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Some fresh Oscar picks

In a year of excellent movies, we give our early predictions for four of the major Academy Awards and our personal favorites of the nominees.

Best Picture

L: The nine nominee category has three major competitors: “American Hustle,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” “Gravity” was a visually and emotionally stunning film, but “12 Years a Slave” deserves to take home gold for its unflinching look at the mundane evils of slavery. It dares the audience to look away or to keep on looking, and to consider the implications of either choice. The Academy should recognize that monumental achievement.

Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”

Should Win: “12 Years a Slave” 

T: In any other year, most of the nominations would deserve Best Picture. However, the title must, and will, go to Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” an unflinchingly realistic piece that is both cinematically brilliant and politically relevant. McQueen’s masterpiece confronts us with slavery’s horrors, chronicling a part of our past where cruelty is an indoctrinated fact of life. From the acting to the cinematography, “12 Years a Slave” goes beyond its contemporaries by implicating its audiences in issues that are normally parceled off into the past.

Will win: “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: “12 Years a Slave”

Best Director

L: Again we should see a direct matchup between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” Look for the Academy to split the love between the two movies here, granting “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón the Best Director prize—hard to begrudge considering the cohesive, immersive vision of his film.

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

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

T: Admittedly, Cuarón’s competition is composed of some brilliant artists, including predicted-Best-Picture-winner Steve McQueen. Yet “Gravity” is a director’s movie, a breathtaking film made gripping by visual effects, but made possible by the vision of an artist. Cuarón may not win Best Picture, but his astronomical achievement will certainly be recognized.

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Should win: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity” 

Best Actress

L: Pundits have Cate Blanchett’s turn in “Blue Jasmine” labeled a guaranteed win. I was most moved by the exquisite work of both Amy Adams in “American Hustle” and Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.” Adams is consistently excellent, but Bullock does the most phenomenal work of her career, peeling back the layers of her prickly Dr. Stone while careening through space.

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” 

Should Win: Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

T: Cate Blanchett’s performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” dwarfs her talented competition. Hiding her vulnerability behind a porcelain poise, Blanchett’s portrayal of the fallen upper-class woman is fractured with rambling reminiscences, driving the film forward with her desperate attempts at finding balance. Unless there is an enormous upset, Blanchett’s critical acclaim solidifies her success at this year’s Oscars.

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Should Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” 

Best Actor

L: The biggest sin of omission in this brutal category was the exclusion of Joaquin Phoenix, who gave the performance of the year in “Her.” From the five nominees, Chiwetel Ejiofor should win for his nuanced work in “12 Years a Slave,” showing anger, resignation and determination in his bottomless eyes. Hollywood loves a good comeback story though, so expect the Academy to reward Matthew McConaughey for his strong work in “Dallas Buyers Club,” as much an award for the performance as an acknowledgement of his recently established dramatic actor status.

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

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

T:  Matthew McConaughey’s physical and performative transformation in “Dallas Buyers Club” is a departure from his early roles and ought to be rewarded. However, when it comes to a showcase of pure acting, Bruce Dern deserves the Oscar. Where DiCaprio’s slimy charisma and Ejiofor’s raw bravery compliment their respective films, Dern’s performance stands out as glacial, showing only 10 percent of a spirit whose mythic possibilities have been muted by a lifetime of disappointment and apathy. Place that on top of a lifetime of largely unrecognized work and you have a nominee well deserving of Best Actor.

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should Win: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

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    RobJan 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Great post! The race for Best Picture is an interesting one, and while I would love 12 Years a Slave to win I feel like American Hustle will still pull it off. It has major support in The Academy, especially from the SAG that makes up the largest bulk of voters. And it’s just more entertaining than the challenging 12 Years a Slave. Again, I would love it if Gravity or 12 Years a Slave won over American Hustle, but I’m preparing myself for disappointment.

    As for the acting picks, looks like you guys got it. Blanchett should be a lock and McConaughey is definitely the front-runner at the moment. You going to do more predictions? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Supporting Acting categories and the writing categories.