By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 11, 2014 at 10:46AM
3. Best Documentary Feature
For the second time, all Academy members are sent screeners of all the docs and can all vote in the category (as opposed to a select group, in previous years), which does suggest that this might go to the populist choice, as it did with Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching For Sugar Man" last year. That choice is surely Morgan Neville's backup singer film "20 Feet From Stardom," which is the only box office hit among the five nominees, and definitely the one with the most mainstream appeal. However, the only major doc precursor it won was the Critic's Choice Award. Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" and Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" won the PGA and WGA, respectively, but they aren't even nominated here. However, Jehane Noujaim's nominated "The Square" won the DGA and IDA awards, and Joshua Oppenheimer's nominated "The Act of Killing" topped the Cinema Eye Honors, Gotham Awards and European Film Awards. Those are some notable hauls, and puts both films -- which may feel like more imperative subject matters to Oscar voters -- firmly in this sincerely three-way race.
4. Best Original Screenplay
There was a time when Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell's script seemed like the surest win for "American Hustle," finally giving Russell his first Oscar. But then it unexpectedly lost to Spike Jonze's script for "Her" at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and WGA. Which would seem to suggest that it's actually Jonze -- who has also never won an Oscar -- who is the frontrunner here. But "American Hustle" has considerably more momentum than "Her," and the Oscar voters will want to reward it somewhere (though there is a genuine chance that it ends up going home completely empty-handed despite 10 nominations). This all makes for a full-on nail biter, interestingly pitting Jonze and against the man who directed him in "Three Kings." Or perhaps they'll split the vote, allowing Bob Nelson to sneak in for "Nebraska"?
5. Best Original Score
Steven Price's music for "Gravity" seems to be the most popular choice among Oscar pundits to win here, and he indeed won the Critics Choice Award for it -- one of the few major precursors that hand out a prize in this category. But Price lost the Golden Globe to the Oscar-snubbed Alex Ebert (for "All Is Lost"). While "Gravity" is all but assured a slew of artistic and technical wins (cinematography, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing and perhaps production design all look like good bets), this might be a category where voters will feel inspired to spread the love to two best picture nominees they might not check off anywhere else: "Her" and "Philomena." The latter is scored by Alexandre Desplat, who notably has lost this award five times in the past seven years (for "The Queen," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The King's Speech" and "Argo"). The former, meanwhile, comes via Oscar newbies Owen Pallett and Will Butler (both involved with Arcade Fire), whose score for "Her" (a personal favorite, FYI) has won them a handful of critics prizes and are the kind of outside-the-industry winner the Academy has recently shown an interest in rewarding (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's win for "The Social Network" comes to mind). Or they'll go old school. Because there's also John Williams, who received his whopping 49th Oscar nomination for "The Book Thief." Yes, he's won five times. But the last time was 20 years ago for "Schindler's List."
Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and awards columnist. Check out his Oscar predictions in all the categories here.