Best Actor in a Leading Role
As is typical during awards season, prediction trends change up until the very last minute. For example, towards the end of 2013, Bruce Dern was hot property for the Oscars: after winning Best Actor at the Cannes film festival for his career-defining performance in beautifully melancholic Nebraska, he seemed a shoe-in to win. A few months later, nobody seems to know he exists. Using this theory, Matthew McConaughey is currently tipped to win the award for Dallas Buyers Club but I’d like to suggest, once the ceremony arrives, 12 Years A Slave will sweep the board and Chiwetel Ejiofor will take home the gong for a brave, soulful and endlessly inspiring performance as Solomon Northup. The moment he joins in singing ‘Roll Jordan Roll’ with his fellow slaves is a crippling, heartbreaking moment of acceptance and his face expresses this perfectly. Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio may be the most prolific actors in the category but unfortunately, the performances in their respective films are either too safe or wild respectively for the academy.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Last year was the best year for complex and intelligently written female characters in a long while, and I sincerely wish that all the nominees – Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep – could go home with an Oscar statuette. Considering the pool of talent, picking a ‘Best Actress’ feels like a slightly arbitrary choice. However, I believe Cate Blanchett’s performance as the fragile, egotistical Jasmine in Woody Allen’s latest offering is likely to net her the award. Although Dench gave a pitch-perfect turn as Philomena, the Academy have a habit of prioritising flashier performances, which I believe gives Blanchett the advantage. She has already won the Golden Globe, and it appears her only serious competition is Amy Adams – nominated for four Academy Awards, and winning none (so far). But since Adams gets overshadowed by Jennifer Lawrence and the cast’s outrageous hairdos in American Hustle. I believe it’s unlikely that anyone will triumph against Blanchett’s dominant and memorable performance in Blue Jasmine.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
It’s been a long time since the category for Best Supporting Actor has been this star-studded or exciting and if it was up to me I would pick at least three winners. The nominees are as follows: Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave, Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club, Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle and Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this category is that despite the quality of the performances on display, it appears to be a relatively simple prediction at this point. Jared Leto has picked up almost every precursor award so far and it looks like he’ll continue this streak through to the end of awards season. Jared Leto is truly revelatory and transformative in the role and is certainly deserving of a win. It is a slight shame though that Fassbender isn’t a bigger favourite considering his portrayal of racist slave owner Edwin Epps is, to my mind, one of the most transfixing and frightening performances I have ever seen.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
This past year has seen a fantastic variety of brilliant and intriguing performances by women in film. The nominations for this year’s Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role is a testament to such a range of female talent. While I loathe thinking only one of these brilliant actresses must ultimately win, I believe it will be Hollywood newcomer, Lupita Nyong’o who walks away with the Oscar. Her performance in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is one of visceral, raw emotional power; a performance deserving of the numerous awards she has already received. While Nyong’o must contend with Hollywood heavyweights such as Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence, she is already clearly a favourite amongst the film community, with Brad Pitt reportedly aiming to take her under his wing in order to support her career. Indeed, Nyong’o is an actress whom I hope will have every success!
Each one of the nine finalists this Oscar cycle encapsulated their own corner in our cinematic minds. In any other year, any of them could rise triumphant, but alas there can be only one. Despite some heart-breaking performances from old-timers, the blurring of genres from Nebraska and Philomena may hinder their chances. Edge-of-the-seat thrillers like Captain Phillips and Gravity never fail to arouse the academy, but I see them partial to land based film this year. ‘Actors acting awesomely (but not much more)’ should be the tagline for both American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club. After the second sex scene and the fortieth cuss, The Wolf of Wall Street lost half the voters and while Her proved to be infinitely more than its concept, those old academy fogeys are still stuck on dial-up. The film that will take the prize is 12 Years A Slave, a remarkable dissection of slavery that depicts its subject matter at its most terrifyingly human.
In the Best Director category, there are two outcomes to be wary of. Neither consider Alexander Payne or Martin Scorsese (despite past pedigree). The winner should be Alfonso Cuarón for his audacious work on Gravity. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is many people’s favourite to win big on the night, but this is one of the few categories where I see the movie slipping. No, should Cuarón fail, it will be at the hands of David O. Russell, whose American Hustle is the weakest of the nominated features, yet has found forceful favour with awards’ bodies this year. If Hustle wins it’ll be a case of a split vote between Gravity and 12 Years, but with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook still visible in the rear-view mirror, that’s more likely than you might think. A conservative gambler would make Gravity his horse, but those fond of risk should consider the genuine possibility of O. Russell emerging as the night’s victorious underdog.
Best Original Screenplay
While American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club are major contenders elsewhere, my bet – acknowledging the history of winners in this category – is that their screenplays will go overlooked in preference of Nebraska’s understated realism. Her is a strong competitor but will possibly prove too offbeat, while the unfortunate likelihood is that recent media controversy surrounding Woody Allen will compromise his chances with Blue Jasmine. I still fancy Nebraska to emerge victorious. If so, Bob Nelson’s screen- play will owe victory to its humanity and balance. Protagonist Woody is characterised as ‘a man of few words’, yet he is as vivid as any hyperbolic Tarantino construct, and infinitely more real. The sparse dialogue between dysfunctional characters is broken up by hilarious non-sequiturs. For its relatable characterisations and sparing dialogue, Nebraska is my pick for glory.
Best Adapted Screenplay
An interesting category this year, with each screenplay displaying unique strengths that make it hard to determine a frontrunner. It would be fair to rule out The Wolf of Wall Street due to some of the Academy’s reaction to the film, as well as the far too quiet and reserved, yet no less elegant, Before Midnight. Out of the nominees present here, I would be inclined to say that this is John Ridley’s for the taking. His script for 12 Years A Slave is powered with emotion and delivered with a playwright’s grace, balancing the tragedy with moments of human emotion and reflection (if the film is to take the top prize, it needs an accompaniment such as this). Its greatest threat is probably in the form of Billy Ray’s tightly structured Captain Phillips, which took home the Writer’s Guild of America prize last month, while the wit and warmth of Philomena could make the film somewhat of a dark horse.