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Predicting the 86th Annual Academy Awards

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With the Oscars right around the corner and all of the major award precursors finished, it’s time to announce my final picks for what I believe will be taking home the statue for all 24 categories on March 2nd. This has been a bizarre awards season to say the least (a tie at the PGA, continuous splits between Best Picture and Best Director), but it’s all nearly at an end, so let’s get right to it.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Feral” – Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden
“Get a Horse!” – Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim
“Mr. Hublot” – Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
“Possessions” – Shuhei Morita
“Room on the Broom” – Max Lang and Jan Lachauer

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)” – Esteban Crespo
“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)” – Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
“Helium” – Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)” – Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
“The Voorman Problem” – Mark Gill and Baldwin Li

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
“CaveDigger” – Jeffrey Karoff
“Facing Fear” – Jason Cohen
“Karama Has No Walls” – Sara Ishaq
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” – Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” – Edgar Barens

What will win: "Get a Horse," "Helium," and "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"

Starting off with the three categories that no one really cares about, as usual all I can do is point you in the direction of what the experts are saying. These three are the overwhelming favorites at the moment, so it would appear that they have the best chance of winning.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity” – Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” – Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” – Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

Just like at the VES awards, we have "Gravity" and then we have four other nominees that will just have to be happy with being nominated. No other film this year came close to matching the stunning effects of "Gravity," so expect it to pick up this award very easily.

BEST SOUND EDITING
“All Is Lost” – Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” – Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” – Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Brent Burge
“Lone Survivor” – Wylie Stateman

BEST SOUND MIXING
“Captain Phillips” – Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” – Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” – Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

Another pair of tech awards that you can expect Gravity to win pretty easily on the big night. Granted, there weren’t that many sounds to be heard in space, but what sounds they did have were masterfully done. The film recently won top honors from the MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) and the CAS (Cinema Audio Society), making Gravity the safest bet for both Oscars.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams

“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze

“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

What Should Win: “Let It Go” from "Frozen"

What Will Win: “Let It Go” from "Frozen"

This is a very popular song that has been recognized by groups such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics’ Choice). True, U2 won the Golden Globe, but that felt like a bizarre fluke (one of a few that night), so this is still fully expected to go to "Frozen." Given the sheer love of this great song, it would be unwise to bet against it.

BEST ANIMATED FILM
“The Croods”
“Despicable Me 2”
“Ernest & Celestine”
“Frozen”
“The Wind Rises”

What Should Win: "Frozen"

What Will Win: "Frozen"

"Frozen" has been the most popular animated film of this awards season by far, winning the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the Annie, the Critics’ Choice, and the PGA. This is another one that would be very unwise to bet against as it’s certain to win the Oscar.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
“Dallas Buyers Club” – Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” – Stephen Prouty
“The Lone Ranger” – Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

What Should Win: "Dallas Buyers Club"

What Will Win: "Dallas Buyers Club"

This is a very strange group of nominees given that most were expecting to see "American Hustle," "12 Years a Slave," and "The Butler" as prime candidates, but looking at what we have, it seems like "Dallas Buyers Club" will be the one to prevail here given that it won Best Period and/or Character Makeup from the Makeup and Hair Stylists Guild.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“The Broken Circle Breakdown” – Belgium
“The Great Beauty” – Italy
“The Hunt” – Denmark
“The Missing Picture” – Cambodia
“Omar” – Palestine

What Will Win: "The Great Beauty"

Once again, I have to withdraw my “What Should Win” vote because I’ve only seen one of these nominees ("The Hunt"), but given the popularity of "The Great Beauty," it seems like the favorite to take the category. It’s taken the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Foreign Language Film, so it seems like the safe bet come Oscar night, especially since the Golden Globe has matched the Oscar the last three times.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“The Act of Killing” – Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” – Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” – Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” – Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” – Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

What Will Win: "The Act of Killing"

