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Boy oh boy, the 86th Academy Awards are bearing down now and it’s time to start pulling my hair out deciding what awards going to go and why. Hours spend bargaining and equivocating all probably for nothing. The problem with predicting the Oscars is that the damn thing is anything but a science so as much as we try and prescribe logic and historicity to turn our prognostication into an a+b=c type formula, there’s literally no saying what will actually be written in those ballots until they’re open and read. For however much we like to talk about the Academy like they’re a hive mind collective all zipping and swarming as one, they’re really just a bunch of guys and gals who probably don’t pay nearly as much attention to their roles as we do.

Having said that, it’s still a blast to be a part of the ceremony and it’s, for all intents and purposes, the culmination of a year of cinema, a reminder of how great movies can be and how old-fashion the taste of the Academy is. Though there will likely be many moments this Sunday where we all throw our arms up and shout and curse at the screen, we’ve gotta remember that you often have just as much luck betting on horses than you do at the Oscars. That doesn’t discount the fact that there are certain trends within a year and those trends often equate to an Oscar.

But before I can even launch into my list of suspected winners, I would like to note how caution I am about my picks this year. Moreso than most, I have this feeling in the back of my mind that this year is gonna throw a wrench in things and totally skew a whole different direction than many of us expect. As it is now, I have zero wins for American Hustle and that literally terrifies me. Although I didn’t fall in love with the Hustle, a lot of people did and I’m worried that it sneaks in from its cozy third-place position and pulls a couple of fast punches. As for Gravity, I currently have it basically winning anything technical but feel that’s a fairly safe bet and wouldn’t be that shocked if some of those got picked off by the likes of Captain Phillips or even Lone Survivor. Sad though it may be, I also wouldn’t be shocked if 12 Years a Slave got completely shut out. I’m crossing my fingers here but hoping that the odds are not ever in J La’s favor.

Without further adieu, let’s get to the actual predictions…

Picture: ’12 Years a Slave’

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Since early on in the year, it’s 12 Years a Slave that everyone’s been talking about, waiting for the inevitable upset to roll around and tip it off its high horse. And yet, seven months after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, 12 Years a Slave is still considered top dog. What it really comes down to though is: are Academy members even watching this movie? The biggest hurtle 12 faces is, ironically enough, word of mouth. With all the talk of how difficult a film it is to watch, reports have surfaced that a sizable percentage of Academy members hadn’t even seen the film. Major cop out that this certainly is, it poses a situation in which Gravity, as an easy crowd favorite, could sneak in and get the unexpected populist win. Is it a better film? No. Is it more important? Certainly not. But there’s no whipping and it doesn’t remind us of how shitty America’s past is so it could just be that easily digestible win. That and space. So while I’m putting down 12 Years a Slave, I can’t help but feel like Gravity might float into the spotlight and nab the big win.

Actor: Matthew McConaughey ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

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Chiwetel Ejiofor, my how you have fallen. Although Ejiofor easily gives the most soulful and likely difficult performance in this entire category, the love for Matt McConaughey knows no bounds. Piping hot right now from the hit HBO series True Detective and coming off a streak of sleeper hits, the transformation we’ve seen from shirtless romcom beau to dramatic yellow king has ripely coined the term ‘McConaissance’. And for this McConaissance, he shall be awarded, and all will be good. Although his performance in Dallas Buyers Club might not strictly speaking be the best of the year (or even his best of the year), this victory feels more like a compilation award for his last few years, a sum total of his recent work. It’s for Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club and Mark Hannah in Wolf of Wall Street and Mud in Mud and Dallas in Magic Mike and Rust Cohle in True Detective (and a pat on the head for no longer working with Kate Hudson.) And while I admit that I’d love to see Leonardo DiCaprio walk away with Oscar gold, I have little doubt that this is McConaughey’s night to shine. Alright, alright, alright.

Actress: Cate Blanchett ‘Blue Jasmine’

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Even with the looming threat of Woody backlash, I’m still partial to thinking that Cate Blanchett has no chance of losing this category. On the road to the Oscars, she failed to miss out on even one precursor award, including the SAG, which is often the biggest predictor for the Academy Awards down the road. Her contenders are undeniably tough, and in another year each could have taken home the win, but Blanchett’s steamrolling is unlikely to run out of zest in the homestretch. If the tides do turn, it’s likely Amy Adams or Judi Dench who will benefit, though I’m sure such a situation comes with the knowledge that they profited off of a sticky situation.

