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86th Academy Awards: Who will win, should win – and does Oscar need a makeover?

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The 86th Academy Awards celebration next Sunday night (March 2, live on ABC) promises to be one of the most competitive in years.

Yet it’s quite possible that “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” – two of the most entertaining films of the year – could end up with just one award, at most, between them.

The folks involved with “Gravity,” on the other hand, will likely need a Brinks truck to haul off the evening’s biggest bag ‘o Oscars – bolstered by a sweep of the technical awards – when they walk out of the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. Sunday night.

Maybe it's time to take a cue from other movie award ceremonies and open up the Oscars. Start by breaking down the Best Picture, Acting and Screenplay awards into dramatic, comedic, and sci-fi/fantasy categories. Set and production design, as well as hair and makeup, should be divided into contemporary and historical/fantasy categories.

Yes, that would require a radical revamp of the show. The cumulative effect of all those speeches would make an already long night absolutely interminable. So why not trim or even eliminate some of the acceptance speeches for short films and technical awards in sound and visual effects? Truly ground-breaking achievements could be recognized in special segments.

Face it; Oscar is all about entertainment. Like baseball or soccer, no matter how talented the people who design sportswear or the machines that wrap thread around baseballs, fans tune in to the all-star game to see the star players, not the techies and minor leaguers.

Let the producers and directors figure out the details, but if the 2014 Oscars turn out the way it looks right now, the Academy should consider remedial action to assure that the best work is acknowledged.

One area that won’t require any tinkering this year is host Ellen DeGeneres, who can be expected to bring her usual charm and humor to the festivities.

And the Oscars for the 86th Academy Awards go to:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

This year presents an unusually strong crop of films. One could make a good argument for awarding the Oscar to “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her” or “Gravity.” But when it comes to Best Picture, drama or romantic comedy usually trumps science – as long as they that don't revolve around electromechanical devices or computers.

“12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” were the most original cinematic visions of the year, with “Her” a close second. All are Oscar-worthy, but watching “12 Years a Slave” felt like having one's synaptic circuits re-arranged.

Should win: “12 Years a Slave

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club

If you want a best-acting Oscar, losing (or gaining) a lot of weight and/or cross-dressing can’t hurt (see Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup and Hairstyling).

I first remember seeing McConaughey in “Sahara” (2005). Charming fellow, I thought, but as an actor, I dismissed him as a lightweight. Then he started doing roles in films like “The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011), “Killer Joe” (2011), “Magic Mike” (2012) and last year, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Dallas Buyers Club.”

Unfortunately for Chiwetel Ejiofor, who brought to life one of the most unforgettable characters in decades, in McConaughy, he’s up against an actor with seemingly unstoppable momentum. Feels like the 2000 awards when Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”) beat out Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem for a Dream”).

Should win: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine

I fell in love with Sydney Prosser, Amy Adams’ character in “American Hustle,” but Cate Blanchett’s role in “Blue Jasmine” was one for the ages.

Sandra Bullock deserves a very honorable mention.

Should win: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club

See Best Actor. Leto was very good, but so were Jonah Hill and Barkhad Abdi. “The Wolf on Wall Street” may have turned off a lot Academy voters, paving the way for Leto and making the overall selection process more chaotic than usual.

Should win: Jonah Hill

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyongo, “12 Years a Slave

Jennifer Lawrence and Sally Hawkins have a legitimate shot, but Oscar-worthy “12 Years a Slave” finds itself having to navigate between “Gravity” – which will gobble up most of the technical awards – and a spate of career-best accomplishments.

Should win: Lupita Nyongo

Best Animated Feature: Frozen”

“Frozen” wins in an avalanche.

Should win:Frozen

Best Cinematography: Gravity

Phedon Papamichael’s time-stopping black-and-white lensing in “Nebraska” stands out, but Lubezki and Cuarón devised truly ground-breaking camerawork in “Gravity.”

Should win: Gravity

Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby

Nineteenth century slave-wear doesn’t stand much of a chance going against spiffy threads of the Roaring Twenties upper-class.

Should win: “12 Years a Slave

Best Directing: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón will win the directing Oscar as a consolation for not getting Best Picture.

