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For Your Consideration: Final Oscar Predictions In Every Single Category (aka How To Win Your Oscar Pool!)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 25, 2014 at 1:8PM

It's time. After months and months of critics awards, Golden Globes, smear campaigns, Guild Awards, luncheons, cocktails and talk show appearances, the grand finale of awards season is just five days away. Which means it's probably the moment for us to offer up final guesswork for how it will all go down.
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Photo credit: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.

It's time. After months and months of critics awards, Golden Globes, smear campaigns, Guild Awards, luncheons, cocktails and talk show appearances, the grand finale of awards season is just five days away. Which means it's probably time for us to offer up some final guesswork for how it will all go down.

For once, there is a big question mark looming over how Oscar night will end (three films all have genuine chances at winning Best Picture), but there really aren't too many question marks to keep us excited along the way.  The other major races -- Best Drector and the acting categories -- all have strong frontrunners, while the vast majority of the overall 24 Oscars seem just as predictable (save foreign language film and documentary feature, arguably the night's biggest nail-biters). But hey, you never know. Maybe Oscar voters will take a rare opportunity to surprise us. Just don't look for too much risk-taking in our predictions, which largely play it safe in a game where playing it safe usually pays off. We'll know for sure soon enough, but in the meantime, here's our attempt at helping you win your Oscar Pool:

Fox Searchlight "12 Years a Slave."
Best Picture: "Gravity" vs. "12 Years a Slave." That's been the narrative we've heading into for quite some time, which shares commonalities with the "Avatar" vs. "The Hurt Locker," "Hugo" vs. "The Artist" and "Life of Pi" vs. "Argo" showdowns that met the last three years (an expensive, 3D critical and commercial hit versus a smaller film tackling history in one way or another)... History won all three times, but this year is clearly closer than ever. The two films historically tied for the PGA top honors, which just goes to show how tight this is. Add in "American Hustle," which has received a ton of love from the precursors too (it won the SAG ensemble and New York Critics prize), and we got ourselves a bonafide three-way race. Unless something truly shocking happens, one of these three films is winning Best Picture, and I've been going back and forth between "12 Years" and "Gravity" as my pick... I've finally (and with minimal confidence) landed on the former, but frankly, am just excited to be this uncertain so late in the race.

Will win: 12 Years a Slave
Could win: Gravity
Should win: Her

Best Director: This is much little less of a question mark than best picture. While "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" are as noted battling it out for that prize, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron has won pretty much every prize around in this category, and if he loses it will be a pretty major upset. If anyone can pull that off, though, it's Steve McQueen. I just wouldn't recommend betting on it.

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón
Could win: Steve McQueen
Should win: Alfonso Cuarón

Best Actor: In one of truly the most crowded Best Actor races in recent memory, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern and Christian Bale ending up making the cut, while Robert Redford, Tom Hanks Oscar Isaac, Forest Whitaker and Joaquin Phoenix -- who could have made an awesome lineup themselves -- did not. And the race for the win has been a lot less interesting than the race to get nominated: Matthew McConaughey dominated the precursors, and seems poised to win his first Oscar. Though Leonardo DiCaprio and Chiwetel Ejiofor both stand outside chances at upsetting, with the former getting some considerable last minute heat and the latter benefiting from a BAFTA win (where McConaughey notably was not nominated). So while that means McConaughey is probably a little more vulnerable to an upset than some of the other frontrunners, I'm still pretty sure he's walking away with this.

Will win: Matthew McConaughey
Could win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Should win: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine."
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett has been poised to take home this award since the day "Blue Jasmine" was released, and she's still holding on nicely after wins from SAG, the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes. Had Amy Adams not been nominated, it would basically be a 99.99% done deal. But Adams -- the only nominee here who hasn't won -- gives this race a very (very) slight chance at an upset, especially given a vote for Blanchett might seem like a vote for Woody Allen in light of the recent controversy facing the director. But I still cannot imagine that pulling too many votes away from Blanchett, who gave a performance almost nobody has anything bad to say about. It's as far as I'm concerned, one of the night's surest things.

