A (hopefully) foolproof guide to the Oscars

By Karsten Burgstahler

It’s been a winding road to the Oscars this year, with enough close races to make every nominee watch his or her back. The competition is so good even the best prognosticators are still at a loss to name a Best Picture.

Some categories are gimmies, like Best Supporting Actor. Others are hotly contested, like Best Supporting Actress. But no matter who wins, they’ll deserve it — there are no awkward choices this year. And we can only hope 2014 is as a good a year for film.

But only one can win, so before viewers fill out their ballots here are some picks to consider:


Best Picture

Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”

Could Win: “Gravity”

This race is so close that these movies switch frontrunner status every day. The Oscars have a preferential ballot, meaning if no movie has a clear margin of victory in the number one spot, the Academy considers voters’ second and third choices. If the number one spot is evenly split, “Gravity” could have the upper hand. But most prognosticators are going with “12 Years a Slave,” which is a pretty good bet; the best reasoning behind this is while “Gravity” is a spectacle that redefines sci-fi filmmaking, “12 Years a Slave” is the most important American film in quite some time, shining a light on a darkness that has been allowed to settle for too long. Plus “Gravity”’s screenplay isn’t universally loved, while “12 Years” is widely expected to win for its screenplay. “American Hustle” is beloved by the actors branch, the largest voting membership in the Academy, but it just doesn’t have the steam these other two movies have picked up. “Gravity” will still have its share of treasure…

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”

Could Win: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”


McQueen is really a long shot here. Cuaron had this race wrapped the moment audiences walked out of “Gravity” and came back down to Earth. The film is groundbreaking and uses multiple techniques Cuaron had to invent to produce the movie. Just as Ang Lee was the real star of last year’s “Life of Pi” and was rewarded for it, so too will Cuaron receive his due here. It’s about time. McQueen is a worthy contender but didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with “12 Years,” although the way he holds his camera on suffering is unsettling, yet perfect. David O. Russell will probably just miss out for “American Hustle;” his actors rule the show, but this year’s acting race is fierce and he very well could be shut out there too.

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

This category belonged to Ejiofor a few months ago when “12 Years” began screening for critics. The way he holds his emotions as he witnesses the brutality of the plantations he has been sold in to is award-worthy by itself. Audiences can see the pain in his eyes and connect with him far more than any other character in the film. McConaughey has come upon what some members of the media call the “McConissance.” He has brought his career up from travesties like “Fool’s Gold” and reinvented himself as a serious actor, losing most of his body weight to play AIDS patient Ron Woodruff. The role is worthy of the award, but the story behind it will push McConaughey over the top.

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Could Win: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

It’s a shame Sandra Bullock was never given much of a chance, because her one-woman show in “Gravity” is mesmerizing. But the probable winner is a one-woman show in another sense. In “Blue Jasmine,” all the characters revolve around Blanchett’s psychotic ex-wife, who is scorned by her Bernie Madoff-like husband. Woody Allen has taken to casting other actors to fill his neurotic part in his movies, and Blanchett gets the opportunity to play the female version here. One scene in particular ,where Blanchett takes her nephews out for ice cream, is comedy gold. Amy Adams might have had a shot in an easier year, but Blanchett has this competition wrapped up. Just don’t expect Allen to be present.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could Win: Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Leto is about as sure as Blanchett is, having swept the awards season so far. However, Abdi has a rags-to-riches story that epitomizes the American Dream, and he’s been making the rounds. A few months after Leto began campaigning for “Dallas Buyers Club” it became widely known that his character Rayon, a transgendered prostitute who works closely with McConaughey’s Woodruff to provide lifesaving drugs to HIV patients, didn’t actually exist — this might have hurt Leto’s chances, but moreso McConaughey’s chances as it came out Woodruff wasn’t exactly the savior the film made him out to be. Neither appear to be hurt though, so expect Leto to give another triumphant speech Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Could Win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Will Win/Could Win is deceptive on this one, as they have an equal chance of winning. This race is even closer than Best Actor was a few months ago. However, I’m sticking with Lawrence, the theory being that voters want to award “American Hustle” somehow and this is the most likely category for it to happen in. “12 Years” will probably end up with Best Picture, and Academy members will want to spread the wealth. Lawrence is perfect as her bored housewife in “Hustle,” not taking too much screentime but dominating when she is present. Her battle with a “science oven” is just the cherry on top. Nyong’o is equally deserving of the award as Patsey, a slave Ejiofor comes across in “12 Years.” Her performance is heartwrenching and could cause “American Hustle” to miss out on the Oscars completely.

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Spike Jonze, “Her”

Could Win: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

“American Hustle” has the best screenplay of the year hands down. But the voters often go with the quirkier pick here, and Jonze’s screenplay is unique and inventive — something the voters have fallen in love with. Therefore, his story of a man who falls in love with a Siri-type operating system is the most likely candidate to take the gold here, bolstered by the “spread the wealth” theory, that this is the only place “Her” has a shot at being awarded. The same could be said for “American Hustle” beyond Jennifer Lawrence, so don’t count it out too quickly.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Could Win: Terrence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

“12 Years,” adapted from Solomon Northup’s memoir, is the clear frontrunner here. The fact it took this long for “12 Years” to be adapted is surprising, but Ridley manages to take the material and make those nightmarish scenarios come to life without missing a beat. Really, the only other option in this category is Winter’s “Wolf of Wall Street” screenplay, which mischievous voters might award for its grandeur. It does, after all, have the most f-words of all time, coming in at just north of 500. That is an achievement in and of itself, but the quaaludes scene, one of the most talked about moments at the cinema last year, cements it with a decent chance.

A brief look at other categories:

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: “Frozen”

Could Win: Absolutely nothing else

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”

Could Win: Phedon Papamichael, “Nebraska” (But quite unlikely. “Gravity” has this wrapped up.)

Best Editing

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, “Gravity”

Could Win: Christopher Rouse, “Captain Phillips” (This race is fairly close and Rouse has a good shot at winning, but all the love for the technical side of “Gravity” should propel Cuaron and Sanger to the win.)

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould, “Gravity”

Could Win: Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton, “Star Trek Into Darkness” (Also quite unlikely. Yet again, “Gravity” has this wrapped up.)

Best Original Score

Will Win: Steven Price, “Gravity”

Could Win: William Butler and Owen Pallett, “Her”

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Let it Go,” “Frozen”

Could Win: “Ordinary Love,” “Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom”

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected]or on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE