This year was a very good one for movies, which makes predicting the winners particularly difficult. Still, we've given it our best shot. All that we ask in return is that when you win your Oscar pool, you mail us a cut of the winnings. Deal? Deal. Then you have our permission to read our predictions below.
Critical Darling: Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
He may not be the most affable director in Hollywood, but Steve McQueen’s latest study of human suffering has definitely made him the hottest. After earning a Golden Globe nod to go along with his New York Film Critics Circle directing prize, the Oscar is officially his to lose.
Wild Card: David O. Russell, American Hustle
With a big win at the NYFCC awards and a boatload of nods from the Globes and SAG, American Hustle has been dominating the early awards circuit, giving Russell — who is headed for his second nomination — all the momentum as we head into the home stretch.
Shoo-in: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
There was no greater feat in the year of directing than Alfonso Cuaron’s eye-popping space odyssey, filled with breathtaking visual effects and how-did-he-do-that action sequences. It’s the one time the words “you’ve never seen anything like it” are actually true. Expect the Academy’s tech nerds to bet heavy on Cuaron.
Dark Horse: Spike Jonze, Her
Yes, the rumors are true. Spike Jonze has indeed crafted one of the most inventive, hilarious, and deeply resonant romances in recent memory, which is precisely why Her has been getting so much end-of-the-year love. It’s about time the Academy recognized one of the most daring filmmakers working today.
Legacy: Martin Scorsese, Wolf Of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s chances at his second best director Oscar took a huge hit after the Hollywood Foreign Press Association failed to include him in this year’s Golden Globes race. Still, Wolf Of Wall Street is exactly the kind of character-driven epic the Academy loves, so don’t count out Marty just yet.
Critical Darling: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
This year truly was Matthew McConaughey’s coming-out party, after a series of stunning performances proved that Hollywood’s resident surfer dude could act, too. Chief among them, his riveting turn as an AIDS-stricken cowboy in Dallas Buyers Club, a role for which he shed 47 pounds, as well as his reputation as just another pretty face.
Wild Card: Joaquin Phoenix, Her
We were tempted to give this spot to Nebraska’s Bruce Dern, but we just couldn’t shake Phoenix’s vibrant, heartbreaking performance as a withdrawn writer who falls in love with his operating system. In our humble opinion, Phoenix deserved last year’s prize for his work in The Master, so hopefully this year the Academy gets it right.
Shoo-in: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
In any other year, this award would go to Ejiofor, no questions asked. But, Hollywood’s leading men really brought their A-game this year, which means Ejiofor’s thunderous performance as Solomon Northrup is not a lock for a win. Still, if we're betting, we’d empty our our piggy bank for Ejiofor.
Dark Horse: Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf Of Wall Street
It’s hard to believe that everyone’s favorite leading man still hasn’t won an Oscar, despite three previous nominations. In Wolf Of Wall Street, Leo gives another virtuoso performance, this time as crooked business tycoon, and is considered a lock for his fourth acting nod. Unfortunately this year’s crowded field once again has him on the outside, looking in.
Legacy: Robert Redford, All Is Lost
Earlier this year, many had Redford as the odds on favourite to pick up his first best actor Oscar for his gripping portrayal of a man lost at sea. But, after his mystifying SAG snub, Redford’s chances just got slimmer. Some suggest that his unwillingness to gladhand with the press and Academy members are hurting his chances, which is a huge letdown, because a Redford win would lead to one of the greatest standing ovations in Oscar history.
Critical Darling: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
It’s hard to believe that over the course of her glorious career, Cate Blanchett has yet to win acting’s top prize. Well, look for that to change come March, thanks to her manic turn as a woman on the edge in Woody Allen’s latest. Sorry, ladies, this year belongs to Blanchett.
Wild Card: Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is The Warmest Color
Would there be a better way for Adele Exarchopoulos to cap off her breakout year than with a surprise win on Oscar night? Hell, no. Does she stand a chance against Cate? Hell, no.
Shoo-in: Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Director Alfonso Cuaron screen-tested every major actress in Hollywood for the role of the lost-in-space Dr. Ryan Stone before ultimate casting Sandra Bullock. And, boy, does she deliver. By providing warmth in a film steeped in darkness, Bullock is a very good bet to become the first two-time best-actress winner since Hilary Swank.
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Streep’s performance as the domineering matriarch in this adaptation of Tracy Well’s Pulitzer Prize winning play has her poised to nab her record 18th Oscar nod, though she’s far from the front runner. Still, what is a best actress race without Meryl Streep? We’d like to think we live in a world where hopefully, we never have to find out.
Legacy: Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
It’s been a minute since Emma Thompson has figured into any kind of awards race, but her acclaimed turn as Mary Poppins scribe P.L. Travers figures to change all that. Welcome back, Emma.
Critical Darling: 12 Years A Slave
Immediately after its TIFF premiere, critics hailed the gut-punching slave drama as the best film of the year, and the de facto best-picture winner come Oscar night. Some suggest that it may have peaked too early, but recent accolades including major Golden Globe and SAG nods have once again catapulted Slave to the front of the pack.
Wild Card: Nebraska
It’s unlikely that a charming, albeit little-seen, family drama shot entirely in black-and-white will unseat commercial juggernauts like Gravity as a frontrunner for the top prize. But, as one of the most respected directors in the biz, Alexander Payne has a ton of goodwill from Academy voters, so don’t count Nebraska out just yet.
The Academy has a history of leaning towards smart movies that also performed well commercially, which means Alfonso Cuaron’s critically acclaimed, $250-million box-office behemoth is hurtling towards an epic toe-to-toe battle with 12 Years A Slave come Oscar night.
Dark Horse: Inside Llewyn Davis
There’s no doubt that the Coen Brothers’ existential examination of one man’s journey through the 1960s Greenwich Village folks scene will get a nomination for the big award, but odds of it actually winning are slim. Having a leading man with the first name “Oscar” can’t hurt, though.
Legacy: The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar largely eluded Martin Scorsese for the majority of his career, until the Academy finally gave it up for The Departed in 2006. Now that the debt is paid, we don’t expect his latest study of American excess gone awry to get much love come Oscar night. Still, sentimentality does go a long way in this biz, so you never know.