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Oscars 2014: Peter Travers Picks Who Should (And Will) Win

In the tightest race in years, the question is: Can anyone take down the box-office and critical smash that is ‘Gravity’?

Peter Travers Feb 28, 2014
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Sandra Bullock and George Clooney enter deep space in Alfonso Cuaron's 'Gravity'. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney enter deep space in Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Best Picture

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor is chained in Steve McQueen's '12 Years A Slave'. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Fox Searchlight

Chiwetel Ejiofor is chained in Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years A Slave’. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Fox Searchlight

FAVES Sure, there are nine movies nominated for Best Picture, but if you’re not Gravity, American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave, consider yourself A-Rod: You’re not playing this season. Ever since the Academy started increasing the number of contenders from five to as many as 10 (to spread, what, the wealth of chances to boost your box office?), the unwieldy list of nominees has cheapened the process. So let’s cut it down for you. When the Best Picture Oscar is doled out on March 2nd, the odds will favor Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, the acclaimed space epic with a gross ($262 million) that’s more than its two top rivals combined. The downside is that, with the exception of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Academy traditionally shafts fantasy and sci-fi for the big prize. From 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars to District 9 and Inception, fantasy spells defeat. Cheery news for David O. Russell’s wildly entertaining and expertly acted comedy, American Hustle. But wait, comedy is a genre Oscar sniffs at nearly as often as sci-fi. The Woody Allen win for Annie Hall was almost four decades ago. Enter Steve McQueen’s brilliant and brutal 12 Years a Slave, which radiates Oscar-friendly gravitas. The catch is that the film’s violence turns off Academy bluenoses, some of whom may never allow such suffering to stream into their consciousness. There you have it: 6,000-odd (I use the term advisedly) Oscar voters trying to pound their prejudices into a consensus. No wonder it’s such a bitch to get all categories right in the office Oscar betting pool.

UPSETS I suppose it’s possible that one of the other nominees could sneak in. Maybe the Weinstein Company’s campaign to sell Philomena as the people’s choice will pay off. Nah. Stick with the top three.

SNUBS How the hell do you not nominate Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the end of the best romantic trilogy on film? And a plague on voters’ houses for ignoring the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, a folk ballad that strikes haunting chords about identity and the nature of art and commerce.

SHOULD WIN 12 Years a Slave, because no 2013 film cut deeper, resonated longer or felt readier for a permanent place in the cinema time capsule.

WILL WIN Gravity, because when voters wonder if American Hustle is too much about the actors and 12 Years a Slave is too much on the nerves, Gravity makes the easiest compromise. That’s Oscar for you.

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Matthew McConaughey in 'Dallas Buyers Club'. Photo: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

Matthew McConaughey in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Photo: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

Best Actor

Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor –12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

FAVES Though Ejiofor gives a master class in implosive, soulful acting and Dern caps a shining career, the heat is with McConaughey. For good reason. His performance as a homophobe-turned-AIDS-crusader is his best so far, and he’s riding the crest of a career rebirth that’s hard not to cheer for.

UPSETS DiCaprio’s all-stops-out turn as a Wall Street scumbag is earning raves even from those who loathe his film. Plus, the 39-year-old star has five nominations and no wins. Oscar has some dues to pay.

SNUBS First they toss out Tom Hanks for one of his most moving performances, in Captain Phillips. Then they sucker-punch Robert Redford, a presumptive winner for his tour de force as a man alone at sea in All Is Lost. And clearly there is room for only one black actor: Forest Whitaker (The Butler), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) will have to wait for next time.

SHOULD WIN Ejiofor. Years from now when this non-showy but indelible performance displays its lasting value, the Academy, which prizes the middlebrow – Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas, The King’s Speech over The Social Network – may show regret. More likely, they’ll stay happy skimming the surface.

WILL WIN McConaughey. Texas boy makes good. All right. All right. All right.

Cate Blanchett in 'Blue Jasmine'. Photo: Jessica Miglio/©Sony Pictures Classics

Cate Blanchett in ‘Blue Jasmine’. Photo: Jessica Miglio/©Sony Pictures Classics

Best Actress

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

FAVES Blanchett has long been considered a lock for embodying a modern-day Blanche DuBois in Woody Allen’s topical and trenchantly funny blending of A Streetcar Named Desire with the true story of Ruth Madoff. The presumed dead heat between Blanchett and Bullock has lost its betting fervor. It’s Blanchett’s to lose.

UPSETSAdams needs to win an Oscar someday – make a note. Streep, stuck in a botched film of a great stage play, is in by default. So the only chance for a surprise lies with the 79-year-old Dame Judi, a superb actress playing a real person, and admirably playing down the pleas for a sympathy vote that suggest she’s going blind from macular degeneration. She says it’s not really that bad. What a Dame.

SNUBS There was a bit of a British tempest in a Mary Poppins teapot when Emma Thompson failed to be recognized for Saving Mr. Banks. I’ll save my bile for rejecting two formidable young actresses: Adèle Exarchopoulos in the proudly lesbian Blue Is the Warmest Color and Brie Larson in the proudly indie Short Term 12.

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SHOULD WIN Blanchett. Yes, she’s that good.

WILL WIN Blanchett. Like I said.

 

Jared Leto in 'Dallas Buyers Club'.

Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

FAVES Like his co-star McConaughey, Leto plays a man dying of AIDS. Unlike McConaughey, Leto had to do the role in heels, a dress and a wig. Still, the Thirty Seconds to Mars rocker silenced all doubters as the transgender Rayon, finding the humor and stirring humanity in a character that could have been played as a cliché.

UPSETS Abdi is a first-timer, which usually works against a win. Cooper is coming off a nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. And this is Hill’s second nod, after Moneyball. It’s clear the Academy is taking seriously two actors best known for comedy. If anyone can give Leto a run, it’s Fassbender, whose self-loathing slave-driver burns in the memory.

SNUBS It really bugs me that James Gandolfini’s funny and tender duet with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said was not given Academy recognition. Sam Rockwell, so good in The Way Way Back, is another perpetual Academy bridesmaid. And you nominate every star in American Hustle except Jeremy Renner. WTF!

SHOULD WIN Leto. For justice.

WILL WIN Leto. Let it be done.

 

Lupita Nyong'o in '12 Years A Slave' Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Lupita Nyong’o in ’12 Years A Slave’ Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

 

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

FAVES It’s been a seesaw between Nyong’o and Lawrence. Lawrence just won for Silver Linings Playbook, which could hurt. But you can’t see Nyong’o in her debut film without being moved to tears.

UPSETS I love Squibb and every scene she steals. There, I said it.

SNUBS The Academy never thinks voice work deserves an acting nod. Example: Scarlett Johansson in Her. Clean your ears out, Oscar, and listen!

SHOULD WIN Nyong’o.

WILL WIN Lawrence. Or maybe it’s Nyong’o. It’s a killer choice. 

 

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale discuss a con in David O. Russell's 'American Hustle'. Photo: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale discuss a con in David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’. Photo: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

FAVES Cuarón the visionary, McQueen the uncompromising artist and Russell the best director of actors currently working. Take your pick.

UPSETS Scorsese is a god of cinema. It would upset the odds if he won. It wouldn’t upset me.

SNUBS Spike Jonze (Her), Richard Linklater (Before Midnight), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) and the Coens (Inside Llewyn Davis) are deserving. But them’s

the breaks.

SHOULD WIN McQueen. Silly me for thinking that the director of the Best Picture should also take the directing Oscar.

WILL WIN Cuarón. This is not the year to defy Gravity.

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