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2014 Oscars: Predicting the majors nominees for the 86th Academy Awards

It's that time of year again! With announcement of nominations for the 86th Academy Awards coming early Thursday morning, we've arrived at the peak of awards seasons. The scene has been buzzing all week after the upset-filled popularity contest that was the 71st Golden Globe Awards this past Sunday. At the festivities, plenty of new possible contenders emerged, while a few Oscar races were made even more ironclad.

Here are the Chicago Film Examiner's predictions for the major category nominees for this Thursday's Oscar nominations

In addition to the Golden Globes, I've been doing my homework on all of the lead-in awards and critics honors and tallying who and what has been cleaning up the trophies. Ever since the day after the 85th Oscars last year, where I gathered 14 films in a column to "keep an eye" on for the 2014 awards (many of which have come true), the industry and myself has been waiting for Thursday. It's time to see who and what is considered the best of the best.

Normally, I just wait for the actual nominations and work on predicting the final winners after that. For the second year in a row, though, I'm going to try, once again, to throw a few darts by guessing what names will come out of the hat as the official nominees. Unlike last year, where it was almost downright impossible to pick every single category, right down to the short film, documentary, and technical categories, I will save myself and everyone the trouble and stick to the "Big 8" major categories. No one is writing home about who got snubbed in Best Sound Mixing. I'm going to do my best to name and predict the major field nominees, identify a few surprises that make it, and call out some potential snubs and dark horses that won't. Let's get into the categories.



My predicted nominees: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Captain Phillips

The surprises: This is a tricky category because the voters can create a field as large as ten nominees instead of the base of five, making this hard to discern. For all I know, I'm one short with my field of nine. I think the weakest of the eight I named is Captain Phillips.

The snubs: Like I said, I might be one short or three too many in this dumb idea of an expanded field. I've never liked this new rule. Get it to five like every other category. Keep it real and not inflated. Rant aside, if any film fills that final tenth slot or takes out another nominee from my list, watch for Saving Mr. Banks, Blue Jasmine, or Dallas Buyers Club. Those pictures ride the coattails of their potential nominees in acting categories without being though of as true "best" pictures.

The dark horse potential spoiler: The two deep dark horses would be the independent hit Fruitvale Station and the much-loved Before Midnight. Fruitvale Station has universally strong reviews and would be a nice nod from the independent ranks to represent minorities, much like Precious a few years back. Before Midnight was the summer indie darling after premiering last winter at the Sundance Film Festival. Both, however, are a bit forgotten as "old news" after their fall and summer debuts. For either of these two dark horses to make the final 8-10 nominees, they will need ardent fans with longer memories than the average voter.


My predicted nominees: Alfonso Cuaron- Gravity, Steve McQueen- 12 Years a Slave, Joel and Ethan Coen- Inside Llewyn Davis, David O. Russell- American Hustle, Spike Jonze- Her

The surprises: Compared to the wide nominees possible in the Best Picture race, this field of five looks like a more appropriate representation of the consensus top films of the year. I think the three absolute locks to make it are Cuaron, McQueen, and Russell. Then again, go tell that to Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow last year. That makes the Coen brothers and Jonze the closest names to surprises in a loaded field that wants to match the Best Picture race.

The snubs: The Directors Guild of America nominated Paul Greengrass of Captain Phillips and Martin Scorsese of The Wolf of Wall Street, omitting Jonze and the Coen brothers. Icon or not, Scorsese might be sitting this one out. Most people aren't talking about his direction when it comes to the controversial buzz surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street. As a predictor, I'm taking the chance that Paul Greengrass gets bumped on a movie kind of forgotten since October. There's a huge chance he doesn't, but I had to roll the dice in one category.

The dark horse potential spoiler: The two spoilers are the two snubs. Both Greengrass and Scorsese have the body of work and the clout to earn a place in this Oscar race, without question. Any deeper spoiler farther down the list, names like Alexander Payne for Nebraska or All Is Lost's J.C. Chandor, have very little chance leapfrogging Greengrass or Scorsese.


My predicted nominees: Chiwetel Ejiofor- 12 Years a Slave, Matthew McConaughey- Dallas Buyers Club, Bruce Dern- Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio- The Wolf of Wall Street, Joaquin Phoenix- Her

The surprises: The surprise all year has been the noteworthy performance from the senior nominee, Bruce Dern from Nebraska. He was awarded the Best Actor prize at Cannes and will make it to Oscar night. No one saw his minor brilliance coming.

The snubs: From where I'm sitting, this is a loaded potential field. With my predictions, you're sending four previous Oscar winners home by not having room for Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Christian Bale, or Forrest Whitaker for Captain Phillips, All Is Lost, American Hustle, and Lee Daniels' The Butler, respectively. That's a lot of gold on the sidelines.

The dark horse potential spoiler: Of those four snubbed previous Oscar winners, I think Robert Redford has the biggest potential to steal a spot in the field for All Is Lost. I know it's a virtually silent role, but he's Hollywood royalty brighter than Dern and has a chance to steal his spot.


My predicted nominees: Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine, Amy Adams- American Hustle, Sandra Bullock- Gravity, Emma Thompson- Saving Mr. Banks, Meryl Streep- August: Osage County

The surprises: The surprise nominee here is Amy Adams. She is riding the hit momentum of American Hustle and I think her Golden Globe win could be a precursor for her making this field. If she does, in her relatively young career, this would be her fifth Oscar nomination. That's quite impressive. It won't be this year, but someday, like Kate Winslet before her, she's going to finally win.

