Predictions for the 86th Academy Awards

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

ACMI_14This awards season has been one of the most competitive in recent memory, with an abundance of quality movies coming out in 2013.  On Sunday, March 2, the awards circuit will reach its apex with the Academy Awards, and comedian Ellen DeGeneres is set to host for a second time.

With all of the movies that had possibilities of receiving Oscar nominations, it isn’t a surprise that no matter who got into the bigger categories, some were going to be wrongfully snubbed.  In the end, there were nine nominees picked to compete for Best Picture, with“American Hustle” and “Gravity” receiving the most nominations, tying for 10, with “12 Years a Slave” following close behind with nine.  All of the Best Picture nominees have noticeable presence in the race, with all but one having at least five nominations.  “Philomena” has four, which is still respectable.

As of now, it’s evident that Best Picture is a race between “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity.”  “American Hustle” had a considerable chance as well, but is slowly being overshadowed by the two aforementioned films.  While some of the categories already have obvious winners, the amount of substantial films in the running is staggering, so much so that there were some highly unexpected snubs on the morning of the nomination announcements. Tom Hanks, who was considered to be a lock for a Best Actor nomination for “Captain Phillips,” didn’t receive anything, not even a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role in “Saving Mr. Banks,” a film that had Emma Thompson expected to receive a nod for Best Actress, but didn’t.  Robert Redford was also shut out of the Best Actor race for his role in “All Is Lost,” as was Joaquin Phoenix for “Her.”

What was really shocking was how the Coen brothers, who are pretty much guaranteed some love from the Academy when a new movie of theirs comes out, didn’t even break into any of the top categories with their film “Inside Llewyn Davis.”  It had to settle for two nominations, both of which are in the technical categories, while “Rush,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Fruitvale Station” were left out completely.

A notable accomplishment this year with the nominations is how David O. Russell’s film, “American Hustle,” managed to receive nominations in each of the four acting categories.  Although this is a rare accomplishment, Russell was also able to do it last year with “Silver Linings Playbook,” which was the first time that had happened in 31 years.

All of that being said, this is turning out to be a real attention-getting race, so here are my thoughts on who will win and who should win in the top six categories.

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins – “Blue Jasmine,” Jennifer Lawrence – “American Hustle,” Lupita Nyong’o – “12 Years a Slave,”Julia Roberts – “August: Osage County” and June Squibb – “Nebraska”

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave” – For a while, it seemed like Jennifer Lawrence was the frontrunner after receiving the Golden Globe, but Nyong’o seems to have picked up steam after winning the Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics’ Choice Award for her role of Patsey, a horribly abused slave.  The character is one of the most heart-piercing aspects of the film, and has garnered Nyong’o much acclaim.  She’s a first-time nominee and newcomer, and has certainly made herself known during this exciting awards season.  It also helps that her performance comes from one of the most honored movies of the year.  As of now, Nyong’o has the edge in this category.

Should Win: June Squibb for “Nebraska” – One reason why it’s a shame“Nebraska” wasn’t a bigger hit than it was is because Squibb offered one of the funniest performances of 2013.  As the wife a man who thinks he’s won a million dollars, she’s a sharp shooter with her hilarious comments and doesn’t hold anything back, no matter how inappropriate, particularly in the film’s humorous cemetery scene. With line delivery and comedic presence that are both accomplished and witty, her character deserves her own spinoff film, and is someone you would want at your dinner table.  Although Squibb might not win, it’s a performance that begs to be seen, especially by those who missed it in theaters.

Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi – “Captain Phillips,” Bradley Cooper – “American Hustle,” Michael Fassbender – “12 Years a Slave,” Jonah Hill – “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Jared Leto -“Dallas Buyers Club”

Will Win: Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” – Leto was nearly unrecognizable as an HIV-positive transgender woman who assists Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) on his mission to provide medication for AIDS patients.  Leto was fully committed to his role, and that hard work payed off because his performance has earned him many of the big awards he has been up for, so it’s a guarantee that he will have an Oscar to add to his other trophies come March.

Should Win: Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave” – For me, this was the hardest category in which to choose who should win.  As much as I admired Leto’s performance, I think Fassbender is the most deserving of the bunch, an actor who should be receiving as much work as possible these days.  As a ruthless and violent plantation owner, the ease with which Fassbender’s character abused his slaves was terrifying to watch, and his acting talent created an absolute monster out of his role.  If not this year, Fassbender deserves an Oscar at some point in his career because, as those who have seen his movies know, his work never deviates from outstanding.