This is another category where I’ve only seen one of nominees, but it also just happens to be the one that has the best chance of winning. "The Act of Killing" has been the most popular documentary of awards season by far, winning the vast majority of the critics awards, in addition to the BAFTA, so chances are this will be the winner on Oscar night.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
John Williams, “The Book Thief”
Steven Price, “Gravity”
William Butler and Owen Pallett, “Her”
Alexandre Desplat, “Philomena”
Thomas Newman, “Saving Mr. Banks”

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

There has been no denying the recent popularity of Steven Price’s score for "Gravity," especially with it winning the Critics’ Choice and the BAFTA, so it’s safe to assume it will continue its streak right into the Oscars.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“American Hustle”
Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler

“Gravity”
Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard

“The Great Gatsby”
Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn

“Her”
Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena

“12 Years a Slave”
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

What Should Win: "The Great Gatsby"

What Will Win: "The Great Gatsby"

This one’s pretty much all sewn up for "The Great Gatsby," especially with its win in the Period category from the Art Directors Guild. However, this is where we need to start talking about "American Hustle." Given that it’s not in the lead for any of its ten awards, there is the possibility that the Academy will not want to see it go home empty handed, so they could potentially sway this or Best Costume Design its way to prevent that from happening. That being said, I still fully expect "The Great Gatsby" to easily take this category.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Michael Wilkinson, “American Hustle”
William Chang Suk Ping, “The Grandmaster”
Catherine Martin, “The Great Gatsby”
Michael O’Connor, “The Invisible Woman”
Patricia Norris, “12 Years a Slave”

What Should Win: "The Great Gatsby"

What Will Win: "The Great Gatsby"

This is another one that’s heavily favored to go to "The Great Gatsby," but again, just like in Best Production Design, there’s the potential for the Academy to award "American Hustle" a pity Oscar. However, once again, I still Expect "Gatsby" to take this category on Oscar night.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
“The Grandmaster”
“Gravity”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Nebraska”
“Prisoners”

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

This is an open and shut case for Emmanuel Lubezki and his brilliant work on "Gravity." That is, unless the Academy decides to screw him over again like they did when it seemed just as certain that he was going to win for "The Tree of Life" a couple of years ago. Lubezki has won just about every cinematography award for his work on Cuaron’s film including the American Society of Cinematography’s top honor, so it certainly seems like this will be the year he is finally recognized by the Academy.

BEST FILM EDITING
“American Hustle” – Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” – Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” – John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” – Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” – Joe Walker

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

It may seem like absolute lunacy to go against the winner of the ACE Eddie ("Captain Phillips"), but I just don’t see a scenario where they don’t give Best Film Editing to "Gravity," the film that was the favorite for this category by far throughout the critics’ awards. I mean, how do you NOT give this Oscar to the most technically brilliant film of not only this year, but also of the last several years? Just like the way it’s shot, the editing is brilliant, seamlessly integrating every scene to make it one of the most breathtaking films ever made. Sure, "Captain Phillips" has some pretty good editing with its shaky cam giving you the “you are there” feeling, but it doesn’t even begin to compare with what was accomplished on "Gravity," and I think that’s something that the Academy will have to recognize.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Before Midnight” – Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“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

What Should Win: "Before Midnight"

What Will Win: "12 Years a Slave"

Now we finally head into the top categories, where we see an incredibly easy victory coming for "12 Years a Slave" in Adapted Screenplay. It’s been the second most popular script throughout awards season and the single most popular Adapted Screenplay. It was ineligible for the WGA, but it did win the USC Scripter Award, which has been a very good Oscar indicator in the past few years. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few Oscars that "12 Years a Slave "actually has a very good chance of winning, so it’s just about certain that it will prevail.

That being said, my original vote hasn’t changed. Out of these nominees, I’d still give it to "Before Midnight" for its gripping examination of Jesse and Celine’s relationship all these years after we last saw them in "Before Sunset." For its incredible trance-like power to grab the audience and not let go, I find it the most worthy of all five nominated screenplays. Unfortunately, the chances of it winning are miniscule due to the overwhelming popularity of "12 Years a Slave."