Supporting Actor: Jared Leto ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

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Another lock of a category, Jared Leto‘s turn as a transvestite with HIV will almost certainly be enough to encourage him to clear a space on the cabinet for his inevitable trophy. Top marks are deserved as Leto nearly stole the show from co-star and likely winner Matt McConaughey. Although there’s slim chance that Leto walks away empty-handed, if he did, it’s likely Michael Fassbender who will take up the mantle of Best Supporting Actor for his poisonous performance as a callused slave owner. Personally, I would love to hear Jonah Hill‘s name called and see the looks of shock spread like a wave across the crowd. If so, I would fully expect a wacky, Qualudde-induced acceptance speech.

Supporting Actress: Luipta Nyong’o ’12 Years a Slave’

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What a toss up this one is. On the other hand, Lupita Nyong’o benefits from throwing down an absolutely haunting performance of the most dramatic varietal. But again, the thing working against 12 Years is how difficult it is and Nyong’o is arguably the hardest person to watch in the whole film. So will the Academy then find it appropriate to award Jennifer Lawrence who’s eagerly waiting in the wings? Hopefully not. Lawrence is certainly fun in American Hustle but nowhere near the caliber of Nyong’o, or many of the other performers in this category. Add that to the fact that she won last year and a Lawrence win seems out of the question. Nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that her earnest charm might have been enough to swoon voters into writing her name on the ballot. Strange though it may seem, this is definitely one of the most hotspot categories and could easily go against me Sunday night.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón ‘Gravity’

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This award is hardly worth a breakdown as Cuarón is a tsunami right now, plowing through every ceremony without signs of slowing. Though many would argue that Steve McQueen deserves this award, there’s no denying that what Cuarón achieved in Gravity was monumental. It’s just a shame that he wasn’t able to achieve as much emotionally as he was visually and that’s what keeps me from feeling that this win shouldn’t be as cut and dry as it’s turning out to be. For my money, Children of Men is the far superior film and features much better directing from Cuarón but I guess that is the nature of the Academy: no one wins for their best work.

Documentary: The Act of Killing

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A toss up the caliber of Gravity vs. 12 Years, The Act of Killing is the far superior film to contender 20 Feet From Stardom but the subject matter (which is essentially genocide) could be too off-putting for the notoriously thin-skinned academy. Stardom looks inside the industry, a tactic the Academy loves to reward, and though it has some potency to it, lacks the focus and effect that Act of Killing packs. Added to the fact that a musical documentary (Searching for Sugarman) won last year, I’m hoping that The Act of Killing has a slight edge. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I hope not. Having seen all five of this years nominees before the ceremony (*pats self on back*) I would be surely disappointed in a 20 Feet win as I find it the lesser of the five by a good arm’s length.

Film Editing: Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger ‘Gravity’

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Traditionally, film editing has gone hand-in-hand with the best picture winner but that hasn’t quite been the case over the past five years. With my compass constantly in flux over whether 12 Years a Slave or Gravity will take BP, I wonder if this might go to one of the other contenders as a bit of tip of the hat to them and so they don’t go home completely empty-handed. A Captain Phillips win would likely be the only one of the night (unless it pulls off a sound award) but Phillips seems to have all but fallen off the radar entirely so I doubt it’ll do anything here. American Hustle could always swing in and grab this but that would be nothing short of moronic as the editing here is as messy as the over-celebrated screenplay and one of the big reasons the film fell on its face at times. In the end, I’m offering it to Gravity because of how tight and suspenseful the film feels throughout and it’s easy to point to strong editing for such.

Foreign Language Film: ‘The Great Beauty’

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Of the five nominees, I’ve seen three (The Hunt, The Great Beauty, The Broken Circle Breakdown) so I feel that I have a pretty good handle on what the Academy’s looking for this year and have little doubt that The Great Beauty will be their prized gem of a non-English film. The Academy is overwhelming made up of old, white, powerful men and The Great Beauty is a movie about an old, white, powerful man…and yet it’s so much more. While I loved The Hunt, I would be happy to see The Great Beauty win big here and fully expect it to do so.