Best Actress: Amy Adams – “American Hustle,” Cate Blanchett -“Blue Jasmine,” Sandra Bullock – “Gravity,” Judi Dench -“Philomena” and Meryl Streep – “August: Osage County”

Will Win and Should Win: Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine” – As a New York City socialite who has lost everything, this character was a flawless match for Blanchett, one that was both dramatic and darkly funny.  While portraying a woman who is down on her luck, haughty, out of her element, impulsive, anxious, depressed, and maybe suicidal, Blanchett elevated everything in her role to craft a supremely interesting character.  Seeing as the film held some comparisons to “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanchett’s performance brilliantly echoed that of Vivien Leigh’s, who played Blanche DuBois in the early ‘50s for both stage and screen.  After seeing “Blue Jasmine” back in July, it was clear that Blanchett was going to be a top contender for Best Actress, and she has been dominating that race ever since the awards season began.  She is now destined to be called to the Dolby Theatre stage on cinema’s biggest night.

Best Actor: Christian Bale – “American Hustle,” Bruce Dern -“Nebraska,” Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Wolf of Wall Street,”Chiwetel Ejiofor – “12 Years a Slave” and Matthew McConaughey -“Dallas Buyers Club”

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” – Ever since his role in 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” McConaughey has been completely changing his career with more serious projects, and it has all seemed to pay off for him, especially this year. In “Dallas Buyers Club,” he portrayed Ron Woodroof in a true story of a Texan who, after being diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, sets out to find ways to obtain medicine for himself and other AIDS patients. McConaughey has already won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and many other awards from various critics groups.  Not only was this a truly transformative performance from him, but it was one that audiences would not have expected he was capable of, especially when he seemed to be stuck in mediocre rom-coms throughout most of the previous decade. It was a performance and career overhaul that the Academy will want to acknowledge.

Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf of Wall Street” – Just to set the record straight, this isn’t because I think DiCaprio is long overdue for an Oscar (I’m not a fan of consolation prizes). I really do think that out of all of his performances, this is one he should be remembered and awarded for. As the infamous stockbroker Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio was as deep in his role as his character was in his Wall Street-lifestyle vices. He was morally questionable, wild, untamed and money-hungry, a beast claiming his territory in the financial world. With this film, DiCaprio proved why he’s one of our greatest actors. He consistently delivers in his roles, and it almost seems to be that his career has built up to this out-of-control character, a performance where he could cut loose and bask in the film’s comically deranged scenarios. If there was any possible year when DiCaprio should win, it should be now.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón – “Gravity,” Steve McQueen – “12 Years a Slave,” Alexander Payne – “Nebraska,” David O. Russell -“American Hustle” and Martin Scorsese – “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Will Win and Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity” – Seven years after directing the sci-fi dystopian thriller, “Children of Men,” Cuarón returned to the director’s chair to helm a completely different sci-fi adventure, one that focused on two astronauts stranded in space.  In“Gravity,” he made space both beautiful and terrifying, which was amplified with special effects that made this film essential to see in 3D on a big screen. After experiencing this film, it was evident that this was a worthwhile, seven-year wait from the director. Although the story itself wore thin after a while, Cuarón, who was one of the screenwriters, knew to keep it at a swift and exciting 90 minutes, and the extensive detail he put into his visuals was wildly admirable. With his latest cinematic success, he has won Best Director at the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America Award.  A filmmaker who has made this much of a contribution to how we view movies deserves to be recognized, and he will be the one this year.

Best Picture: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave”and “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Will Win: “12 Years a Slave” – For a good part of this Oscar race, this film was the one to beat, even though it had “Gravity” to compete with. Then, “American Hustle” came along, and that film seemed like it had a good chance at breaking out, but after “12 Years a Slave” and“Gravity” tied for the Producers Guild of America Award (an award that’s usually a good indicator of what will win Best Picture), the race came down to those two.  “12 Years a Slave,” however, has the edge of having won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Picture.  It also has an impactful historical story, which is sometimes a favorite of the Academy’s, as well as a talented cast that has earned three acting nods, all for first-time nominees.  Expect this film to be called for the big prize on Oscar night.

Should Win: “Her” – Sadly, this doesn’t have any chance at winning, but it certainly deserves it. Similar to “The Social Network” three years ago, this film is strikingly relevant to today’s society, both films depicting how people interact with others and new technology. Directed by Spike Jonze, the story follows the relationship between an introverted man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). What was so remarkable about the film was that there were as many emotions running through the human characters as there were in the OS, and that was one of many factors that made this movie a stunning piece of cinema. It was my favorite film of 2013, and was as close to a perfect movie as you could get. “Her” is smart, probing, tender and, most important, timely.

Be sure to watch the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2 at 8:30PM on ABC.