Gary Thompson picks the Oscars

Matthew McConaughey, deserving in "Dallas Buyers Club" ...
Matthew McConaughey, deserving in "Dallas Buyers Club" ...
Posted: February 28, 2014

IF YOU LIKE Oscar sweeps, you're not going to like this year's race.

The large 2014 bounty of great movies points to another unusually competitive contest - with some uncanny echoes of last year - and virtually guarantees that no single picture will dominate the tally.

Look for the awards to be spread pretty evenly over half a dozen films.

The question is, who gets what?

The answers:

Best Picture/Director

Let me boldly and definitively assert that when it comes to Best Picture, I haven't much confidence in my pick. I think that "12 Years a Slave" should and will win, but it split the Producers Guild vote with "Gravity." If the academy electorate is also divided - and I think it is - then a strong third choice like "American Hustle" (favored by the Screen Actors Guild) could push past them to win.

Shades of 2013, when an arty movie of historical substance ("Zero Dark Thirty") and a visually grand, spiritually tinged story of solo survival ("Life of Pi") competed with a movie ("Argo") that made Hollywood feel good about itself.

This year the arty movie of historical substance is "12 Years a Slave," the visually grand spiritual adventure is "Gravity," and "American Hustle" has the "Argo" slot. The latter is nominally about Abscam, principally about the showboating glamour of its own cast, and serves as this year's big Hollywood selfie.

People found "Hustle" to be fun, "Gravity" to be thrilling. But "12 Years a Slave" was a profound experience that made you rethink race and culture. So I think it ekes out a win.

Having said that, I don't think Steve McQueen will win best director for "Slave." I think Alfonso Cuaron will win for "Gravity," as voters look to spread the awards around.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey, hands down, as the cowboy homophobe and hustler who finds his humanity scoring drugs for AIDS patients, a disease he has contracted. A great role, embodied by an actor who's suddenly come into his own. Acting awards often go to an annual body of work, and McConaughey was also good in "Mud" (see it!) and "The Wolf of Wall Street." I'd almost like to see DiCaprio win for "Wolf" just to see if he'd once again thank sleazeball jailbird financial swindler Jordan Belfort, as he did at the Golden Globes. That'd be like McConaughey thanking HIV.

Best Actress

The night's one sure thing. Cate Blanchett will win for her role as a delusional, destructive 1-percenter whose grip on sanity falls apart apace with her finances. The movie, "Blue Jasmine," was written and directed by Woody Allen, who's had some not-so-great press recently, but I don't think it will have any impact on this race.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave." I think this will be the only acting award for this great movie. It's a tough category, but her toughest competition is Jennifer Lawrence, who won last year. The Academy electorate has been growing increasingly diverse and international in recent years, and I see Nyong'o benefiting from those trends, not to mention her fine performance. She's also gorgeous, and gives a great acceptance speech, and as we saw with Lawrence last year, those attributes don't hurt.

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto is the favorite as the doomed, sardonic AIDS patient in "Dallas Buyers Club" and I'm going to pick him, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if voters looked to include more movies among the big awards. Talk in the industry is that Jonah Hill of "Wolf" would benefit from this, but his performance struck me as too one-dimensional. I wouldn't be totally shocked to see Bradley Cooper sneak a win here as voters look to honor "American Hustle." Voters may also have seen him in "Place Beyond the Pines." On the other hand, they may also have seen "Hangover 3."

And the other biggies...

Original Screenplay: "Her."

Adapted Screenplay: "12 Years a Slave."

Costumes: "The Great Gatsby."

Original Song: "Let it Go," "Frozen."

Original Score: "Her."

Documentary Feature: "Dirty Wars."

Makeup: "Dallas Buyers Club."

Editing: "Gravity."

Cinematography: "Gravity."

Production design: "Her."

Sound Editing: "Gravity."

Sound Mixing: "Lone Survivor."

Visual Effects: "Gravity."

Animated Feature: "Frozen."

Foreign film: "The Hunt."

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