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Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win Sunday Night?

The ultimate guide to what will (probably) happen at the Academy Awards

If there are any surprises at this year’s Oscar ceremony on Sunday, you can blame the Winter Olympics. The sporting event pushed back the Academy Awards a week, which gave voters an extra few days to mull over the nominees. Could the momentum of a frontrunner fade in that time? In 2010, the last time the Oscars were held in March, the favorites all won, but this year’s top categories are much more competitive.

So who will win? Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh and Jenelle Riley debate the major races and offer their predictions, based on precursor awards, industry buzz and gut instinct.

BEST ACTRESS

Ramin: I want to start with the best actress race, because every pundit agrees that Cate Blanchett is a shoo-in for “Blue Jasmine,” after sweeping all the precursors. I think she’s probably the safe bet. But with a late voting calendar, there’s been more time for voters to second-guess their choices, and I think Amy Adams could upset.

Here are three reasons why: (1) Adams is the only non-winner. The rest of her opponents — Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Sandra Bullock and Blanchett — have all won Oscars before. The last time four winners went up against a non-winner in an acting category was in 2002, when Adrien Brody emerged with a surprise trophy for “The Pianist.” (2) “American Hustle” needs to be rewarded somewhere. The David O. Russell comedy became the 15th movie in history to have four actors nominated, and usually when that happens, one actor emerges victorious. (3) The Dylan Farrow letter in the New York Times. I don’t really want to go into specifics of the case (the Internet has already done that), other than to say some voters will understandably be discouraged from supporting a Woody Allen film.

This is Adams’ fifth Oscar nomination. She’s worked with almost everybody in the industry, and her performance in “American Hustle” is a nimble tightrope walk that serves as the backbone of the movie. (The entire ensemble leans on her.) Blanchett is the frontrunner, but I’m going on a limb and predicting a late-night surprise win for Adams.

Jenelle: There was a time when I also thought either Adams or Bullock could upset. The Academy loves Adams and the world loves Bullock. And I think if Dench had been able to campaign this year, things might be different. But Blanchett is unstoppable. If she had lost even a single precursor award, I would think it could make a dent in the case for her, but she has swept everything. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a stronger bet than Adams for a “Hustle” win (we’ll get to that) and I also think “Hustle” is being underestimated in some below the line categories, so the thought of it going home empty-handed doesn’t worry me. As for the Woody Allen scandal, I don’t see it touching her. When she won the BAFTA Award, she chose to dedicate the award to Philip Seymour Hoffman. A classy, heartfelt move that also had the added benefit of her being able to deliver a powerful speech without having to mention anyone else—namely her controversial director. All that aside, she’s a phenomenal actress who never makes a false move in her front-and-center performance.

Ramin’s Prediction: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Jenelle’s Prediction: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

BEST ACTOR

Jenelle: This category is the most competitive it’s ever been. You know it’s tough when Tom Hanks isn’t nominated for “Captain Phillips.” When I saw “Dallas Buyers Club” at the Toronto Film Festival last year, I tweeted that no one could beat Matthew McConaughey for best actor. My faith was shaken at times — it seemed like the film wasn’t building the buzz it needed at first, and Chiwetel Ejiofor was a formidable competitor. Then the Golden Globe and SAG Award wins seemed to push McConaughey to the lead, but I couldn’t shake the feeling Leonardo DiCaprio was breathing down his neck. It’s a bravura performance and DiCaprio is overdue — he should have won 20 years ago for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” DiCaprio has been campaigning like never before, even appearing on “Saturday Night Live” to poke fun at “Titanic.” Also, “Wolf of Wall Street” screened too late for SAG nominating committee to really consider it, so we were deprived of a DiCaprio vs. McConaughey showdown. But when DiCaprio failed to win the BAFTA award (McConaughey wasn’t nominated for BAFTA), my thoughts of a DiCaprio upset were greatly diminished. Plus, McConaughey is killing it on HBO’s “True Detective.” So it seems to be McConaughey’s year — which is great. His performance is transformative, fierce and heartbreaking.

Ramin: I think DiCaprio should have won for “Titanic,” “The Departed” or “Django Unchained.” But that’s a different discussion. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman makes the argument that four of the nominees — Bruce Dern, Ejiofor, DiCaprio or McConaughey — all stand a shot at winning this prize. Maybe. I think the fact that there’s no clear second favorite will help McConaughey, who will win his first best actor Oscar (and hopefully include the phrase “all right, all right, all right” in his speech). The force is with the McConaissance.

