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Oscar 2014: The Oklahoman's entertainment team shares its picks for the 86th Annual Academy Awards

The Oklahoman's entertainment team shares its picks for the 86th Annual Academy Awards
BY GEORGE LANG, BRANDY MCDONNELL AND GENE TRIPLETT Modified: February 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm •  Published: February 28, 2014

Forecasting the Oscars hardly ever 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.

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 brought to glorious life by Spike Jonze, an auteur whose name is conspicuously absent in the best director nominations. And 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 that in mind, these are our best educated guesses for gold statuettes at the event, which begins at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC. We will be on it the whole time — tweeting, blogging and Facebooking throughout the night.

Best Picture

GEORGE SAYS: Last summer, I was calling it a done deal for “12 Years a Slave,” but then a phalanx of other superb films — i.e. every other movie in contention — came out and made this a real contest. While “American Hustle” was my personal favorite film of 2013, it was by a molecular margin, and while the “more Scorsese than Scorsese” brilliance of “Hustle” makes it an obvious option, Alfonso Cuaron's “Gravity” beats it for being a kind of quintessential, ideal movie of the 2010s. This story of crisis in orbit is told directly and humanely with an uncommon energy and concision — not a minute of “Gravity” is extraneous — and it incorporates all the tools available for modern filmmaking, including CGI and 3-D technology, in ways that only further its success. By this measure, there is no better choice for the best picture of 2013.

Should and will win: “Gravity.”

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 unprecedented 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.”

GENE SAYS: Leaving “Inside Llewyn Davis” on the outside looking in hit a sour note with many a Coen brothers fan, since the voters were allowed 10 picks and chose only nine. But even without the Coens' fine-tuned ode to the '60s folk movement, this category is crammed with strong contenders, and the strongest are Alfonso Cuaron's space-survival epic “Gravity” (10 nominations), Steve McQueen's wrenching history lesson “12 Years a Slave,” and David O. Russell's hilarious and well-acted “American Hustle” (10 nominations). Odds favor “Gravity” for its technical/visual splendor and Sandra Bullock's killer performance, and “12 Years a Slave” for its serious, fact-based subject matter and its recent best picture win at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. This race is tight.

Should and will win: “12 Years a Slave.”

Best Actor

GEORGE SAYS: Chiwetel Ejiofor was the early front-runner for his performance as Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave,” and it seemed for awhile as if he might have a Daniel Day-Lewis-like lock on the award. Ejiofor could still win this thing in a big way and all would be right with the world. And yet, there is the phenomenon that Kurt Andersen of “Studio 360” calls “The McConaissance.” Matthew McConaughey's performance as AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club” is the capstone for one of the great self-reclamation efforts in recent film memory. This award should never be about someone's body of work, but his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” is simply the finest example of McConaughey's recent spate of stellar roles. He is once again at the top of his game — binge-watch the astounding HBO series “True Detective” for more incontrovertible evidence.

Should and will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

BRANDY SAYS: Bruce Dern, 77, a previous Oscar nominee for 1978's “Coming Home,” caps an acclaimed career 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 comb-over; Leonardo 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.

Should win: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska.”

Will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

GENE SAYS: Thank goodness there are still only five contenders in the remaining categories. So, Christian Bale's con man and his amusing comb-over are memorable in “American Hustle,” Bruce Dern is terrific in the twilight of an amazingly varied career in “Nebraska,” Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnificently soulful (and winner of the British Academy male acting award) in “12 Years a Slave,” and Leonardo DiCaprio as a business-suited lowlife in “The Wolf of Wall Street” might be considered due for a statue. But Matthew McConaughey as a homophobic redneck-turned-AIDS-victim champion in the fact-based “Dallas Buyers Club” is the latest in a new line of career-turning performances that have earned him fairly sudden critical admiration.

Should and will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Best Actress

GEORGE SAYS: In “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett unravels as the title character, and the actress' total commitment to the sweaty, desperate and increasingly unhinged Jasmine is nothing short of mesmerizing. But Sandra Bullock might squeak this out simply because, in “Gravity,” she is almost a one-woman show for most of the film. Bullock makes the viewers care about Ryan Stone, the astronaut who thought she had no reason to care about her own life until she was forced to actually fight for survival. For all of Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron's storytelling prowess and the technical skill on display, “Gravity” would not succeed without the empathetic performance at its core.

Should win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine.”

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