Rumors of the death of cinema have been greatly exaggerated. Just as critics declared that Hollywood had run out of ideas, the movie industry in 2013 produced a bumper crop of whip-smart comedies, stunning science-fiction thrillers and daring dramas as fearless as anything found on the small screen. The end result was a field of Oscar nominees worthy of celebration.
Below, we break down the major categories of the 86th annual Academy Awards to determine who will walk away with a statuette. Tune in to the live Oscars broadcast, starting at 4 p.m. Sunday on ABC, to see how we did.
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
All but three of this year’s Best Picture nominees were based on true stories — tales of opportunistic wheeler-dealers (“American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”), desperate prisoners (“Captain Phillips,” “12 Years a Slave”), and lost souls in search of connection (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena”).
It’s a testament to the other three movies on the list — an atmospheric thriller (“Gravity”), a futuristic romance (“Her”), and a homespun comedy (“Nebraska”) — that they felt just as real.
Given the wealth of great choices, it was difficult to determine our top picks and even tougher to select a winner. However, two survival stories stood out from the rest: “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.”
What should win: “Gravity”
What will win: “12 Years a Slave”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Last year, directors pushed the boundaries of storytelling, technical achievement and, depending on who you asked, good taste.
Steve McQueen examined the terrible toll that slavery took on a nation’s soul in his antebellum epic, while Alfonso Cuarón looked to the stars for his terrifying tale of survival in space.
David O. Russell explored the sexy yet seamy world of conmen and corrupt politicians and Alexander Payne revealed the quiet disappointments of small-town Midwestern life.
Martin Scorsese, meanwhile, demonstrated the energy and ambition of a filmmaker half his age. A searing indictment of society-sanctioned corporate greed, his answer to “Wall Street” is a supercharged bacchanalia crammed with sex, drugs and a surprising amount of humor.
Who should win: Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Who will win: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
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”
Hollywood loves a comeback, and few actors have made a more dramatic turnaround than Matthew McConaughey. In just a few years, he’s evolved from a shirtless hunk best known for blockbuster action movies and romantic comedies into an indie darling whose acting chops are as chiseled as his abs.
“Dallas Buyers Club” found McConaughey channeling his Texas roots as a homophobic, racist AIDS patient whose life is transformed by his diagnosis.
In a year of stupendous performances — ranging from Bruce Dern’s beautifully underplayed role as a befuddled retiree in “Nebraska” to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful turn as a man struggling to preserve his humanity in “12 Years a Slave” — McConaughey’s still shone.
Who should win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Who will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Call them the usual suspects.
Four of the women in this category have won Oscars — Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”), Judi Dench (“Shakespeare in Love”) and Meryl Streep (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Iron Lady”). And Amy Adams, who has earned five Academy Award nods so far, isn’t far behind.
All five actresses made memorable movies last year.
Even so, we couldn’t help noticing Blanchett’s committed performance as a spoiled socialite on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and Bullock’s bravura turn as an astronaut stranded in space. Both stars revealed new reserves of emotional truth while anchoring their respective films.
Who should win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Who will win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
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”
Unfortunately for newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays the Somali pirate who kidnaps the title skipper in “Captain Phillips,” this category is stuffed with seasoned pros.
Witness the ferocity of Michael Fassbender as a drunken, sadistic slave owner in “12 Years a Slave,” or the sheer sleaziness of Jonah Hill as a coke-snorting stockbroker in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
But it was Jared Leto who stole the show in “Dallas Buyers Club” with his startling transformation into an HIV-positive, transgender streetwalker with business savvy and killer style. The Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman completely disappeared into his role.
Who should win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Who will win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
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”
If only the Academy gave out Oscars for single scenes.
Were that the case, we’d award June Squibb for her performance as an embittered Midwestern housewife who unloads a massive dose of vitriol on the long-dead denizens of a cemetery. It might not be as sultry as the sight of Jennifer Lawrence’s emotionally manipulative sex kitten grooving to “Live and Let Die,” but it’s way funnier.
As it is, we have to hand the statuette to newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. Her breakout performance as a hapless plantation slave who falls prey to her master’s cruel lust and mercurial moods was utterly heartbreaking.
Who should win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Who will win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezski, “Gravity”
Best Visual Effects: “Gravity”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Before Midnight” by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
Best Original Screenplay: “Her” by Spike Jonze
Best Documentary: “The Act of Killing”
Best Foreign Film: “The Hunt” (Denmark)
Best Animated Film: “Frozen”
Best Original Song: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Despicable Me”
Best Costume Design: Michael Wilkinson, “American Hustle”