It truly is a three-horse race for Best Picture. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a drama both brutal and uplifting—right in the Academy’s wheelhouse. No one could deny that it’s an important film, and a beautifully made one. But sneaking up on the inside is American Hustle, precisely the kind of gorgeously mounted fluff that the Oscars just love to give surprise awards to (remember Chicago?). David O Russell’s crime caper sports stunning costume design, whip-smart dialogue and terrific performances, which, given the huge number of actors who vote in this category, could well swing the vote in its favor.
But let us not overlook Gravity, which has had critics and audiences swooning, and has plenty of momentum following a pair of Bafta wins (for Best Director and Best British Film). If the Academy decides to court the multiplex vote, this is the one they'll pick.
12 Years a Slave may simply prove too heavy going for the Academy’s old-timer voters. It’s hard to imagine them relishing the idea of being lectured on their nation’s historical crimes by a foreigner—especially a Brit. American Hustle is fizzy and fun, but will its lack of substance leave it wanting? And Gravity may be the popular choice, but the big prize has never gone to a sci-fi flick before.
Who else is nominated?
AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club may sport strong performances and powerful subject matter, but the film just isn’t impressive enough. The Wolf of Wall Street is probably too brash for Oscar tastes—too many drugs and hookers, not enough lesson-learning. And the lack of a Best Actor nod for Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips means that film is clearly not uppermost in the Academy’s hearts and minds.
Nebraska, Her and great British hope Philomena are the kind of spry, indie-ish character pieces that always pick up nominations but rarely grab the big prize (bearing in mind, we said the same thing about The King’s Speech a couple of years back).