David Atlanta’s Guide to the 2014 Oscars Race

Whether you’re heading to one of the many bars hosting an Oscar party this year or you’re holding your own viewing party from the comfort of home, you’re likely joining a large part of the community in celebrating Hollywood’s biggest night. But have you seen the films nominated this year? Have you kept up with what’s been one of the tightest races in recent memory, based on the many precursor awards?

Well, we’re here to help! Here’s a look at what you can expect in the biggest races come Oscar night this Sunday, March 2.

Best Picture

You know how every year, there seems to be one front runner that will almost definitely win this category? Yeah…this is the year that’s the exception to the rule. With nine nominees, the race has come down to three solid contenders vying for the big prize. Most of the precursor awards – awards from various critics groups and guilds – have gone to 12 Years a Slave or Gravity, with American Hustle serving as a spoiler in some contests. The odds are in favor, ever so slightly, of 12 Years a Slave here; it’s a more “important” film, which will help garner votes. But it’s hard to love the movie, since it’s a brutal reminder of slavery’s impact. That may make it easier for Gravity – the big box office champ in this year’s race – to pull ahead.

Best Director

Unlike Best Picture, this one’s no contest. Gravity is a major directorial achievement, and while the other contenders here all did excellent work with their respective films, they don’t approach the technical marvel of what Alfonso Cuarón pulled off with this years-in-the-making masterpiece.

Best Actor

Who would’ve predicted five years ago that Matthew McConaughey would have the career revitalization he’s had? Thanks to a series of smart choices since 2011, the critical opinion of McConaughey as an actor has vastly improved, and his turn in Dallas Buyers Club is the culmination of that change. Plus, he’s playing a real-life character and lost a tremendous amount of weight for the role. If there’s any chance of a spoiler, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street, but the chances of anyone but McConaughey taking this are slim.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett has practically had her name engraved on the statue since Blue Jasmine came out in August. There are only a few factors that may see someone else get it. First, the recent press regarding Woody Allen may siphon off some votes from Blanchett. Second, Amy Adams is the only contender in this category without a win, though this marks her fifth nomination in nine years and first lead nomination for American Hustle. Voters may want to reward Adams, but Blanchett still has the momentum. In any case, this is a rare year where the nominee with the least buzz is Meryl Streep. It’s a weird year.

Best Supporting Actor

First off: this category is surprisingly young this year. The oldest nominee is Jared Leto, who is also the frontrunner for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. While Leto is as much of a lock as Blanchett at this point, if someone could beat him on Oscar night, don’t be surprised if it’s Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips. A first-time actor who can hold his own against Tom Hanks? That’s mighty impressive.

Best Supporting Actress

Of the acting categories, this is the hardest to pin down. At this point, it’s a race between Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave and Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle. In Lawrence’s favor: if people want to give an Oscar to one actor of the four nominated for American Hustle, she’s got the least competition. Plus she’s Hollywood’s “It” Girl still. What doesn’t help: she just won last year, and back-to-back Oscar wins are rare enough as it is. For a 23-year-old to have two Oscars? It may not be in her best interest to win again so soon. Instead, Nyong’o has the edge here. She may be her film’s only shot at a big win, since Best Picture is a tight race, and she’s given a series of remarkable acceptance speeches during the Oscar race. Things like that count.

Additional Category Notes

Keep an eye on Best Original Song. “Let It Go” from Frozen was the centerpiece of the film, but Pharrell’s “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 is turning into a radio hit (it’s #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as we go to print) at just the right time. Also, Gravity has seven technical nominations, and it has a good shot at sweeping those categories. If you’re taking part in our drinking game, be careful.

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