Will win: Cate Blanchett
Could win: Amy Adams
Should win: Cate Blanchett

"Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Supporting Actor:  First time Oscar nominee Jared Leto has essentially won every single precursor, making him perhaps the surest bet on Oscar night as far as the acting categories go. Yes, Barkhad Adbi won the BAFTA, but Leto (or Jonah Hill for that matter) wasn't even nominated. So anyone beating him would be a massive upset, though I personally have my fingers mightily crossed for that somehow happening (I still do not understand what's so special about this performance, but I hope this is the last time I ever even note this clearly minority opinion).

Will win: Jared Leto
Could win: Barkhad Abdi
Should win: Michael Fassbender

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita vs Jennifer is the definite showdown in this race, definitely the most up in the air of the acting categories. The two have basically split all the precursors (Globe and BAFTA to Lawrence, SAG and Critics Choice to Nyong'o). But I'd wager Lupita probably has the edge. Will voters really want to give 23 year old Lawrence two Oscars in two years?  It's possible. People who love her in "American Hustle" love her in "American Hustle." But Lawrence doesn't even seem to want it -- she didn't show up to accept her BAFTA, and hasn't been campaigning much. Nyong'o, on the other hand, has been the breakout star of this awards season, nailing every speech, dress and interview (sadly, this matters). So I say Lupita, and will be very happy if I'm right.

Will win: Lupita Nyong'o
Could win: Jennifer Lawrence
Should win:

Lupita Nyong'o

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's 'Her'

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 -- 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 two (or three, as it were) race, interestingly pitting Jonze and against the man who directed him in "Three Kings." 

Will win: Her
Could win: American Hustle
Should win: Her

Best Adapted Screenplay: I'm sticking with John Ridley's script for "12 Years a Slave" here, but I have a sinking feeling this category will feature one of the night's few major surprises. "12 Years" seemed like an absolute sure-fire winner here for a long while, but there are cases to be made for each of its competitors: "Philomena" (which won the BAFTA), "Captain Phillips" (which won the WGA), "The Wolf of Wall Street" (which peaked at the perfect time) and "Before Midnight" (which I think given the respect that series has achieved has a decent shot at upsetting). It's probably the only category (save the shorts) where it seems like all five nominees stand something of a chance at winning. We shall see.

Will win: 12 Years a Slave
Could win: Philomena
Should win: Before Midnight

Best Animated Feature: Disney Animation will win its very first animated feature Oscar with its mega-hit "Frozen," which will also mark the second straight win for an animated film both co-directed by a woman, and with a lead female character. It's definitely one of the easiest calls of the night.

Will win: Frozen
Could win: The Wind Rises (but not really)
Should win: Frozen

Best Foreign Language Film: This race and the documentary feature race below it should make for two of the most interesting envelope openings of Oscar night.  Paolo Sorrentino's Fellini-esque "The Great Beauty" is the arguable frontrunner, having won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA and being the only box office hit among the nominees. But with the entire Academy voting on this prize, the case for two much more accessible, emotionally resonating films -- Belgium's "The Broken Circle Breakdown" and Denmark's "The Hunt" -- can certainly be made. I'd still wager the momentum and reputation of "Great Beauty" gets it the Oscar, but I won't be surprised if I'm wrong.

Will win: The Great Beauty
Could win: Broken Circle Breakdown or The Hunt
Should win: The Great Beauty

Jehane Noujaim's "The Square"
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 suggests 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. And one we're making a risky call on:

Will win: The Square
Could win: 20 Feet From Stardom or The Act of Killing
Should win: They're all great.

Best Original Song: Featuring -- only to have it taken back -- the weirdest Oscar nomination yet not Oscar nomination in some time (ever?) with "Alone Yet Not Alone" from the movie of the same name that almost nobody had ever heard of, this year's best original song race is now down to just four. And without "Alone," its a quartet of songs that are all quite popular from artists most folks have heard of (which is rare in this category as of late): U2's "Ordinary Love," Karen O's "The Moon Song," Pharrell Williams' "Happy" and "Let It Go," the huge Idina Menzel-sung hit from Disney's "Frozen." The latter is likely taking home the prize, but all four have been campaigning for the win in a way I've never seen in this category, so it could get interesting.

Will win: "Let It Go"
Could win: "Ordinary Love"
Should win: "The Moon Song"

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." 

Will win: Gravity
Could win: Philomena or Her
Should win: Her

Best Cinematography: It seems extraordinarily unlikely anything will beat "Gravity" here, finally giving Emmanuel Lubezki his first Oscar after nominations for "A Little Princess," "Sleepy Hollow," "The New World," "Children of Men" and "The Tree of Life" (fun fact: he also shot "Reality Bites" and "The Birdcage").

