With Ellen DeGeneres returning as host, the 86th Annual Academy Awards is primed to nab stellar ratings and attract that much-coveted younger age demographic. It didn't hurt that the Oscars promo commercial featured DeGeneres dancing with a group of fit and slick hipsters to a spunky ditty from the über cool group Fitz & The Tantrums.
But beyond the PR, the films being celebrated this year are among the finest to emerge out of Hollywood in some time. It happens every now and again—that amazing movie year where there are so many memorable films that it's hard believe that everything jived so well behind the scenes to actually bring these babies to life. True, there were several glaring omissions in this year's Oscar derby—"Lee Daniels' The Butler" was completely overlooked, as was Emma Thompson for "Saving Mr. Banks" and Robert Redford for "All is Lost." Regardless, we'll celebrate what we've given this year.
The Oscar telecast, which airs at 5 p.m (PST/ Red Carpet coverage) on Sunday, March 2 on ABC promises to be robust. Notables include performances by Pink and—why hasn't the Academy thought of it before?—Bette Midler. (Everybody has been tight-lipped about what dear Bette will perform, but expect to be wowed.)
What's left? Well, DeGeneres should prove to be the perfect host—expect the Emmy-winning talk show host to be interact with audience members. Beyond that, take note of the Oscar noms and my predictions below.
"12 Years a Slave"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
Will win: Toss up between "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" Should win: "12 Years a Slave"—clearly the year's best pictures and consistently unapologetic in its brutal depiction of rogue slave owners (among other things), everything from the adaptation from Solomon Northup's gripping memoir to the storytelling and the fine array of actors elevate this film beyond anything we have seen in over a decade. Even though "American Hustle" has that Oscar-win feeling—you sense it while watching it—strong chances are "12 Years a Slave" will come out on top.
Steve McQueen – "12 Years a Slave"
David O. Russell – "American Hustle"
Alfonso Cuaron – "Gravity"
Alexander Payne – "Nebraska"
Martin Scorsese – "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Will win/Should win: Alfonso Cuaron—few directors have managed to capture the breathtaking scope and solitude of space quite as exquisitely as this director has in "Gravity," but there was some punch in how Cuaron wove together the tale and ultimately asked: What is it that really makes us preserver and keep going, despite the most extreme challenges?"
Bruce Dern – "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor – "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey – "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leonardo DiCaprio – "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Christian Bale – "American Hustle"
Should win: Bruce Dern—there I said it. However ... Will win: Matthew McConaughey—the Academy loves transformational performances and certainly Mr. McConaughey delivers that in "Dallas Buyers Club," playing a beleaguered Texan stricken with AIDS. Haunting and downright mesmerizing, McConaughey deserves the gold. (Although, truth be told, he delivered an equally compelling performance in "Mud.")
Amy Adams – "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett – "Blue Jasmine"
Judi Dench – "Philomena"
Sandra Bullock – "Gravity"
Meryl Streep – "August: Osage County"
Will win/Should win: Cate Blanchett—forget the Woody Allen controversy that made headlines yet again last month. No actress—aside from Streep, perhaps—delivered a more powerful performance this year. Blanchett lost herself in the role of the distraught Jasmine, a lost soul in search of an emotional life preserver.
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi – "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper – "American Hustle"
Jonah Hill – "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto – "Dallas Buyers Club"
Michael Fassbender – "12 Years a Slave"
Will win/Should win: Jared Leto—Like McConaughey, Leto immersed himself in his role of a transgendered stricken with HIV in the 1980s. He should capture the most votes.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o – "12 Years a Slave"
June Squibb – "Nebraska"
Julia Roberts – "August: Osage County"
Sally Hawkins – "Blue Jasmine"
Will win/Should win: Lupita Nyong'o ... although, Jennifer Lawrence seems to be the darling of the Academy lately, so don't be surprised if she surprises everybody here. Not that her role wasn't deserving, but Nyong'o offered one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of work to hit the screen in some time.
Best Original Screenplay
"American Hustle" – David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
"Blue Jasmine" – Woody Allen
"Her" – Spike Jonze
"Nebraska" – Bob Nelson
"Dallas Buyers Club" – Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Should Win/Will Win: "Her"—finger's crossed, although it's a tough call considering Allen's "Blue Jasmine" is on the ticket. Still, "Her" was downright provocative and thought-provoking and that's a nice combo when it comes to votes.
Best Animated Feature
"The Wind Rises"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
Will win: "Frozen"—let it go, it's inevitable folks (and deserving of the win).
“The Act of Killing”
“Cutie and the Boxer”
“20 Feet from Stardom”
Will win: “20 Feet from Stardom”—a triumph from beginning to end, this wonderful doc about the the back-up singers of some of music's most prestigious acts was both inspiring and informative. A gem to behold.