Jenelle and Ramin’s Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

BEST PICTURE

Ramin: The most suspenseful award of the night will be best picture. “12 Years a Slave” was knighted the best film of the year by many when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, only to stumble at the box office (it’s only made $50 million, despite all the critical acclaim). All throughout Oscar season, I’ve heard the Academy voters say they like, but don’t love, the Fox Searchlight drama. Even so, I still think “12 Years” would have had a good chance of winning best picture under the old system of counting ballots. But after the best picture race expanded in 2011, the votes in this category are tabulated differently — with a weighted ballot. You don’t need a plurality to win. You need a majority, and voters are asked to rank their favorite films in order of preference. I think the new math gives “Gravity” the edge. The movie that wins this award can’t polarize audiences (which “12 Years” does). It needs to be mostly consistently liked, and “Gravity,” which received 10 Oscar nominations, will receive a high ranking on most ballots. For that reason, I’m predicting it will win best picture.

Jenelle: I was hoping the PGA Awards would provide some clarity to the “Gravity” vs. “12 Years a Slave” race, but then they went and tied. So it’s going to be down to the wire. I’ve heard “12 Years a Slave” described as an “eat your vegetables” movie — it’s good for you, it’s a classic “best picture,” and it will win. I think that’s selling the movie short, as it’s also a great film that many people are deeply passionate about. But like you said, the preferential ballot doesn’t reward passion, it rewards the consensus movie — the one that everyone can agree is a solid choice. For that reason, and because of all the below-the-line support, I also think “Gravity” will top “12 Years a Slave” in the end.

Ramin and Jenelle’s Prediction: “Gravity”

BEST DIRECTOR

Jenelle: Is there really any question at this point that Alfonso Cuaron will triumph for directing “Gravity”? He’s up against four amazing directors, all with passionate fans of their own, yet has taken every major award so far. And while the technical aspects of “Gravity” are clearly remarkable, he also draws great performances out of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. And talk about range — the guy has made everything from the Spanish-language road trip indie “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to epics like “Children of Men” to the best “Harry Potter” in the series. One of the most talented and nicest guys in the business.

Ramin: I agree with everything you just said!

Jenelle and Ramin’s Prediction: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR AND ACTRESS

Ramin: Can anybody beat Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o? I think Leto is a lock for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Supporting actress is less certain, even if Nyong’o is the favorite. If I’m wrong about Amy Adams, there could be a chance the Academy gives the trophy to Lawrence, who is Hollywood’s most valuable asset right now — between headlining the “Hunger Games,” winning the Oscar last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” and stealing every scene of “American Hustle,” the biggest hit of David O. Russell’s career. But I’ll go with Nyong’o, not only because of her emotionally devastating performance, but because “12 Years” has to win one of the major prizes.

Jenelle: Leto might be even a more sure thing than Cuaron. Maybe if Bruce Dern had gone supporting for “Nebraska” it would be more of a race, but probably not. Nyong’o, I’m not as sure about. My head tells me the SAG Award win puts her over the top, but I can’t shake the gut feeling that love for “American Hustle” and Lawrence will put her over the edge. If I wanted to be really daring, I would call a surprise win for June Squibb — there’s a lot of love for “Nebraska” out there. But it does seem to be a two-woman race.

Ramin’s Predictions: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club,” and Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Jenelle’s Predictions: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club,” and Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

OTHER CATEGORIES

Best Animated Feature: “Frozen” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Cinematography: “Gravity” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Costume Design: “The Great Gatsby” (R.S.), “American Hustle” (J.R.)
Best Documentary: “The Act of Killing” (R.S.), “20 Feet From Stardom” (J.R.)
Best Film Editing: “Gravity” (R.S.), “Captain Phillips” (J.R.)
Best Foreign Film: “The Great Beauty” (R.S.), “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (J.R.)
Best Makeup: “Dallas Buyers Club” (R.S.), “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” (J.R.)
Best Original Score: “Gravity” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Original Song: “Frozen” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Production Design: “The Great Gatsby” (R.S.), “Gravity” (J.R.)
Best Sound Editing: “Gravity” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Sound Mixing: “Gravity” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Visual Effects: “Gravity” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Adapted Screenplay: “12 Years a Slave” (R.S. and J.R.)
Best Original Screenplay: “Her” (R.S.), “American Hustle” (J.R.)

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