By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 27, 2014 at 1:08PM
Best Adapted Screenplay
"Before Midnight" - Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
"Captain Phillips" - Billy Ray
"Philomena" - Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
"12 Years A Slave" - John Ridley
"The Wolf Of Wall Street" - Terence Winter
Should Win: It's not my favorite of the trilogy, but the writing in "Before Midnight" is admittedly exquisite, with a third-act extended argument that should be studied in writing classes.
Will Win: A three-way race between Ray, Ridley and Coogan & Pope, and it's going to be close. "Philomena" is well-liked enough that it could pick up the consolation prize here, while Ray won the WGA award for "Captain Phillips." In the end, despite his controversial status in the writing community due to actions dating back to the writer's strike (which could have hampered his nomination, but which voters at large will likely be unaware of), my gut says Ridley and "12 Years A Slave" here.
Best Original Screenplay
"American Hustle" - Eric Warren Singer and David O Russell
"Blue Jasmine" - Woody Allen
"Dallas Buyers Club" - Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
"Her" - Spike Jonze
"Nebraska" - Bob Nelson
Should Win: "Her," the richest and most distinctive of the five nominees, and in some ways the most dialogue-driven; so much of the film is made up of conversation between Phoenix and Johannson.
Will Win: Again, this category is often used as a way to reward original and distinctive fare that doesn't pick up anything elsewhere. And for that reason, I give "Her" the edge over "American Hustle"—even those who don't quite get Spike Jonze's film kind of like it, and it's the most original of the five films. But if they're not voting for 'Hustle' in other categories, Academy members could lean towards it here as a consolation prize as well. But ultimately, it's a little more familiar than "Her," and isn't quite the awards juggernaut that could have carried it with sheer momentum either.
Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
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"
Should Win: Nyong'o is fantastic, but I'd love Sally Hawkins to win, as she's utterly superb in "Blue Jasmine" (I'd argue even better than Cate Blanchett) and should have been at least a nominee a few years back.
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o have been almost alternating wins with critics' groups and precursor awards: Lawrence took the Globe and BAFTA, Nyong'o the SAG win. But I think that the Academy will hesitate to give someone as young as Lawrence back-to-back Oscars, even if they love the performance, so my money's on Lupita Nyong'o. Could still go either way, though.
Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
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"
Should Win: A strong line-up, for the most part, but I'd actually place my vote for Jonah Hill. Some are still disbelieving that he's a two-time Oscar nominee, but he's great both in "Moneyball" and, in particular, this, carrying a lot of the comic weight of the movie on his shoulders.
Will Win: This is my annual potentially crazy roll of the dice. Jared Leto dominated the precursor awards, but I've sensed his heat fading a little late, and Barkhad Abdi gathering steam, not least after his BAFTA victory (they can be a good predictor of this category, as with Christoph Waltz last year). Of all my picks, I'm aware that this is the riskiest, but I'm guessing a shock upset for Barkhad Abdi in the end.
Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
Amy Adams in "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"
Judi Dench in "Philomena"
Meryl Streep in "August Osage County"
Should Win: I'd honestly be happy with anyone but Streep, who I thought was legitimately terrible in "August Osage County." Sandra Bullock might be my favorite performance of the five, when I think about it; there's an extent to which she hasn't got the credit she deserves for a film that, for all its bravura, needs her presence to connect emotionally.
Will Win: Unless you've been in a coma for the last nine months, you'll already know the answer: Cate Blanchett.
Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role
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"
Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, who's been my favorite actor for a decade, and delivers the performance of his career so far in this film. Unshowy and unsentimental, he makes the difficult dialogue sing, and pulls the film along with him.
Will Win: Arguably the most interesting race in an interesting year, it's possible to imagine anyone but Bale winning this year (Dern hasn't got many column inches of late, but has a lot of love). DiCaprio's had some late momentum, but perhaps not enough, and Ejiofor's absolutely in the running. But Matthew McConaughey has the best narrative (the career revival, his current outstanding turn on "True Detective"), a gift of a role, and the demonstrable commitment of a whopping great weight loss. It's not quite in the bag, but this feels like it's in the stars.
Achievement In Directing
"American Hustle" - David O. Russell
"Gravity" - Alfonso Cuaron
"Nebraska" - Alexander Payne
"12 Years A Slave" - Steve McQueen
"The Wolf Of Wall Street" - Martin Scorsese
Should Win: Another tough one, but I'd just give Alfonso Cuaron the edge. No film here is as much of a directorial tour-de-force, and it would also serve as a long overdue recognition for one of our finest filmmakers, and one who was left out in the cold for a while.
Will Win: It's been theoretically a three-way race for a while, and though Russell's overdue at this point, it's unlikely to be his year (next time, he'll be a force to be reckoned with), and McQueen hasn't campaigned as much as his rivals. Regardless of what happens in Best Picture, this should safely go to Alfonso Cuaron.
Best Motion Picture Of The Year
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"12 Years A Slave"
"The Wolf Of Wall Street"
Should Win: "12 Years A Slave." Yes, partly because of the meaningfulness of its win, but also because it's the best film of a mostly strong line-up (I really like all of the nominees bar "Nebraska" to some degree). For all of the power and craft of the other movies on display, this one feels like it'll sit in the hall of Oscar fame.
Will Win: Assuming that I'm right, and "American Hustle" misses elsewhere, it's probably stuck in third place here. "Gravity" is a major force, though, as it's an easier watch than 'Slave,' will do well with the preferential voting system, and has history on its side, in terms of Oscar shying away from the more 'difficult' choice in order to go for the more watchable (and it would be a great winner too—either would probably be the best film to take the prize since "No Country For Old Men"). It'll be very, very close, but I'm ultimately going with "12 Years A Slave," even if voters didn't like it, they likely respect it enough, and feel it deserves the win.
You've a couple of days of free rein in the comments section to make your own predictions if you fancy, or to call us out on our more outre picks (Barkhad Abdi) and don't forget to check back here Sunday night for the results, commentary and booze-fueled live-tweeting.