2014 Oscar Nomination Predictions

The Oscar nominations come out this Thursday and, unlike a lot of years, there’s so much competition in a couple of key categories that it’s really almost anyone’s guess who will fill out each of the slots.

Barring some left field nomination or some unfortunate circumstance I will, like most years, have seen all of the films in the Top Eight Oscar categories by the time the awards show rolls around on March 2 (the show is delayed this year due to the Olympics). However, I am still missing a few of potentially key films at this point. At this point, I view these films as (probably not an exhaustive list): August: Osage County, Her, Saving Mr. Banks and Inside Llewyn Davis.

What follows is something of a combination of those films I believe think SHOULD be nominated in each of their categories, and those I believe WILL be nominated. I’m obviously short at least four films (those mentioned above), and of course hundreds of others that come out each year. So this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list at this point. Later, I’ll break down each of the Oscar races as I complete viewing each of the categories.

Best Picture
Always something of a moving target, because anywhere between five and 10 films can be nominated each year. Essentially for a film to make the list, it must be ranked No. 1 by at least 5% of the voters. It can’t just make the list.

Virtual Locks
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
Her (which I haven’t seen)

There’s a number of other films in play here. I personally gave four stars to only six films (thus far) of 2013, including Gravity and Nebraska, as well as The Wolf of Wall Street, All is Lost, Before Midnight and Fruitvale Station. Though it’s sad, I don’t think that Before Midnight and Fruitvale Station have enough pub to make the list. The Wolf of Wall Street certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – I found it far superior to American Hustle in terms of story, but most others disagree. All is Lost is getting no love in the Best Pic category; with the focus all falling on Redford.

The two mainstream Tom Hanks movies (Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Phillips) are hanging around the periphery. I thought Captain Phillips was a very good movie, but don’t see it as a top prize candidate here. If Before Midnight and Fruitvale Station get ignored, I’d like to see Philomena or Dallas Buyer’s Club get a look.

Best Actor
There’s really like 12 people that could get nominated in this category; it’s so strong this year. Lets start with what we know

Virtual Locks
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club
Robert Redford – All is Lost

For some reason, people are questioning Redford’s potential inclusion on this list (I’m looking at you, Entertainment Weekly), because apparently he’s not campaigning as much as he should be. I would be incredibly disapointed if he didn’t make the cut – Redford should not only be nominated, but should also win in a walk. If you haven’t seen All is Lost, he holds down the entire film on his own (literally – there’s not another single human being in it) and makes the film compelling despite only about 30-40 words or so of dialogue in the whole thing. Plus – he has yet to win an Oscar in his illustrious career, so he should be playing well in the sentimental area.

It’s hard to argue with the other three, though I don’t feel Hanks’ performance ranks up with the other three. It’s not that he’s not terrific, but McConaughey, Ejiofor and Redford are virtually transcendent in their roles.

For the fifth, you could easily see Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Christian Bale (American Hustle), Forest Whitaker (The Butler), Joaquin Phoenix (Her) or Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). I’d pick DiCaprio – he’s had some of the worst Oscar luck around, with his best roles coming against Jamie Foxx in Ray and Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. He won’t win this year, but DiCaprio’s turn as Jordan Belfort was terrific, and last night’s Golden Globe win should help propel him back into the race.

A dark horse candidate is Hugh Jackman (Prisoners). His performance was dark and stunning – though no one is talking about it for reasons passing understanding.

Best Actress
This category isn’t as deep, but has its share of stunning performances. For weeks, many figured it was a two headed-race between Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – but then December hit.

Virtual Locks
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judy Dench – Philomena

Those four performances were all career-defining turns, and none are questioning them for inclusion in the 2014 Oscars. Frankly, it’d be shocking to see any of these miss nominations.

The fifth is the only one in question. Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks is the favorite, but it could just as easily be Meryl Street for August: Osage County, which was just released and is slowly making its way into the race. Personally, I’d vote for Julie Delpy (Before Midnight). Best Actress often is a staging ground for a left field candidate as well.

Best Supporting Actor
Unlike the above two categories, there’s few defining performances here – no Heath Ledger playing the Joker in The Dark Knight, for example. Therefore, it’s extremely hard to pin down .

Virtual Locks
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Abdi is a first-time actor whose turn as the lead pirate in Captain Phillips elevated that film from gripping thriller into Oscar territory. Leto is the category’s front-runner at this point.

Beyond that, it’s anyone guess. The Golden Globes nominated Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave). Bruhl will have problems, as Rush was a very overrated film, causing it to go quietly into the night over the last few weeks. Cooper’s is the fourth or fifth best performance in Hustle – not that he wasn’t terrific, but this becomes problematic when trying to stand out. Fassbender is probably the most likely of the three to get the nomination, as the Academy will likely show more love to 12 Years at this point than when it comes time to hand out the statues.

Other potentials include the late James Gandolfini in Enough Said, Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Will Forte for Nebraska or Jonah Hill from Wolf of Wall Street. Also watch out for another left field candidate here; I’d personally love to see Harrison Ford get nominated for his brilliant performance in 42, but that won’t happen for reasons completely passing understanding.

Best Supporting Actress
This area is home to two of the year’s biggest career breakthrough performances, from Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave and 84 year old June Squibb in Nebraska.

Virtual Locks
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb – Nebraska

This is another category lacking in much depth, and it’s difficult for many to settle on two others for this category. Some talk about Oprah Winfrey from The Butler, others Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and some Sally Hawkins from Blue Jasmine. All of those are fine performances, but I’d fill out this category with Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon) and Margot Robbie from The Wolf of Wall Street.

Best Director
Barring some sort of Argo-like twist, the director category is almost locked down already.

Virtual Locks
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
David O. Russell – American Hustle

There’s virtually no question of the inclusion of these four. Though if anyone is vulnerable here it’d be Payne, whose Nebraska isn’t being talked about at the level of the other three (it should be).

Spike Jonze is right behind for Her. I need to see this film before I can rule on it, but I’d also argue for Richard Linklater (Before Midnight), J.C. Chandor (All is Lost) or Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). Of the three, Chandor is most deserving – how can you make a one-man film with no dialogue gripping and compelling and NOT get talked about for best director is completely beyond me.

Best Original Screenplay
I’m not going to speculate at all with films I haven’t seen here, because this category is stronger than it has been in years.

Virtual Locks
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)
Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler)
American Hustle (David O. Russell & Eric Singer) – though I don’t think it should be.

It’s always very difficult to predict, because sometimes Oscar voters like to pile awards on the big films, whereas other years a slot or two will be given to recognize smaller movies.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a strong possibility here; it’s not getting much love in the bigger categories and the Coens generally do well with the Academy. Her is also well in the conversation. Also potential for Blue Jasmine, Gravity, Enough Said, Dallas Buyers Club, Prisoners or Mud.

Best Adapted Screenplay
This category is lacking the depth of its original counterpart, therefore it’s much easier to predict.

Virtual Locks
12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)
Before Midnight (Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater)
Philomena (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)

I have no idea why Before Midnight is in this category, but apparently it is so fine – just so long as it gets nominated in one. Lots of people are figuring on Captain Phillips for the fifth spot, but I’m looking for a dark horse. Something like August: Osage County or Lone Survivor, neither of which I’ve seen yet.