Should win: '12 Years a Slave'
Will win: '12 Years a Slave'

'12 Years a Slave' is a powerful adaptation of a man's horrific journey -- but some voters could be won over by the charismatic, if f-bomb dependent, script for 'WoWS.'

*********** ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

'American Hustle' - Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
'Blue Jasmine' - Written by Woody Allen
'Dallas Buyers Club' - Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
'Her' - Written by Spike Jonze
'Nebraska' - Written by Bob Nelson

Should win: 'Her'
Will win: 'Her'

Spike Jonze wrote a poetic and lyrically beautiful script - one that gave humanity to a machine and pushed an inert man toward living a fulfilling, engaging life.

*********** ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

'The Croods'
'Despicable Me 2'
'Ernest & Celestine'
'Frozen'
'The Wind Rises'

Should win: 'The Wind Rises'
Will win: 'Frozen'

The category pits massive name recognition ('Frozen') against a foreign animated film ('The Wind Rises'). While 'Frozen' is a hugely successful, CGI animated film from Disney, it's main competition is a modest classically animated Japanese film from an animation legend (Hayao Miyazaki). Although 'The Wind Rises' has won numerous animated feature awards and has been a serious contender in the foreign-language category, the smart money is on the super popular and universally beloved 'Frozen.'

*********** DOCUMENTARY

'The Act of Killing'
'Cutie and the Boxer'
'Dirty Wars'
'The Square'
'20 Feet from Stardom'

Should win: '20 Feet from Stardom'
Will win: 'The Act of Killing'

Just about every Best Documentary award has gone to either 'The Act of Killing' or 'Stories We Tell' ... and since 'Stories' (#5 on my 'Best of 2013' list) was not even nominated for an Oscar, this category is for 'Act of Killing' to lose. '20 Feet from Stardom' is a compelling and entertaining documentary that should take this award and 'The Square' is just politically palatable enough to swoop in and steal this Oscar.

*********** FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

'The Broken Circle Breakdown'
'The Great Beauty'
'The Hunt'
'The Missing Picture'
'Omar'

Should win: 'The Hunt'
Will win: 'The Great Beauty'

This category was blown completely open with the omission of 'Blue is the Warmest Color,' 'Wadjda' and 'The Past' - films that have also won this award this Award Season. With these three critically-acclaimed foreign flicks taken out of the race, the strongest remaining film is 'The Great Beauty,' which has been at least nominated for just about every foreign language film category this Award Season.

*********** CINEMATOGRAPHY

'The Grandmaster'
'Gravity'
'Inside Llewyn Davis'
'Nebraska'
'Prisoners'

Should win: 'Gravity'
Will win: 'Gravity'

'Inside Llewyn Davis' has the best shot of knocking off 'Gravity' for this award - the divisive 'Davis' was, if nothing else, beautifully shot.

*********** FILM EDITING

'American Hustle'
'Captain Phillips'
'Dallas Buyers Club'
'Gravity'
'12 Years a Slave'

Should win: 'Gravity'
Will win: 'Gravity'

The fact that 'Gravity' is an unrelenting, tension-filled ride of a movie is one massive achievement - but the fact that this emotionally draining roller-coaster is only 91 minutes long (including end credits) is a testimony to 'Gravity's editing. No frame is wasted - the quiet moments are beautiful, the connective tissue is dread-inducing terror that quickly ramps up to a stomach-dropping, harrowing fight for survival. 'Gravity' owes all its kinetic energy to its brilliant editing.

*********** PRODUCTION DESIGN

'American Hustle'
'Gravity'
'The Great Gatsby'
'Her'
'12 Years a Slave'

Should win: 'Her'
Will win: 'The Great Gatsby'

The only good thing that can be said of 'Gatsby' is how pretty the film looked.

*********** VISUAL EFFECTS

'Gravity'
'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'
'Iron Man 3'
'The Lone Ranger'
'Star Trek Into Darkness'

Should win: 'Gravity'
Will win: 'Gravity'

This should be a slam dunk for 'Gravity.' The only x-factors could be how much voters loved Smaug.

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