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Oscar Predictions: Who will take home Academy Awards?

The very first time I watched the Academy Awards back in 1978, an outer space box office smash (“Star Wars”) cleaned up the technical categories but ended up losing Best Picture. Woody Allen directed the performance of the Best Actress winner (Diane Keaton, “Annie Hall.”) And one of the most nominated films of the year (“The Turning Point”) went home empty-handed.

Interestingly enough, the upcoming 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2 may have a number of similarities. “Gravity” could earn six trophies but lose the big prize. Cate Blanchett seems all but certain to claim Best Actress for Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” And the popular “American Hustle” might end up going zero for 10.

It seems like the longer I follow the Oscars, the more things stay the same.

Another thing that stays the same is that the FOX411 is determined to provide the best Academy Awards predictions on the web. I’ll concede that I missed a few things last year, but that goes with pundit territory. (No guts, no glory – right?) And it makes me all the more determined to get a perfect score this year.

If Sandra Bullock can survive after being trapped alone in outer space, then surely I can pull off this simple feat. 

Here now are my fearless, out of this world predictions.

BEST PICTURE

THE NOMINEES: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”

PREDICTION: “12 Years a Slave”

When the nominations were announced and “American Hustle” received an unexpected 10 bids, it looked like it might be the one to beat. Buzz has since cooled for the film and its losses at the Producers Guild Awards (where “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” tied) and British Academy Awards (BAFTA) suggest that it’s likely out of the running. 

“Gravity” is perhaps the year’s most talked-about film and is easily the highest grossing of the Best Picture nominees. It’s aided by fantastic reviews, as well as its undeniable technical achievements. However, no science fiction/popcorn picture has ever won the top Oscar. “Star Wars” lost to “Annie Hall,” “E.T.” lost to “Gandhi,” and most recently “Avatar” lost to “The Hurt Locker.” Does “Gravity” really have gravitas to take the top prize? My sense is that it does not. 

That leaves the acclaimed “12 Years a Slave,” the most powerful historical drama of 2013. The writing, directing and acting are all superb. (It seems to capture 19th century America more realistically than last year’s” Lincoln.”) The production values are excellent. And most importantly, it has the prestige that is generally associated with a traditional Best Picture winner. “12 Years” has already claimed the top honor at the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and BAFTA contests. Watch for it to complete its sweep at the Academy Awards this year.

BEST DIRECTOR

THE NOMINEES: Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity,” Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave,” Alexander Payne for “Nebraska,” David O. Russell for “American Hustle,” Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street”

PREDICTION: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”

Like last year’s winner Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” Cuaron’s work on “Gravity” simply stands out as the greatest directorial achievement of the year. He’s already won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and most significantly, the Directors Guild of America Award. Even those Academy members with a dislike for science fiction/action films will acknowledge the scope of Cuaron’s direction. In short, there will be no denying “Gravity” here.

BEST ACTOR

THE NOMINEES: Christian Bale in “American Hustle,” Bruce Dern in “Nebraska,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave,” Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

PREDICTION: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

I’ll admit that never in a million years did I think that McConaughey would be winning an Academy Award. After his string of unremarkable romantic comedies like “The Wedding Planner,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Failure to Launch,” his career seemed to have peaked. But in the past few years, the actor has miraculously recreated him image and is now seen as a most serious thespian.

 For his role as a real-life AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club,” McConaughey lost 47 pounds and is almost unrecognizable onscreen. He delivers an intense, dramatic performance which displays a wide range of emotions. He won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, which almost always leads to Oscar. He also gets bonus points for his well-received turn in “Mud” and his small but memorable appearance in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” His current visibility in HBO’s “True Detective” only solidifies his lead. The other four nominees are all spectacular, but it’s McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” who will be joining the prestigious Oscar winners’ club this year.

BEST ACTRESS

THE NOMINEES: Amy Adams in “American Hustle,” Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” Judi Dench in “Philomena,” Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” Meryl Streep in “August Osage County”

PREDICTION: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

The celebrated Australian actress received her first nomination in this category for playing the title role in 1998’s “Elizabeth.” She deserved to win, but lost to Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love.” Blanchett did manage to earn the Best Supporting Actress trophy for 2004’s “The Aviator,” but has never been able to bag the top acting prize. That is about to change. She was declared the Oscar frontrunner last July, when her sensational portrayal of a ruined New York socialite in Woody Allen’s latest project was first screened. 

