A version of this story featuring picks from my excellent colleagues George Lang and Gene Triplett appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman and here.
Check out a slideshow of our Oscar predictions here.
Forecasting the Oscars almost never comes down to just a straight judgment on the quality of a movie or performance — that’s a recipe for a long, sad night of disappointment and rending of garments. The contributing factors for any win at Sunday’s 86th Annual Academy Awards include the strength of a studio’s “For Your Consideration” ads, box office totals, Rotten Tomatoes scores and the “‘Norbit’ Factor,” which is what happens when an actor gives the best performance of his career and then follows it up with a laugh-free comedy powered by fat suits and flatulence.
Yes, the Oscars would feel a lot more pure if extraneous factors did not work their way into the votes, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of actual people in the business of making movies — people with allegiances, grievances, preferences and peccadilloes. And in most years, observers can actually feel the momentum building behind one film or actor as Oscar Sunday approaches.
And let’s face it: this stuff can be infuriating sometimes as we try to figure out how “Her” could possibly be a best picture nominee without being fully conceived, written and brought to glorious life by Spike Jonze, an auteur whose name is conspicuously absent in the best director nominations. We wonder if there is a logarithm that could keep performers with more than one great performance in a given year, like Tom Hanks in 2013’s “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” from canceling themselves out with a vote split.
With that in mind, these are our best educated guesses for gold statuettes at the ceremony, which begins at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC.
BRANDY SAYS: This year’s best picture race has seemingly narrowed to two films that exemplify the types of movies the Academy most loves to crown best picture: the sweeping, fact-based historical epic “12 Years a Slave” and the groundbreaking, visually stunning epic “Gravity.” It’s sure to be a close contest, but Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s account of a dozen tortuous years enslaved on Deep South plantations is more harrowing and less uplifting than previous history-based victors like “The King’s Speech” and “Argo.”
With “Gravity,” risk-taking helmer Alfonso Cuaron didn’t just launch an unprecendented cinematic experience with his immersive tale of astronauts in peril, he also employed storytelling as efficient, explosive and moving as a rocket booster.
Should and will win: “Gravity.”
BRANDY SAYS: You can evaluate how competitive this category is this year by recalling who isn’t nominated: Tom Hanks gets no welcome-back embrace for “Captain Phillips” or “Saving Mr. Banks,” Joaquin Phoenix gets no credit for carrying “Her,” Oscar Isaac gets no voice for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Robert Redford gets no say for “All Is Lost,” and Miles Teller gets no young love for “The Spectacular Now.”
Bruce Dern, 77, a previous Oscar nominee for 1978’s “Coming Home,” caps an acclaimed career – one that probably would have been more celebrated had he not taken so many risky roles – by carrying Alexander’s Payne’s black-and-white road movie about an apparently addled (or perhaps crazy like a fox) senior citizen who insists on taking a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to collect a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Christian Bale disappeared behind dark-lensed glasses and an epic combover, Leonard DiCaprio worked and charmed his way into a fifth Oscar nod, and Chiwetel Ejiofor compellingly embodied the horrors of slavery.
But all will have to yield to the career renaissance of the one-time king of the dopey rom-com, Matthew McConaughey, whose stunning transformation in “Dallas Buyers Club” is augmented by his brawny lead turn in “Mud,” his supporting role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and his TV breakout on HBO’s “True Detective,” a trifecta that should have the opposite effect on his Oscar run that “Norbit” had on Eddie Murphy’s failed 2007 campaign. McConaughey has so much momentum it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t win the Oscar, and as much as I’d like to see Dern triumph, I’m just fine with the heartthrob earning a golden reward for his impressive turnabout.
Should win: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska.”
Will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club.”
BRANDY SAYS: Talk about momentum: Cate Blanchett has won – and earned — every best actress honor leading up to the Oscars for leading a stellar ensemble in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” As much as I’d like to see Sandra Bullock garner her second statuette for her near-solo performance as a novice astronaut fighting for survival in “Gravity” – and Bullock has been closing the gap in the past few weeks — it’s hard to image the Academy becoming the only one not to honor Blanchett’s turn as a formerly rich New York socialite whose life and sanity collapse around her.
Should win: Sandra Bullock, “Gravity.”
Will win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine.”
Best Supporting Actor
BRANDY SAYS: Bradley Cooper delivered some truly terrifying moments in “American Hustle,” Michael Fassbender finally earned his overdue first nod for “12 Years a Slave,” and Jonah Hill became the most unlikely actor in Hollywood to garner two Oscar nominations in three years. Barkhad Abdi made a cinematic debut as attention-seizing as Quvenzhané Wallis’ arrival in 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and he managed to do so by stealing scenes from two-time Oscar victor Tom Hanks.
But Jared Leto, who hadn’t appeared in a film role in six years before “Dallas Buyers Club,” will join co-star Matthew McConaughey with a well-deserved win for his sensitive portrayal as a spirited transgender prostitute dying of AIDS.
Should win: Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips.”
Will win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Best Supporting Actress
BRANDY SAYS: Not to take anything away from the nominees, but this category isn’t nearly as interesting as it should have been: Scarlett Johansson warranted a nod for her voiceover work in “Her,” but alas, Oscar voters weren’t quite ready to accept that they didn’t have to see the actress for her performance to count. As it stands, the supporting actress category comes down to two ingénues working at the peak of their blossoming powers.
Jennifer Lawrence managed to steal the rather showy show from some of the best actors working in Hollywood — Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper — as the hilariously unhinged young wife of Bale’s consummate conman in “American Hustle,” but many Academy voters won’t be ready to give the 23-year-old a second Oscar just a year after her win in this category for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
That will clear the path for Lupita Nyong’o, who boldly blazed a remarkable feature film debut as a slave tormented by her sadistic owner (Michael Fassbender) and his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson) in “12 Years a Slave.”
Should win: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle.”
Will win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave.”
BRANDY SAYS: Considering Alexander Payne (“Nebraska”), Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) aren’t even nominated for the best films on their impressive resumes, this contest may well come down to two helmers who have often been nominated but have never taken home an Oscar.
Five-time nominee David O. Russell managed to tell the twisty tale of the Abscam scandal with great aplomb and fitting (if you can call a cheap polyester suit “fitting”) style with “American Hustle.” But six-time contender Alfonso Cuaron managed to take us into the vast vacuum of geocentric orbit, where speeding satellite debris can take down entire space stations, to tell the intensely intimate and streamlined tale of a first-time astronaut (Sandra Bullock) who must decide just how far she is willing to go to stay alive in a place where mere survival is practically impossible with “Gravity.”
Should and will win: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity.”
Best original screenplay
Brandy says: “Her,” Spike Jonze.
Best adapted screenplay
Brandy says: “12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley.
Best animated feature
Brandy says: “The Wind Rises.”
Best documentary feature
Brandy says: “The Act of Killing.”
Best foreign language film
Brandy says: “The Hunt.”
OSCARS 2014 LIVE BLOG
The 86th Annual Academy Awards will air at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Remember to follow my live blog Sunday night here at BAM’s Blog.