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Our Oscar predictions for 2014

Time Out looks at the contenders for the 2014 Academy Awards


Who will win?
All along we’ve been saying there was only ever one frontrunner for Best Picture. Steve McQueen’s slavery drama '12 Years a Slave' is a stunning piece of work, a drama both brutal and uplifting – right in the Academy’s wheelhouse. It won Best Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globes, as well as a slew of critics’ awards. No one could deny that it’s an important film, and a beautifully made one.



But sneaking up on the inside comes precisely the kind of feisty, unchallenging, gorgeously mounted fluff that the Oscars just love to give surprise awards to (remember 'Chicago'?). David O Russell's 'American Hustle' sports terrific performances, stunning costume design and a handful of whip-smart lines, and it's already proven its awards-worthiness by capturing a number of top prizes.

The question is: will the Academy go for substance or style? We have a horrible feeling they’ll take the easy option. It’s hard to imagine the old-timers at the Academy relishing the idea of being lectured on their nation's historical crimes by a foreigner – especially a Brit. And ‘American Hustle’ is the perfect antidote: it’s fizzy, pretty, and has just enough political undercurrent to make it seem like it almost – almost – has something to say.



Who else is nominated?
Current Academy rules allow for a ten film Best Picture shortlist, but this year they’ve only opted to nominate nine. There’s still an outside chance the Academy will finally give it to a sci-fi flick. Alfonso Cuarón’s 'Gravity' has been a massive commercial hit and has the critics swooning. The performances are great, the special effects even better. If the Academy decides to court the multiplex vote, this is the one they'll pick.



Further down the list, the chances get slimmer than Matthew McConaughey’s waistband. His Aids drama ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ may sport strong performances and powerful subject matter, but the film itself just isn’t strong enough. ‘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). ‘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.
Who will win?
This is a hard category to predict. Five stellar names are nominated: David O Russell ('American Hustle'), Alfonso Cuarón ('Gravity'), Alexander Payne ('Nebraska'), Steve McQueen ('12 Years a Slave') and Martin Scorsese ('The Wolf of Wall Street'). And let's not forget the old adage that the Best Picture and Best Director prizes rarely go to different films (although it did happen last year with 'Argo' and 'Life of Pi').

That said, we think that Alfonso Cuarón could actually steal this category whether or not '12 Years a Slave' or 'American Hustle' wins Best Picture. With ten nominations, 'Gravity' is clearly hugely favoured by Oscar voters, and yet its lack of a screenplay nomination suggests that their admiration isn't total enough to give the film the Best Picture prize. If Cuarón doesn't win, then the winner of this category will also win Best Picture. At this stage, we believe that thinking just about equals a double win for 'American Hustle' and David O Russell, although even a slight change in the wind could favour '12 Years a Slave' and Steve McQueen come March 2.

Who else is nominated?
Martin Scorsese is nominated for his epic tale of badly-behaved bankers 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and Alexander Payne is nominated for his black-and-white road trip comedy-drama 'Nebraska'. Both will surely turn out to be also-rans.
Who will win?
The more you think about it, the more it makes sense that Matthew McConaughey’s performance as homophobic redneck turned Aids victim and pharmaceutical campaigner Ron Woodroof in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ should be the natural frontrunner. It’s a frank, powerful performance, refusing to shy away from the uglier aspects of both the persona and the disease.

McConaughey is an industry favourite, a matinee star who has climbed the ranks from indie obscurity to mainstream slush to ‘proper’ acting roles. And the film itself is unlikely to get much love elsewhere, so Academy voters looking to spread their votes around could very well seize on its one truly outstanding characteristic.

Who else is nominated?
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a remarkably still, thoughtful turn as a man sold into slavery in '12 Years a Slave'. But we do worry that his performance is a little too remote and unflashy, and that his name isn't quite big enough – or indeed pronounceable enough – to woo those fusty old voters.

Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ has almost precisely the opposite problem: he’s hugely well known, but his turn as crooked banker Jordan Belfort may prove too outrageous, too coke-fuelled, too hooker-happy to charm the more conservative voters.

So the obvious second choice has to be Bruce Dern for ‘Nebraska’. He’s an acting legend who has spent far too long in unworthy roles, and his turn here as a befuddled elderly dad reconnecting with his son on a road trip has all the wit, warmth and insight the Academy loves.

Filling out the shortlist is Christian Bale in ‘American Hustle’, the male equivalent of Meryl Streep’s Best Actress nomination. It’s a kneejerk nod for an actor many voters admire, even if his work this time around isn’t exactly earth-shattering.
Who will win?
The bookies’ favourite is Cate Blanchett. Her electrifying turn as a rich woman on her uppers in ‘Blue Jasmine’ has met with ecstatic reviews and the Australian undeniably exudes old-fashioned movie-star class – a mix the Academy will find extremely hard to resist.

It’s worth remembering that Best Actress is always the trickiest Oscar category to predict. Last year, Hollywood newcomer Jennifer Lawrence took home the top prize. This year, the nominees list is packed with past winners. The exception is Amy Adams, who hasn’t yet won an Oscar, but who has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress four times. If the votes rolls with David O Russell’s 1970s feelgood crime comedy ‘American Hustle', she’d be a popular winner for her surprisingly soulful performance as a brash gangster's moll.

Who else is nominated?
Movie mogul and human Oscar hoover Harvey Weinstein will be hoping that Judi Dench (who won Best Supporting Actress for ‘Shakespeare in Love’) will touch voters' hearts with her twinkly-eyed performance in ‘Philomena’, the true story of an Irish woman looking for the son she was forced to abandon as a teenager. His films have found slim pickings this year by usual standards.

Sandra Bullock (who won Best Actress for ‘The Blind Side’) is nominated for her astronaut in trouble in Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity’. But there is feeling that the 3D extravaganza will be rewarded for its astonishing visual effects over its acting pyrotechnics.

Serial Oscar winner Meryl Street is up for ‘August: Osage County’, a Midwestern family drama about a clan of powerful but dysfunctional women. But the film hasn’t turned out to be the juicy-looking piece of Oscar bait some were expecting (its only other nomination is for Julia Roberts as Best Supporting Actress). That may dampen Meryl’s chances.
Who will win?
Our favourite is ‘The Hunt’, which feels like old news in the UK but experienced a delayed release in the US. The film, which stars recognisable face Mads Mikkelsen, tackles timely issues – paedophilia and vigilantism – smartly and with empathy, but will its icy realism alienate the Academy’s more old-fashioned members?

Maybe Italy’s ‘The Great Beauty’ could triumph instead? The reviews have been stellar, the visuals are sumptuous, director Paolo Sorrentino is a widely acknowledged master and the storyline – an ageing Roman playboy reflects on his achievements – should strike chords with the Academy. But let's not forget that this is a category that tends to overlook truly great films with alarming regularity.

Who else is nominated?
Rithy Panh’s ‘The Missing Picture’ from Cambodia revisits that country's infamous genocide with puppets. It won a prize at Cannes but might prove too experimental for the Academy. ‘Omar’ from Palestine’s Hany Abu-Assad is a fine exploration of youth and radicalisation – but could it be too controversial? This category's dark horse is Belgium’s ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ – a contemporary romantic tragedy with crowd-pleasing bluegrass songs.

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