BEST 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

What Should Win: "Her"

What Will Win: "Her"

This one’s a done deal for Spike Jonze’s brilliant "Her." It’s been the single most popular screenplay of any kind throughout awards season, winning the vast majority of critics’ awards (including Critics’ Choice), the Golden Globe, and most importantly, the WGA. There has only been one instance of a screenplay winning all of these precursors and not winning the Oscar, that being Up in the Air. However, its unexpected loss to Precious was due to controversy over authorship. With "Her," the only “controversy” is a pathetic lawsuit, brought on by people who are desperate to attach their names to a great film.

Despite this being wrapped up for "Her," there are still a number of people predicting "American Hustle," despite the fact that it has lost time and time again at all the major precursors (not counting BAFTA, where the two did not go head-to-head). However, the main reasoning behind their pick seems to be what I mentioned earlier, that the Academy might not want to send the film home empty handed. However, I very highly doubt that they would choose to randomly give it a top award like Best Original Screenplay. Besides, giving "Hustle" this category would basically send "Her" home empty handed, which I don’t think they would do. As I said, the screenplay for "Her" has pretty much been unbeatable, which will culminate with it winning the Oscar. If anything else were to win, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the night.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave"

Who Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave"

This one seems like a done deal for Nyong’o for a couple of reasons. First, she won the SAG award (in addition to a vast majority of critics’ awards), showing that she has massive support from the actors heading into Oscar night. Second, her closest competitor, Jennifer Lawrence, just won Best Actress last year, so I highly doubt that they would give her another Oscar the very next year. However, once again, we have people thinking that Hustle will have to win somewhere, but I just don’t see it being in one of the top categories. Its best bet will remain in the technical categories, where it will still have a hard time overcoming "The Great Gatsby."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should Win: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Who Will Win: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

This is Jared Leto’s to lose at this point. He’s won just about every award possible, including the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice, and the SAG, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t be victorious on Oscar night as well.

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

Who Should Win: Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

This is another category that’s locked down pretty tight. Cate Blanchett has been unstoppable throughout awards season, winning the vast majority of critics’ awards (including the Critics’ Choice), the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the SAG. She will win Best Actress on Oscar night. You can bet on it.
That being said, my original vote has not changed from Sandra Bullock’s powerful, and, in my opinion, more complex performance in "Gravity." Blanchett was fine, but she didn’t blow me away like Bullock did with her portrayal of a woman trying to deal with the worst possible loss a mother can suffer while trying to deal with a present crisis and trying to find a reason to keep going. It’s an unforgettable performance that will unfortunately be ignored for the win on the big night.

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should Win: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

If you had asked me who I thought would win Best Actor before the Golden Globes, I would have told you Chiwetel Ejiofor given his immense popularity throughout the critics’ awards. However, from the Golden Globes onward, we saw a sharp increase in McConaughey’s popularity that gave him not only the Golden Globe, but the Critics’ Choice and the SAG as well, making him the clear favorite to take the Oscar. Just a few years ago, it would have seemed like an absurd concept, but on March 2nd, it looks like we’ll finally be able to say Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey. That being said, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Ejiofor pull off a comeback victory here, but it will simply depend on how popular "12 Years a Slave" ends up being on Oscar night.

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"

Here we have yet another category that’s pretty much a lock. Alfonso Cuarón has been the most popular director throughout awards season by a wide margin, taking the vast majority of critics’ awards, followed by the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, DGA, and the BAFTA. Of course, the most important of these is his win from the Directors Guild of America, which gives him an 89% chance of winning the Best Director Oscar given that that’s how often the two awards match up. Count on Cuarón winning this category pretty easily on Oscar night.

