You can scroll down to the bottom for my predictions in bold, if you're impatient. Otherwise, here's in brief why I think I am qualified to make predictions to begin with.
I've been watching the Academy Awards show consistently for the last 10 years. Gotta say, I have a pretty good eye for picking the winners, at least with all the main categories. With the more obscure ones, not so much. But for Best Picture, Director, Main and Supporting Actors and Actresses, along with Original and Adapted Screenplay, I have been able to guess the winners with a very high degree of accuracy.
This is not because I have great taste in movies mind you. I think I do, but that's neither here nor there. I can guess the winners based on watching the show year after after and getting a very good feel for how the "panel of experts" vote. The politics involved remain very consistent and a lot of times their tastes are very narrow indeed.
Example: last year, I knew that 'Argo' was going to win Best Picture. To be clear, it didn't win because it was the best movie of the year. When I walked out of the theaters after seeing Ben Affleck's adaptation of the real life event, I felt very underwhelmed. The film was good, but forgettable. The story was interesting, but not groundbreaking or mind blowing, or even that emotional. The film lacked passion and a pulse. Good flick, but not a great film. Anyways, regardless of feeling that way I knew it would win Best Picture. Here's my take and reasoning on why:
#1 - I watched all the other nominated films. Almost all were superior in almost every way, but the problem with most of them was that Argo was a safer choice, by comparison. The other major political film entry was Zero Dark Thirty. That film was too controversial. Seems the Academy didn't allow it to win because they didn't want to take that kind of stance. The award would be saying too much, too loudly. Life of Pi was my personal favorite. But, the Academy rarely honors a film with Best Picture when the general consensus is that the book is far better. My second favorite was Django Unchained. The issue there was more of a side step; they decided to award Tarantino with the Screenplay award, and felt that enough for him that year. It's all about inclusion and the bigger picture. If you won an award here, we spread it around to someone else there. If there are two political films on the docket, we'll go with the safer choice and say we honored a politics movie that year, and its a win-win for them.
#2 - Ben Affleck was looked over with 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Town', his first two directorial projects. Regardless of past reasonings, the Academy really does love to honor someone that got overlooked in the past. They appear to honor with a 'body of work' mentality and think about things in a larger scope, than simply considering was the film 'Argo' better than 'Zero Dark Thirty'.. I seriously doubt anyone on the panel considers these questions in a nutshell. And that's what I mean when I say politics are involved.
If you understand the politics of a Academy panel, I think you can guess with fairly impressive accuracy most (if not all) of the upcoming major events. Don't believe me? Let's put it to the test. The Oscars come on Sunday night at 8pm, 3/1/14. Today is 2/14/14. I will end this with making my predictions for all the major categories and that will be the true test if I have a pulse on this award's show, or not. Keep in mind I have taken the time to watch only half the nominated films and I still feel confident that I am right almost across the board. Here you are:
Best Picture Nominees:
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
It will come down to 'American Hustle' vs '12 Years a Slave'. American Hustle has all the makings of being the winner. Its in the mold of the overlooked Scorsese masterpiece 'Goodfellas'. Plus, this would be a perfect, perfect opportunity to honor David O'Russell, as he was "overlooked" for 'The Fighter' and 'Silver Linings Playbook'. Plus, De Niro made a cameo in the film. American Hustle will win this year, even though 12 Years was a more important film. Politics of distribution will decide this one, just like last year with Affleck.
Best Actor In A Leading Role Nominees:
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)
Leonardo DiCaprio wins here. He is long deserving of an Oscar. Titanic, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator.. Ya, he will win for sure.
Best Actress In A Leading Role Nominees:
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Cate Blanchett all the way. Amy Adams turned in another great performance. But, Blanchett's was stronger and more showcased. That rationale is a bit harder to explain. But, trust me, the Academy really likes to honor leading roles to the most dramatic performances with the most screen time.
Best Supporting Actor Nominees:
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)
Jared Leto, no competition. He played an HIV/Aids victim and did it in drag, he'll win.
Best Supporting Actress Nominees:
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Jennifer Lawrence, 99% sure there. The other four are only on the ballot so they could name 5 people. Only one stands out though.
Best Director Nominees:
American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
Alfonso Cuaron. Easy. That movie was breathtakingly cool. He did something new and different. And flawlessly on top of it, directing wise.
Adapted Screenplay Nominees:
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)
12 Years a Slave. Here's a sure fire way to reason this one out. The winner of adapted and original screenplays are always the top two in the running for Best Picture. Always.
Original Screenplay Nominees:
American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
Her (Spike Jonze)
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)
American Hustle. Same reasoning as above.
Those are the top 8 categories. For what its worth, I think 'Her' should win Best Picture and Original Screenplay. But, my personal favorites rarely ever match up.
UPDATE 3/3/2014: Well, I went 4 for 8. Apparently my pulse on the Oscars was considerably off this year. Hope no one lost big betting my way on some office pool or anything like that. Congrats to '12 Years A Slave'. Watched the film the other day. Excellent movie. Not as good as 'Her', but I have zero issues with it winning Best Picture. Glad the Academy didn't go boring this year.
Also, nice to see 'Her' winning Best Original Screenplay. Much deserved; hell of a script Jonze sculpted.