Oscars 2014: Who will win (and who deserves to win)

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From the February 27, 2014 edition

The moment I found myself disenchanted with the Oscars occurred March 27, 1995. That’s the day “Forrest Gump” won Best Picture over “Pulp Fiction.”

Flawed as they are — remember, they’re insider “industry” awards, not necessarily measures of artistic merit — they do help bring attention to some deserving nominees. Here are my predictions for Sunday night, along with my picks for who would win if I were voting.

Best Picture:

"American Hustle"

"Captain Phillips"

"Dallas Buyers Club"

"Gravity"

"Her"

"Nebraska"

"Philomena"

"12 Years a Slave"

"The Wolf of Wall Street"

Will win: Viewed as a two-horse race between “12 Years” and “Gravity,” the smart money is always on the more socially relevant movie, which makes “12 Years a Slave” a near-lock.

Should win: A few months have passed, so it’s easy to forget the sense of sheer, breathless wonder that “Gravity” evoked in its 3D environment.

Best Director:

David O. Russell, "American Hustle"

Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"

Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"

Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"

Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Will win: Best Picture/Best Director splits are relatively unusual, but following the Golden Globes’ lead, Alfonso Cuaron is a solid bet here.

Should win: David O. Russell has back-to-back home runs with “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” but I’ll take Cuaron here as well.

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"

Will win: Matthew McConaughey has been on an amazing acting tear for a few years now. This will be the acknowledgment of his entire recent body of work.

Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio’s unhinged performance certainly made “Wolf of Wall Street” what it was, but Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance was the most nuanced and powerful of these.

Best Actress:

Amy Adams, "American Hustle"

Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"

Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"

Judi Dench, "Philomena"

Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"

Will win: Cate Blanchett was the show-stealer in Woody Allen’s latest movie and is the front-runner, unless Allen’s recent return to the headlines scares off enough votes.

Should win: Amy Adams displayed the most range of the great “Hustle” cast, but I pick Sandra Bullock, who was light years better than I expected in “Gravity.” And if Streep wins, I give up.

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"

Will win: Jared Leto’s physical transformation in his role as a transgender woman dying of AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club” has him in the lead. The Academy loves extreme weight loss/gain.

Should win: Leto was also a tender counterpoint to McConaughey in that film. He deserves to win. Let’s just hope he doesn’t bring Miley Cyrus as his date.

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"

Will win: It’s a neck-and-neck race between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence, but Lawrence is awfully young to go back-to-back already, and Nyong’o may be the only acting winner from “12 Years a Slave.” Edge Nyong’o.

Should win: But damn if I didn’t love every single second Jennifer Lawrence was onscreen in “American Hustle.” Her mockingly mimicking “Don’t put metal in the science oven” was the one of my favorite things this year.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

"Before Midnight" — Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

"Captain Phillips" — Billy Ray

"Philomena" — Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

"12 Years a Slave" — John Ridley

"The Wolf of Wall Street" — Terence Winter

Will win: The highest profile nominee by far is “12 Years a Slave” — although I felt the film’s only minor flaws came in the flow of the narrative. Still, only “Philomena” has a chance to upset.

Should win: “The Wolf of Wall Street” deserves props for a record 569 uses of the f-word, but I would love to see the amazing “Before Midnight” at least get some love.

Best Original Screenplay:

"American Hustle" — Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell

"Blue Jasmine" — Woody Allen

"Dallas Buyers Club" — Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

"Her" — Spike Jonze

"Nebraska" — Bob Nelson

Will win: This is the award that honors some of the best movies that don’t get love elsewhere. “Her” is a great example of those, and Spike Jonze’s screenplay is its best shot at a win in a major category. Also, “Dallas Buyers Club” and “American Hustle” were both loosely based on real events, so that.

Should win: His best previous works were written by others (notably Charlie Kaufman), but Jonze really executed the idea of love in the modern age perfectly in “Her,” his first original screenplay.

“American Hustle” photo courtesy of Columbia Picture