Written by Brent Johnson and Daniel Cohen
Will it be a groundbreaking lost-in-space epic? Or a gut-wrenching exploration of slavery?
Or will a funny yet heartbreaking film about New Jersey politics in the late 1970s slip in and steal the night?
Such is the big question heading into Sunday night’s Academy Awards — where the Best Picture race is a tight one.
Below, Pop-Break Managing Editor Brent Johnson and Film Editor Daniel Cohen pick who they think will win the major categories.
BEST PICTURE: 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Brent Johnson: Gravity
This is really a choice between Gravity‘s glorious spectacle and 12 Years‘ harrowing emotion. And it’ll be a close call. But because all the members of the Academy — including actors, directors, scenic designers, and special effects artists — cast a vote, expect Gravity to eke out a victory because it combines all of those skills. Then again, don’t be shocked if American Hustle — a study in taut, memorable filmmaking — gets chosen over both.
Daniel Cohen: 12 Years a Slave
While it’s not a sure thing by any means, this is pretty much happening. 12 Years A Slave is just one of those movies the Academy is going to have a hard time not voting for. It screamed “Oscar” since the trailer got released, and hasn’t looked back since. I do feel it’s lost enough steam though to create a legit three-horse race. I know everyone thinks Gravity could be the spoiler, but if this award doesn’t go to 12 Years A Slave, it will be American Hustle.
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Brent Johnson: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
It would be a true shock if Cuaron’s name doesn’t get called. He made a film that married strong acting, visual deftness, and an underrated screenplay that is never boring despite rarely changes scenery.
Daniel Cohen: Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Best Director always feels like the award that riles people up the most, and it’s going to happen once again. Alfonso Cuaron has been the front runner for a while, and also nabbed the Director’s Guild award. But let’s take a look at some recent history. First of all, we aren’t counting last year, and the whole Ben Affleck shenanigans. That was just a weird anomaly. In 2011, everyone knew The Artist was going to take Best Picture, but many felt Scorsese would get it for Best Director with Hugo. Nope — it went to Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. In 2010, we all thought David Fincher would take it for The Social Network, but The King’s Speech took both Best Picture and Best Director (Tom Hooper). Remember that nonsense? The Director/Best Picture wins very rarely don’t line up. It just doesn’t happen. And maybe it’s more my heart talking, but I just don’t think the Academy is as enamored with Gravity as everybody else thinks. McQueen feels like the safe/standard Oscar pick. I kind of want this to happen just to see how all the Gravity fans will react…it would be epic. Also, do not sleep on David O. Russell or Martin Scorsese … absolutely in the realm of possibility.
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
Brent Johnson: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
He’s pretty much won every major award leading up to the Oscars. And the Academy loves actors who transform themselves for their craft. Bonus points for breaking free of all the years he spent toiling in romantic comedies. The possible spoiler: While Ejiofor is terrific as a man sold into slavery, DiCaprio melded charm, physical comedy, and a mental breakdown in Wolf — and he’s never won before.
Daniel Cohen: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
There was a lot of soul searching going on with this category. I almost went with Leo. I really did. In what is the tightest race of the night other than Best Supporting Actress, I cannot wait to see who wins this award. I actually have Ejiofor in third position – his momentum has completely evaporated. I think a lot of voters will come to the realization that his performance isn’t up to snuff, and they will reward “performance” over “character situation.” As much as I want to see DiCaprio take this, I think the controversy factor will barely be enough to lose it for him. In a race so stacked, at the end of the day, McConaughey is the safe, no questions asked, undisputed stellar performance. The year of McConaughey will be complete.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Brent Johnson: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Like McConaughey, she’s swept the awards season — which usually means the Oscar is yours to lose. The possible spoiler: Adams for her understated, accent-tinted turn as a con artist.
Daniel Cohen: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett is the biggest lock of the night. It’s a career performance. The end. If there were someone to upset her though, I actually think it’s Amy Adams. But again … not happening.
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
Brent Johnson: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Like McConaughey, he’s taken almost every statue so far — and he too completely rearranged his appearance and demeanor to play a transgender HIV patient. The possible spoiler: Maybe Fassbender? Nah. This is the night’s biggest lock.
Daniel Cohen: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Not a lock, but essentially a sure thing. Fassbender has an outside shot, but this is Jared Leto’s award.
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
Brent Johnson: June Squibb, Nebraska
Even with America’s Sweetheart — a.k.a. Jennifer Lawrence — close behind, the real money has been on Nyong’o so far. And she may well win for her tear-jerking turn as a beaten but never broken slave. Still, this category often unleashes the most surprises — and Squibb stole nearly every scene she was in as a carefree, insult-spewing elderly housewife.
Daniel Cohen: Pick: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Aside from Best Actor, this is easily the most intriguing race of the night. It seems like everyone is discounting June Squibb, but the Academy may want to give something to Nebraska, and Squibb’s performance is a real show-stopper. Plus, you can never discount the “old” factor. Then we have Jennifer Lawrence. As great as she is in American Hustle, I just cannot imagine someone winning back-to-back Oscars before the age of 25 … insane. When the dust settles, it will be Lupita Nyong’o. Her performance is very powerful, it’s super Oscarey, and the Academy will want to give one of the acting awards to 12 Years A Slave. It’s a great category, and all three are deserving…but I’m going with Lupita.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Eric Warren Singer/David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten/Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Brent Johnson: Spike Jonze, Her
Spike Jonze deserved a Best Director nod for his visionary love tale. His smart screenplay will win him a consolation statue.
Daniel Cohen: Eric Warren Singer/David O. Russell, American Hustle
This is another three-way battle. I could legitimately see Nebraska, Her, or American Hustle taking this. While the Academy is no stranger to giving the Original Screenplay Oscar to something a little more off the beaten path like Her, if American Hustle doesn’t win this, it could very well be shut out, and its got to win at least one major award, right? It’s also an excuse to give David O. Russell an Academy Award. I would pick Her, but I’m totally fine with any three of the front runners getting it.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Richard Linklater/Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan/Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Brent Johnson: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
This would be one way the Academy could honor 12 Years without handing it Best Picture. And the screenplay is fantastic.
Daniel Cohen: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
As much as it should be Terence Winter for The Wolf Of Wall Street, if controversy is going to affect this film the most, this would be the award to do it. 12 Years A Slave will get it due to lack of competition, and even though I don’t have a problem with that film winning Best Picture or Best Director, the screenplay was fairly weak. It’s a classic example of “Oh, this is the best movie, so let’s just give it all the awards!”