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Oscar Predictions

There’s going to be a real showdown for best picture this year. Here’s everything you need to know about all the major races. Plus, we suggest a few long shots worthy of Oscar love.

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Until now, the big question was not which films would get Oscar nominations, but which might actually be eligible. A few expected contenders — including George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, and the Nicole Kidman-led Grace of Monaco — shifted their release dates to next year, citing a need for more time to finish. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street nearly did the same, but ultimately settled on the deadline-teetering date of Dec. 25, maintaining its status as an awards favorite (even though no one has actually seen it yet).

The race is still wide open, although many voters and pundits have already predicted a face-off between two powerhouse films: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Oscar nominations aren’t announced until Jan. 16, and we could again get between five and 10 films on the Best Picture list, depending on how many films are the No. 1 choice of at least 5 percent of Academy voters. As of now, though, here is what Hollywood is liking, anticipating, and buzzing about — along with a few outsiders we feel deserve to be part of the Oscar conversation.

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Until now, the big question was not which films would get Oscar nominations, but which might actually be eligible. A few expected contenders — including George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, and the Nicole Kidman-led Grace of Monaco — shifted their release dates to next year, citing a need for more time to finish. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street nearly did the same, but ultimately settled on the deadline-teetering date of Dec. 25, maintaining its status as an awards favorite (even though no one has actually seen it yet).

The race is still wide open, although many voters and pundits have already predicted a face-off between two powerhouse films: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Oscar nominations aren’t announced until Jan. 16, and we could again get between five and 10 films on the Best Picture list, depending on how many films are the No. 1 choice of at least 5 percent of Academy voters. As of now, though, here is what Hollywood is liking, anticipating, and buzzing about — along with a few outsiders we feel deserve to be part of the Oscar conversation.

Best Picture
Front-Runners
12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen’s gripping survival saga won the top prize at the Toronto Film Festival, where it became the first sure thing of this Oscar season. The true story of a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is kidnapped and sold into bondage in the 1840s leaves audiences speechless, but some Academy voters have been intimidated by descriptions of its violence. (In theaters now)

Her
Imaginative, funny, and emotional, writer-director Spike Jonze’s near-future tale of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an artificial intelligence program (the warm, witty voice of Scarlett Johansson) could not have stronger word of mouth. Critics swooned when it debuted last month at the New York Film Festival. Expect Oscar voters to fall head over heels for it too. (Out Dec. 18)

Captain Phillips
When Somali hijackers seized control of an American shipping freighter in April 2009, many watched the fatal standoff play out in real time on cable news. Director Paul Greengrass’ harrowing re-creation makes the conflict intimate and personal, generating sympathy not only for Tom Hanks’ working-class hero but also for the desperate, misguided men holding him captive. (In theaters now)

Lee Daniels’ The Butler
It didn’t receive the strongest reviews, but it’s one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the year. The multi-decade story of a black White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who serves — and influences — eight U.S. presidents is partially fictional, but it has three true-life Oscar heavyweights behind it: costars Oprah Winfrey and Whitaker and distributor Harvey Weinstein. (In theaters now)

Gravity
The second sure thing of the awards season, Alfonso Cuarón’s visually stunning drama about stranded astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) debuted in Toronto just days after 12 Years a Slave, quickly launching an intense two-way race between the films. The wow factor of Gravity‘s special effects is rivaled only by its blockbuster box office popularity. (In theaters now)

Contenders
All Is Lost (In Theaters Now)
American Hustle (Out Dec. 13)
Blue Jasmine (In Theaters Now)
Nebraska (Out Nov. 15)
Saving Mr. Banks (Out Dec. 13)

Possibilities
August: Osage County (Out Dec. 25)
Dallas Buyers Club (In Theaters Now)
Fruitvale Station (On Dvd Soon)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Out Dec. 6)
The Wolf Of Wall Street (Out Dec. 25)

Best Actor
Front-Runners
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Ejiofor has more than earned his first Oscar nod not just for inhabiting the confusion of a free man who is staggered to find himself a slave, but for enduring the physical and emotional torment that undoubtedly accompanied the role. The impulse is to turn away, but his performance makes that impossible.

