This season, the hottest accessory is an Oscar.
So it’s only fitting that this year’s Oscar race has been one of most heated in recent memory, with many categories almost impossible to call.
It should make for an exciting awards ceremony Sunday night. Ellen DeGeneres returns as host, lightening things up with her warm sense of humor.
It’ll only add to the heat.
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Speaking of sweating, I’m going out on a limb with some of my predictions. Here they are in major categories:
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
“Hustle” won the SAG award’s top prize, but it still seems like third place here, because the real heat is between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” It is an extremely close race — and the hardest to call of the night.
Even the Producers Guild of America’s top award, usually a clear indicator of which film will go on to win best picture at the Oscars, was a tie between the two films.
“12 Years a Slave” won the BAFTA (British Oscar equivalent) for best picture, just as final Oscar voting was about to happen, which could help its chances. But many voters are put off by its hard-to-endure violence.
Most signs point to “Gravity” to win. It’s an astonishing technical feat and an enthralling, exciting journey.
But it’s really anyone’s call.
Oscar prediction: “Gravity”
My vote: “Gravity”
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”
Previous supporting actor winner Bale (2010’s “The Fighter”) threw himself into his role as a con artist, even gaining weight. Beautiful work, but he’s not getting any buzz to win here.
Neither is previous nominee Dern (supporting actor for 1978’s “Coming Home”), who nonetheless had the role of a lifetime. He would be the sentimental favorite.
Three-time previous nominee DiCaprio (supporting actor for 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” actor for 2004’s “The Aviator” and 2006’s “Blood Diamond”) shined as a Wall Street jerk. It was a virtuoso performance, but he probably won’t take that elusive Oscar home just yet.
First-time nominee Ejiofor was heartbreaking as a free man forced into slavery. His emotional performance won the BAFTA actor award, and he could perhaps win in a “12 Years” sweep.
But most signs point to McConaughey, who gave a blistering performance as a man grappling with HIV. He has won most of the precursor awards, including the SAG award, and I think he’ll win here, too.
Oscar prediction: McConaughey
My vote: McConaughey
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Only previous nominee Adams (supporting actress for 2005’s “Junebug,” 2008’s “Doubt,” 2010’s “The Fighter” and 2012’s “The Master”) hasn’t won an Oscar yet. It’s nice to see her nominated here in what was kind of a surprise. But it shouldn’t have been, because she was the sturdy anchor for “American Hustle.” Still, she’s probably a long shot.
Streep is the most-nominated performer ever, with 18 noms and three wins (supporting actress for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” lead actress for 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice” and 2011’s “The Iron Lady”). But most agree that her performance in “August” was a little too stagey, and it’s not getting any buzz to win.
Neither is six-time nominee and previous winner Dench (supporting actress for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love”), for her role as a mother who yearns to connect with the child she never knew.
Previous lead actress winner Bullock (2009’s “The Blind Side”) was absolutely riveting as an engineer trapped in space. She carried all of “Gravity” on her shoulders, being onscreen the entire time. It was an impressive emotional and physically demanding performance. In any other year, she would perhaps win again.
But this year has an astounding performance from previous winner Blanchett (supporting actress for 2004’s “The Aviator”; also four other nominations, including this year’s) as a manic and delusional woman attempting to rebuild herself but failing miserably. She is practically a lock.
Oscar prediction: Blanchett
My vote: Blanchett
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”
Only Cooper (lead actor for 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook”) and Hill (2011’s “Moneyball”) have been nominated before. Neither are getting buzz to win despite strong performances, Cooper’s as a corrupt FBI agent and Hill’s as an obnoxious Wall Streeter.
Fassbender was downright evil as a despicable plantation owner, but he’s generating little heat to win.
Neither is Abdi, who gets an Oscar nomination for his first acting role — an astounding achievement — as a Somali pirate.
That leaves Leto, who was fascinating as an HIV positive transgender woman named Rayon. He could have let the role slip into cliche, but he embodied her with a snappy gusto while also giving her heart. When Rayon finally breaks down, so do we.
Oscar prediction: Leto
My vote: Leto
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
This is another tricky, close category, although Roberts (actress winner for 2000’s “Erin Brockovich,” actress nominee for 1990’s “Pretty Woman,” supporting actress nominee for 1989’s “Steel Magnolias”) isn’t generating any buzz to win for her performance as a woman angered by her recent divorce (it’s really a leading role, anyway).
Hawkins’ first nomination, for her nuanced performance as a caring sister, is already her win. So is Squibb’s first nom as a feisty, outspoken wife. They are the long shots.
The real heat is between Lawrence (previous actress nominee for 2010’s “Winter’s Bone”; previous winner for “Silver Linings Playbook”) and first-time nominee Nyong’o.
At first it seemed that Lawrence was ahead after winning the Golden Globe. Then she lost the SAG award to Nyong’o. Then Lawrence won the BAFTA.
But I doubt the Academy will honor her so soon after her win last year. Back-to-back Oscars are extremely rare (the last was Tom Hanks’ actor wins for 1993’s “Philadelphia” and 1994’s “Forrest Gump”). Even though she may deserve to win, the Academy may feel they still have plenty of time to honor her in what should be an established, lengthy career.
So Nyong’o, whose performance as a defeated slave was indeed heartbreaking — that whipping scene is unforgettable — will have a slight edge.
Oscar prediction: Nyong’o
My vote: Lawrence
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
An esteemed field of worthy nominees, though Scorsese (10 previous nominations, including a win for 2006’s “The Departed”), Russell (two previous nominations for directing — “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” — and one previous nomination for writing — “Silver Linings Playbook”) and Payne (six previous nominations, including two wins for writing — 2004’s “Sideways” and 2011’s “The Descendants”) aren’t getting any buzz to win.
First-time nominee McQueen is only the third black director to ever be nominated. If he won, he would become the first black director to do so. His work is monumental, single-handedly changing the way slavery is depicted in Hollywood’s history. It’s an important film.
But first-time directing nominee Cuaron’s work is jaw-dropping (he has previous noms for writing — 2003’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and 2007’s “Children of Men” — and editing — “Children of Men”) .
He waited for years to get the film made until technology caught up with his vision. And that 17-minute take at the start of the film is awe-inducing. He’s won almost every precursor award, including the Directors Guild Award, and he should win his first Oscar on Sunday, too.
Oscar prediction: Cuaron
My vote: Cuaron