BEST PICTURE

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

What Should Win: "Gravity"

What Will Win: "Gravity"

If you’ve read my analysis on where I believe Best Picture stands, then you know exactly why I am sticking by "Gravity" as my pick for what will take home the big prize at the end of the night. Sure, "12 Years a Slave" has a great chance after having won a multitude of Best Picture prizes, but its support has been dwindling a lot of late, winning only one Golden Globe, three Critics’ Choice awards, and two BAFTAs (unfortunately the BAFTAs didn’t tell us anything given that they opted to give both "Gravity" and "12 Years" a Best Picture award). Granted, these wins always included the night’s top honor, but little, and sometimes nothing, else. Will the Academy really award Best Picture to "12 Years a Slave" while lavishing another film with double the amount of wins? It could happen, but it would really be surprising to see it happen for the first time in 40 years ("Cabaret" vs. "The Godfather"). It’s a circumstance that I just don’t see occurring.

More reasoning behind my choice has to do with the major guild awards. "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" both won the PGA, but Gravity took the DGA, which can be considered an even better indicator for Best Picture than the PGA. There have been several instances where it has matched BP even when the PGA hasn’t (Martin Scorsese for "The Departed," Ron Howard for "A Beautiful Mind," and Clint Eastwood for "Unforgiven"). Then you have the fact that it’s rare for a film to win the PGA and the DGA and lose Best Picture. Whenever this has happened, it’s been a big shock (think back to when "Crash" beat "Brokeback Mountain" or when "Shakespeare in Love" beat "Saving Private Ryan").

Then, of course, you have the general love of "Gravity" across a wide range of categories. If my predictions are right, the film will have won seven Oscars before we get to Best Picture, while "12 Years a Slave" will have only won two. Will we really be left with another Best Picture winner that only takes three Oscars, once again without winning Best Director? We know that the Academy loves to match up Best Picture and Best Director when possible. Obviously they couldn’t last year, but this year presents them with an easy opportunity to go back to their old ways and do just that, and that is exactly what I believe will happen. It’s down to these two titans, with both of them having a very good chance of winning, but for all of these reasons, I fully believe that "Gravity" has the edge going into the big night and will ultimately be victorious.

Now that you’ve read through all of my predictions, let’s take a look at how things will be at the end of the night should all of them come true. If that should happen, we’re looking at the following number of wins for films that will take more than one Oscar:

8 Wins – "Gravity"

3 Wins – "Dallas Buyers Club"

2 Wins – "12 Years a Slave," "The Great Gatsby," "Frozen"

These predictions would also result in five of the Best Picture nominees going home empty handed ("American Hustle" 0 for 10, "Captain Phillip" 0 for 6, "Nebraska" 0 for 6, "The Wolf of Wall Street" 0 for 5, and "Philomena" 0 for 4). I’ve already mentioned that a pity Oscar could go towards "Hustle" and that "Phillips" does stand a good chance at taking Best Film Editing, but this would still be a pretty big increase from last year when we only had one Best Picture nominee go home without a single award ("Beasts of the Southern Wild" went 0 for 4).

Looking back over my choices, it looks like I agree with almost everything that has the best chance of winning on March 2nd. Of course, Best Picture and Best Film Editing are so close that it’s nearly impossible to tell which nominee is going to win in the end. I’ve said it before, but this is the strangest awards season I can ever recall. Not only have we had group after group splitting Picture and Director between two different films, but we’ve also had an unprecedented tie from the PGA, and between the two films that groups have been splitting their top two awards between no less. Normally we’re well aware what will win Best Picture at this point (Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, etc.), but for once, no one can say for sure which will come out on top, which will undoubtedly make it the most exciting Oscars in years.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD reviews: The Americans: Season One, Hellbenders, Rocky: Heavyweight Collection, Chicago: Diamond Edition, All is Lost, Austenland, How I Live Now, Night of the Demons, Witchboard, Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Now playing in theaters: Pompeii, Labor Day, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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