The snubs: In matching this list to the SAG nominations, Adams steals Judi Dench's slot from Philomena. I think the movie is too under-seen to echo enough over the glitzy American Hustle bandwagon. Also, comedy never gets top respect, so I don't expect Julia Louis-Dreyfus to win a spot for Enough Said. She'll have to settle for TV.

The dark horse potential spoiler: The name to watch for and also to learn to pronounce and spell might be Adele Exarchopoulos of Blue is the Warmest Colour. If that foreign film juggernaut mounts a similar charge to the one received last year by Amour, Adele might just make it into the field. She was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's pick for Best Actress over all of the listed potential nominees. That's a big and influential group that gave the same honor last year to Amour's Emmanuelle Riva in this category last year.


My predicted nominees: Jared Leto- Dallas Buyers Club, Bradley Cooper- American Hustle, Michael Fassbender- 12 Years a Slave, James Gandolfini- Enough Said, Barkhad Abdi- Captain Phillips

The surprises: We're watching a rags-to-riches story with Somali actor Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips. His Minneapolis cab driver to Tom Hanks adversary is a great story that gets one more chapter at the Oscars. On another note, the nomination is a nice gesture to the late James Gandolfini, who really deserves this honor without a boost from his death, for his approachable romantic role in Enough Said.

The snubs: Comparing my predictions to the Screen Actors Guild nominees, I think Rush's Daniel Bruhl loses his slot to Bradley Cooper, who was not among the final five in this category for the SAG Award. Once again, I think the American Hustle bandwagon generates another nominee next to Amy Adams in Best Actress.

The dark horse potential spoiler: If voters fell in love with Nebraska, a name to watch our for could be Will Forte. The National Board of Review named his their Best Supporting Actor, besting everyone, including Leto. He could be a surprise nominee.


My predicted nominees: Lupita Nyong'o- 12 Years a Slave, Jennifer Lawrence- American Hustle, Julia Roberts- August: Osage County, June Squibb- Nebraska, Sally Hawkins- Lee Daniels' The Butler

The surprises: I hate to admit it, but I think this is a thin field with not very many major surprises. My predictions, in fact, match the final five in this category for the Golden Globe Awards, where Lawrence one over Nyong'o. There's only one possible major snub...

The snubs: ...and that snub would be for Oprah Winfrey's work in Lee Daniels' The Butler. Winfrey is among the final five in this category for the SAG Award over Hawkins, but I think this is a situation where the Woody Allen affections shines down to Sally Hawkins over a lady who has everything like Oprah Winfrey. This is a bit of chance and dice roll of a prediction.

The dark horse potential spoiler: Recently, Inside Llewyn Davis swept most of the major award categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director) from the National Society of Film Critics. If that group has a loud enough voice, maybe they give Carey Mulligan a push to make this field. She's a deep longshot.


My predicted nominees: Spike Jonze- Her, David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer- American Hustle, Woody Allen- Blue Jasmine, Bob Nelson- Nebraska, Joel and Ethan Coen- Inside Llewyn Davis

The surprises: No really surprises are present in this loaded category. These have been the big five in this category all awards season. The only nominee here that doesn't match the Writers Guild of America nominees is Inside Llewyn Davis, but I think the universal love of the Coen brothers earns a spot.

The snubs: The fifth WGA nominee that gets bounced in my predictions by the Coen brothers is the original screenplay of Dallas Buyers Club penned by Craig Borten and Melisa Walleck. They count as the top snub.

The dark horse potential spoiler: A name to watch out for as a potential spoiler is Nicole Holofcener and her feature film Enough Said. Last year, rookie writer/director J.C. Chandor made this category with Margin Call. There always tends to be one surprise nominee. Holofcener was honored in this category by the Boston Film Critics and might be a legitimate dark horse to root for. She might make this field.


My predicted nominees: John Ridley- 12 Years a Slave, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy- Before Midnight, Terrance Winter- The Wolf of Wall Street, Billy Ray- Captain Phillips, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope- Philomena

The surprises: The first four names I listed above feel like the sure-thing locks. The inclusion of Before Midnight will probably surprise most average movie fans, but the film and its screenplay have won the second most awards in this category after 12 Years a Slave. Even though it's not a Best Picture nominee, it deserves to be here and isn't a surprise to me. That makes Philomena the bigger surprise. With Judi Dench missing the Best Actress race, this might be the place to throw a bouquet to this small film. I think it gets the call over a pair of key snubs.

The snubs: The two potential big name snubs for Best Adapted Screenplay are playwright Tracey Lett's adapting his own play into the film version of August Osage County and Peter Berg's true story adaptation for Lone Survivor. Both are nominated by the WGA for this category, but both have their flaws. Not many people (other than myself and a few others) have rallied around August: Osage County and consider the movie weak next to the Tony-winning source play. Lone Survivor is a brand new box office hit, but it debuted too late for voters to take notice and Peter Berg is still the man that delivered Battleship. I think a snub is his overdue punishment for that travesty.

The dark horse potential spoiler: Like the Best Director category, the two best dark horses are probably the two snubs, but I'll dive a little deeper. As I mentioned up in Best Original Screenplay with Nicole Holofcener's potential, there always seems to be one far-out surprise nominee in this major category. Possible longshots could be the team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for trendy coming-of-age tale The Spectacular Now or Daniel Cretton's solid work for the quiet indie Short Term 12. That's digging a little deeper than Letts and Berg.

Check back after the nominations are formally announced Thursday to see how I did!

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