Makeup and Hairstyling: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

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This category I don’t quite understand (Why are makeup and hairstyling grouped together? Who’s voting? Why are the films that are nominated nominated in the first place?) but feel that the Academy doesn’t really understand it either. The winner always feels out of left field, which makes me a little nervous putting Dallas Buyers Club in first. But when you factor in the fact that Dallas‘ makeup budget was a pithily $250 dollars and then see what they did with that, it’s hard to doubt that this film deserves a win here. Even with that knowledge though, I still have a feeling that turning Johnny Knoxville into an old man might be enough to coax the Academy into giving a movie with the word “Jackass” in the title an Academy Award.

Original Score: Steven Price ‘Gravity’

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Somewhat of a boring selection, Steven Price is joined by composer regulars John Williams,  Alexandre Desplat and Thomas Newman who all seemed to nab a slot in this category by name recognition alone. The only interesting choice that I see is William Butler and Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire for their work in Her but they unfortuantely don’t stand much of a chance for the win. Since Gravity depended so much on score, Price was the go-to man responsible for holding the viewers exactly where Cuaron wanted them and he did his job aptly. For it, he’ll likely win his first Academy Award. I can’t help but note that missing entirely from this category is Hans Zimmer who apparently composed too many great scores this year to be selected for just one.

Production Design: Catherine Martin ‘The Great Gatsby’

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If there’s one thing that Baz Luhrman got right with his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, it was the production design. Rich, colorful and lavish in ways that blew our imagination wide open (in 3D, no less), the glory of doing a 2013 adaptation is that it allowed us a glimpse into the unhinged festivities that F. Scott Fitzgerald so prosaically wove. From Martin’s sets, we felt like we were there, living out the glory days of the roaring 20s in all its wild majesty. When it comes down to it though, this award could end up leaning towards American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Her or even Gravity and I don’t think anyone would be the least bit surprised. Regardless of any issues that I had with any of those films, the one thing that was never lacking was production design. That being the case, I can’t think of an outcome here that I would lament.

Animated Feature: Frozen

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Although cult love for Miyazaki (and this being his farewell film) may translate into a surprise win for The Wind Rises, the writing is on the wall for Disney Animation Studios to walk away with their first Best Animated Feature since ever (the category only launched in 2001) for Frozen. Since this year didn’t feature a lot of impressive animated films, the list of contenders feels slight and, outside of the aforementioned two, none of the others much stand of a chance at all. It is worthy of note that Pixar did not make the cut this year and hopefully that’ll be the kind of blow they need to spur them back into the realm of what once made them so beloved.

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki ‘Gravity’

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You can pretty much close the books on this one as Emmanuel Lubezki is looking pretty, pretty good for an assured victory here. His work on Gravity was epic when it needed to be and up close and personal when required. If anyone is gonna sneak in around Lubezki here though, I’d like to be to Roger Deakins, whose camerawork is always the star of whatever project he works on. However, I feel that if we are in store for an upset, the name Philippe Le Sourd of The Grandmaster will be the one getting pulled from the envelope.

Original Song: “Let it Go” Frozen

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If you heard  me on the In Session Film Podcast last week, you’ll know that I heartily disapprove of this category in general. Aside from the embarrassing travesty that was giving the fifth slot to unheard of “Alone But Not Alone” and then later yanking it for ethical reasons, the songs chosen for the title “Best Song” really baffle me. Left out were all the actual “best” of the year with Lana Del Ray‘s “Young and Beautiful” joining the sidelines where all of Inside Llewn Davis‘ tunes slumped. I don’t dislike “Let it Go” and know it’s exactly the kind of poppy brand of sing-a-long that’s made Disney the icon that it is, but it’s still not even my favorite song from Frozen. As for the U2 song, spare me. And Pharrell William‘s ‘Happy’ is just more poppy top 40 junk that should never be confused with the label “best.” Karen O‘s ‘The Moon Song’ is my favorite on this shameless list but doesn’t actually stand a chance of winning. I’m willing to wager that Idina Menzel wins for ‘Let it Go’ but U2 did take the prize last month at the Globes. Depending on how star-fucking the Academy is feeling, they might just slink in for the win.

Costume Design: Catherine Martin ‘The Great Gatsby’

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Although Patricia Norris could score for her period costumery of 12 Years or Michael Wilkinson could see his gaudy 70s suits and pin-up dresses take the cake for American Hustle, I’m thinking that Catherine Martin wins for combining the best of both worlds in The Great Gatsby. Although riddled with narrative issues, there’s no denying the grandiose of Gatsby and that’s in large part thanks to the costumes. The party scenes alone see many different lavish styles, it’s almost as if we’re on some chic runway, and when added to the scene where Leonardo as Gatsby literally makes it rain clothes, I’m thinking the academy will look to The Great Gatsby, if for nothing more than the fact that it goes out of its way to recognize the beauty of its clothing.