Blanchett nearly pulled off a clean sweep of the major critics and show business awards, losing only the National Board of Review title to Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks.” (Thompson isn’t even up for the Oscar, but that’s a different story.) Blanchett is highly respected in the industry and known to be exceptionally gracious. Some have suggested that the most recent controversy surrounding Allen might hurt her awards chances, but voters won’t hold that against her. Consider her this year’s biggest lock. After she triumphs for “Blue Jasmine” on Oscar night, Blanchett will be feeling anything but blue.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

THE NOMINEES: Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips,” Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle,” Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave,” Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

PREDICTION: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

When I first saw “12 Years a Slave,” I boldly proclaimed that Michael Fassbender would undoubtedly be taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting actor. As the evil plantation owner terrorizing the film’s protagonist (and others,) he made what might have been a stock character shockingly real and unbelievably frightening. However, the critics’ awards quickly started going to Leto for playing a transgender AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Leto then won both the Golden Globe and SAG awards, making him the undisputed Oscar favorite. 

I still think that an upset by Fassbender is possible. His role is slightly larger and much more dramatic. He also benefits from the overall support for “12 Years a Slave,” which Academy members may want to honor in as many places as possible. With “Dallas Buyers Club” already taking the lead acting award, a win here could seem unnecessary.  Still, I’ll concede that all signs do point to a Leto victory. (For once, I’ll actually be happy if I’m proven wrong.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

THE NOMINEES: Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine,” Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle,” Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave,” Julia Roberts in “August Osage County,” June Squibb in “Nebraska”

PREDICTION: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Earlier in the season it looked like last year’s Best Actress champion Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) would add a Supporting Actress statuette to her already crowded mantel. By all accounts, she stole “American Hustle” with her thick New York accent and memorable one-liners. With the success of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” she’s about as hot as an actress can get. 

However, there’s a new girl in town and her name is Lupita Nyong’o. She was part of one of the year’s most harrowing scenes in “12 Years a Slave,” which helped her score a surprise victory over Lawrence at the SAG Awards. Nyong’o has been campaigning aggressively and is undeniably charming. Lawrence’s wins at the Golden Globes and BAFTA ceremonies bode well, but giving a 23-year-old a second Oscar so soon probably seems like a little too much for many voters. Bottom line: hope that the award’s presenter is prepared to pronounce “Lupita Nyong’o,” as that’s the name most likely to be found inside the envelope.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

THE NOMINEES: “American Hustle,” ‘Blue Jasmine,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her,” “Nebraska”

PREDICTION: “Her”

The popular “American Hustle” is nominated in 10 categories, and this is perhaps its best chance to win. Unfortunately, this award typically goes to the most original script – and that distinction belongs to “Her.” Spike Jonze’s film about a man who falls in love with a computer operating system is nothing short of genius, and beautifully written from start to finish. “Her” has already prevailed over “Hustle” at the Golden Globes and Writers Guild Awards. Unless the Academy really wants to do the “Hustle” somewhere, watch for them to ask for “Her” instead.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

THE NOMINEES: “Before Midnight,” “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”

PREDICTION: “12 Years a Slave”

The Best Picture recipient typically wins for writing, making “12 Years” the decided frontrunner. The characters are well-defined and the dialogue is excellent. The only period piece in the bunch, it might appear to the voters as having been the most challenging. “Philomena” is a heartwarming film and could be a spoiler if voters want to honor it somewhere. Still, “12 Years” is clearly the best bet here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

THE NOMINEES: “The Croods,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Ernest and Celestine,” “Frozen,” “The Wind Rises”

PREDICTION: “Frozen”

There’s little suspense here. “Frozen” was released at the end of the year to rapturous reviews and enthusiastic audience reaction. The film has grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide, making it the third most successful animated feature in motion picture history. It already won big at the Annie Awards (for animated films,) as well as the Golden Globe and BAFTA competitions. The other nominees are all terrific, but will be left out in the cold by “Frozen” at this year’s Academy Awards.

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