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Fierce determination, rapid-fire calculation, and a rough, blue-collar accessibility make this one of the richest characters the two-time Oscar winner has ever played. When his final breakdown arrives, the only thing voters in the Academy’s actors’ branch will dislike is that they didn’t get this part.

Robert Redford, All Is Lost
He barely says a word, but that’s the power of the 77-year-old’s performance. Redford stars alone as a man stranded on a damaged sailboat in the middle of the ocean, methodically fighting for survival. His only previous acting nod was for The Sting 40 years ago, but this will surely be his second.

Contenders
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Matthew Mcconaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Possibilities
Leonardo Dicaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station

Best Actress
Front-Runners
Amy Adams, American Hustle
David O. Russell’s account of an FBI corruption sting hasn’t screened much yet, but voters may well be taken in by the four-time nominee’s sexy, dynamic, and Machiavellian grifter, who spins through accents and identities with such deftness that even those closest to her wonder who she truly is.

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Academy members immediately began buzzing that Blanchett was the one to beat in this race after Woody Allen’s dark drama debuted this past summer. She stars as a self-obsessed woman trying to rebuild her life on the ruins left by her husband’s massive Wall Street fraud. Months later, voters remain haunted.

Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Few actresses could hold their own amid such dazzling visual effects and moments of gasp-inducing peril, but Bullock has wowed voters by delivering a poignance and strength that elevate this story of a stranded astronaut above a mere thriller. Her trophy for The Blind Side could soon have a companion.

Contenders
Judi Dench, Philomena
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Possibilities
Bérénice Bejo, The Past
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is The Warmest Color
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Brie Larson, Short Term 12

Best Supporting Actor
Front-Runners
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
The real-life Somali refugee and first-time actor’s stark, wide-eyed desperation as the lead hostage-taker adds an unpredictable menace and hunger to this drama. He’s not a household name, but voters will likely seek him out for their ballots.

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Unhinged, self-pitying, and sadistic, his Bible-thumping slave master is almost inhuman — until you realize he’s probably a mentally ill alcoholic. That doesn’t make him forgivable, but Fassbender makes him unforgettable.

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Right now, it’s his to lose. Voters have been overwhelmed by Leto’s funny, touching, and transformative work as a transgender prostitute dying of AIDS who joins a smuggling operation for experimental drugs.

Contenders
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jonah Hill, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Possibilities
George Clooney, Gravity
Chris Cooper, August: Osage County
Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
Matthew Mcconaughey, Mud
Jeremy Renner, American Hustle

Best Supporting Actress
Front-Runners
Lupita Nyong’O, 12 Years A Slave
As the mercilessly abused slave Patsey, newcomer Nyong’o perfectly balances the character’s strength with her equally undeniable helplessness. Patsey may be trapped, but Nyong’o ensures her spirit leaves with every moviegoer.

Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
She won for her sassy, sensitive performance in 2011’s The Help, but it’s her subtler, even more heartbreaking work as the mother of a young man recklessly killed by police that could earn her another nod.

Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Playing the boozy, truth-telling wife of a White House servant, Winfrey adds a lively spark to the historical proceedings, and the media queen could secure her first Oscar nom since 1985’s The Color Purple.

Contenders
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Possibilities
Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale Station
Naomie Harris, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Melissa Leo, Prisoners
Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County
Sarah Paulson, 12 Years A Slave

Best Director
Front-Runners
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
The technical prowess necessary to set a realistic 3-D drama in orbit is enough to land Cuarón a nomination, but the film’s emotional depth has also impressed voters, making him a favorite to win.

Spike Jonze, Her
The directors’ branch loves to stray into the avant-garde and will likely adore Jonze’s innovative, philosophical vision of the near future, where lonely people sometimes fall in love with digital souls. This would be his first nod since 1999’s Being John Malkovich.

Steve Mcqueen, 12 Years A Slave
McQueen has earned respect for crafting such a beautiful film about one of the ugliest times in American history. Unflinching and uncompromising, he took an atrocity out of the abstract by personalizing it.

Contenders
J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Possibilities
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Joel And Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks
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