Should win: Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave

Best Documentary Feature: “The Act of Killing”

Another highly competitive category. “20 Feet from Stardom” and “The Square” deserve to win, but the audacity of “The Act of Killing” will put it over the top.

Should win: “The Act of Killing”

Best Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6 – Music Saved My Life

Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed’s film has Oscar written all over it, but Jeffrey Karoff’s “CaveDigger” and Edgar Barens’ “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” are more concise, original, and just as powerful in their own way. (Update: "The Lady in Number 6," Alice Herz-Sommer, passed away Sunday, 2/23/14 in London, at the age of 110.)

Should win: “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”

Best Film Editing: Gravity

This one's a double feature: "The Case of The Missing Nominee" and 'The Curse of the Wall St. Wolf." Thelma Schoonmaker’s absence from Oscar consideration can only be explained by "The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street effect."

From the initial film-editing Oscar awarded to Conrad A. Nervig for "Eskimo" in 1934, up until Schoonmaker received her first Academy Award for “Raging Bull (1980) 45 years later, only five women had won Best Editing Oscars. Today, only Michael Kahn has earned more editing nominations (8) than Schoonmaker (7), who remains tied for the all-time lead (3) with Kahn, Ralph Dawson and Daniel Mandell.

Shoulda been nominated: Thelma Schoonmaker for “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Should win (with Schoonmaker MIA): Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger for “Gravity

Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty

Paolo Sorrentino’s "grande bellezza" channels Fellini with a 21st century take on the dolce vita.

Should win: The Great Beauty

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “The Dallas Buyers Club

In a perfect world, “The Dallas Buyers Club” shares this year’s award with “American Hustle."

Should win for Best Makeup: “The Dallas Buyer’s Club

Should win for Best Hairstyling: “American Hustle

Best Original Score: Steven Price for “Gravity

Steven Price’s electronic-orchestral fusion perfectly accentuates the visuals.

Should win: Gravity

Best Original Song: “Let it Go,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez

How many films were altered due to a song? Influenced, sure. But rewritten? I betcha not even “Once” (2006).

Should win: “Let it Go” from “Frozen”

Best Production Design: “The Great Gatsby”

Put “Gravity,” “The Great Gatsby” and “12 Years a Slave” in a hat and pick one. "The Great Gatsby" will win, but production design was integrally connected to making “Gravity" the film that it is.

Should win: Gravity

Best Animated Short Film: “Get a Horse!”

Don’t put your hat away; it will come in handy here, too. Throw in “Mr. Hublot” and “Room on the Broom.” Pick one, and you’ll be holding the name of the film that should win for Best Animated Short. However, familiarity and nostalgia will likely nudge the Oscar toward Disney’s “Get a Horse!”

Should win: Room on the Broom

Best Live Action Short Film: “The Voorman Problem”

The notoriously difficult task of picking Oscar shorts (not to be confused with Oscar’s shorts) continues. Any one of the five nominees could/should win, but Mark Gill and Baldwin Li’s “The Voorman Problem” takes home the award for being clever and concise. Esteban Crespo’s “Aquel no Era Yo” should win for sheer ambition, but its controversial themes and violence will not endear the film to Academy voters (see “The Wolf of Wall Street”).

Should win: “Aquel no Era Yo”

Best Sound Editing: “Gravity

No known force in physics exists that will hinder "Gravity" from winning most of the technical awards.

Should win: “Gravity

Best Sound Mixing: “Gravity

See “Sound Editing.” Besides, sound mixing and editing usually rise and fall in tandem on Oscar night.

Should win: “Gravity

Best Visual Effects: Gravity

The only way “Gravity” doesn’t win for Best Visual Effects is if the auditing office handling the Oscars at PricewaterhouseCoopers takes a direct hit from a mile-wide meteor just before the vote count is completed.

Should win: “Gravity

Best Adapted Screenplay: “12 Years a Slave

John Ridley wins easily for “12 Years a Slave,” with the other four nominees far behind in a close race for second place. Slavery has never been so powerfully depicted – in all its depravity – as in this film.

Should win: “12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze for “Her”

It’s a toss-up between “Her” and Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell for “American Hustle.”

Should win: “American Hustle

See Rick's reviews HERE or on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

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