Writing Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze ‘Her’

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This should be a no-brainer but a win for Spike Jonze is surely an uphill battle no matter he’s category in. Contending against Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s script for American Hustle, Jonze has visibility working against him but raw talent working for him. If you put their scripts side-by-side, there’s no way that anyone would deny that Jonze’s is superior to Singer and Russell’s work but, unfortunately, that’s not common practice for Academy voters. More often than not, their final call is a gut reaction based on feelings for a particular film rather than the individual components that make them up. So overwhelming love for Hustle might turn the tide against Her. In my mind, Jonze most certainly deserves a victory for his ambitious and perfectly executed script and I’m willing to stand beside him, even if his ship does sink.  

Writing Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley ’12 Years a Slave’

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Battling chief contenders Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street, John Ridley‘s penmanship on 12 Years a Slave seems to have a good amount of steam going into the awards. After losing the WGAs to Captain Phillips though, I’m still not quite sure what to do with this category. Philomena could always sneak in for its fanciful blend of drama and comedy but I feel that it’s a little too slight for a win and also has the fact that it’s recently been called “anti-catholic” working against it. As far as I see it, I would love Terrence Winter to nab the win for his work on Wolf, as I think what he had to achieve my turning Jordan Belfort’s autobiographical memoirs into a scathing inditement of the man is a feat in and of itself.

Visual Effects: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould ‘Gravity’

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I’m so confident in this one that if I’m wrong, I will shave my head. Seriously, I’m that sure. I would say hold me to it but you’re not going to have to because Gravity already won. Bank it.

Sound Editing: Glenn Freemantle ‘Gravity’

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It seems a safe bet to put Gravity in the lead in any of these technical categories at this point and although the distinction between sound editing and sound mixing may be slight (editing involves the creation of sounds while mixing is how they’re placed together), it’s a distinction that I think the Academy themselves often fail to understand and kind of just wing it when naming their top slots. So with that in mind, with the masterful soundscape that Gravity was, I think sound wizard Glemm Freemantle win see a trophy in his near future. Captain Phillips and Lone Survivor both stand a decent chance but Gravity is on such a roll that I think voters will have been so used to writing its name by now that they’ll do it out of habit.

Sound Mixing: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro ‘Gravity’

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That silent explosion scene alone is likely enough to win Gravity this techie award. Utilizing the vacuum of space as a voice in the film really elevated the terror and isolation of Gravity‘s experience so I’m wagering it has a great shot at winning this sound category as well. Other contenders include Inside Llewyn Davis, which did a great job incorporating folk music into the texture of the film’s sonic sphere, and Lone Survivor which turned sound into pain in a way we thought unimaginable.

Documentary Short Subject: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

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I’ve yet to see any of these so I’m taking a shot in the dark and going with what I’ve heard the most buzz for. Plus, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life focuses on the last living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, which is always an extra check mark for awards attention. Don’t hold me to it though.

Short Film (Animated): Get A Horse!

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The only short of them all that I’ve seen is Get a Horse! and I will rightfully admit that I loved watching this fun little rumpus take full advantage of 3D. As for the voters, I’m thinking that the nostalgic factor alone will help it gallop to a win.

Short Film (Live Action):

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It’s at this point that I start questioning the need for the shorts segment of the Academy Awards. First of all, hardly anyone actually sees these things and, this year especially, those that have had had nothing particularly positive to say about the batch. I can more see the need for an animated section here but I feel like live action segment in particular is the most useless of all the Academy Awards. Helium‘s apparently pretty dec so sure, that’ll win.

At the end of the day, that leaves a tally of one win for everything excluding the following:

Gravity – 7
12 Years a Slave – 3
Dallas Buyers Club – 2
The Great Gatsby – 2
Frozen – 2

Remember to enter our Oscar Prediction Contest if you haven’t already and be sure to tune in to the Academy Awards 7 PM this Sunday on ABC. I’ll be live tweeting the Oscars so make sure to follow @SSRdotcom and check it occasionally to hear some live updates. 

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