Will win: Gravity
Could win: Inside Llewyn Davis
Should win: Gravity

"Captain Phillips"
Best Film Editing: For a while there it seemed like Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger had this in the bag for their work on "Gravity," but "Captain Phillips" editor Christopher Rouse -- who won this award back in 2007 for another Paul Greengrass film, "The Bourne Ultimatum" -- beat the "Gravity" team at the American Cinema Editors awards (or the ACE Eddies) in the dramatic film category, while another Oscar nominated team -- Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten -- won the comedy prize for "American Hustle."  Notably, nine of the last 10 ACE Eddie winners have gone on to win the Oscar, which bodes well for "Hustle" and "Phillips." But "Gravity" is absolutely still in contention (as is, to a lesser degree "12 Years a Slave), meaning basically any editing team save "Dallas Buyers Club" has a shot here. Ladies and gentleman, the tightest race of all the technical categories...

Will win: Captain Phillips
Could win: Gravity
Should win: Gravity

Warner Bros. "The Great Gatsby"

Best Production Design and Best Costume Design: "The Great Gatsby" nabbed both of these trophies at the BAFTAs, and could very well do the same here. But it has formidable opponents that were much more favored by Oscar overall: "Gravity" and "American Hustle" in the production design category and both "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" in costume design. My bet is voters will be inclined to offer these films another Oscar bone over "Gatsby" in at least one of the categories, but I've been going back and forth about which one (and it could very well end up being both). Here's my eventual best bet:

Production Design:
Will win: The Great Gatsby
Could win: Gravity
Should win: Her

Costume Design:
Will win: American Hustle
Could win: The Great Gatsby
Should win: 12 Years a Slave

Best Visual Effects: One of the surest things of night, and the most definite of the six Oscars we're predicting for "Gravity."

Will win: Gravity
Could win: N/A. The surest bet of the night.
Should win: Gravity

Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing: Not quite as sure things as the visual effects win, but "Gravity" is definitely the frontrunner to pick up these trophies as well. The potential spoiler in both regards is good ol' "Captain Phillips," but it seems like a "Gravity" sweep to me.

Sound Mixing:
Will win: Gravity
Could win: Captain Phillips
Should win: Inside Llewyn Davis

Sound Editing:
Will win: Gravity
Could win: Captain Phillips
Should win: Gravity

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The winners here have recently tended to go to films that are well received by Oscar in general ("Les Miserables," "The Iron Lady") so I suspect this is "Dallas Buyers Club"'s to lose, even if "Bad Grandpa" and "The Lone Ranger" have much more extensive offerings in the hair & makeup department.

Will win: Dallas Buyers Club
Could win: Bad Grandpa
Should win: Bad Grandpa

Best Live Action Short: The short film races are always extremely tough to call -- especially now that the entire Academy membership is eligible to vote for them. But Mark Gill and Baldwin Li's "The Voorman Problem" -- the only film here in unsubtitled English (7 of the last 10 winners have been in English) seems like the one to beat. Featuring Martin Freeman as a psychologist up against a patient who believes he is God, it has the kind of accessibility that seems likely to go over well with voters as a whole. Though watch out for Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras's "Just Before Losing Everything" and Kim Magnusson's "Helium."

Will win: The Voorman Problem
Could win: Just Before Losing Everything or Helium
Should win: Just Before Losing Everything

Best Animated Short: Disney looks like it will have matching feature and short Oscars this year, thanks to "Get a Horse," which just so happened to be paired in theaters with "Frozen." The film features Mickey Mouse trying to save Minnie from Peg-Leg Pete, the kind of throwback one would think Oscar voters would eat right up.

Will win: Get a Horse
Could win: Mr. Hublot
Should win: Mr. Hublot

Best Documentary Short: This is definitely Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed's extremely moving "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"'s to lose. A portrait of Alice Herz Sommer -- who passed away in the midst of Oscar voting at the age of 110 -- the film breaks your heart as it recalls who until recently was the world's oldest Holocaust survivor. It's a subject matter that has won many an Oscar in the past, and it's a lovely film to boot.

Will win: The Lady in Number 6
Could win: Facing Fear
Should win: The Lady in Number 6

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is related to: Academy Awards, Awards Season Roundup