Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

Patriots Live

17

16

Final

The 2014 Academy Awards

Oscar picks: Good as gold

jacob thomas

It was a dandy year at the movies: 2013 delivered ambitious themes, great performances, stellar craftsmanship, and satisfying entertainment. (All in all, it was nearly enough to pull you away from binge-watching “Breaking Bad.”) With most of the Oscar-nominated films possessing both quality and commercial appeal, expect hefty viewership for the 86th Academy Awards telecast on ABC starting at 8 p.m. on March 2. Expect a showdown, too, between history (“12 Years a Slave”) and imagination (“Gravity”), with sheer movie pleasure (“American Hustle”) possibly showing up to crash the party.

CLICK HERE: To see the Oscar picks graphic.

PICTURE

Continue reading below

TY BURR

Will win: “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: “12 Years a Slave”

Continue reading it below

Shouldn’t be here: “Gravity”

Was robbed: “Before Midnight”

How strong was 2013 for movies? Any of the nine best picture nominees would conceivably win in a lesser year. “12 Years a Slave” is probably unstoppable, and it deserves to win for both its craft and unyielding cultural impact. That said, don’t count out “American Hustle” or “Gravity” as dark-horse contenders. Second-guessing is more personal than ever with a lineup this strong, but if I had to choose, I’d substitute the domestic tragicomedy that moved me for the outer-space drama that awed me but left me cold.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: “12 Years a Slave”

Shouldn’t be here: None

Was robbed: “All Is Lost”

Imperfect though they may be, all nine nominated films probably deserve to be here, with a 10th slot for “All Is Lost” (or “Before Midnight,” or “Enough Said”). The most creative of the bunch is undoubtedly “Her.” The most dazzling: “Gravity.” The one that won my heart: “Nebraska.” But the most devastating and important by far is “12 Years a Slave,” an epic accomplishment in truth-telling that demands to be recognized. This time, for once, the Academy will do the right thing.

DIRECTOR

TY BURR

Will win: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Shouldn’t be here: David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

Was robbed: Spike Jonze, “Her”

Again, this category is mostly right on the money, honoring directors who put a personal stamp on their work at the expense of those whose movies are best picture nominees but less auteur-driven. So why isn’t Spike Jonze here for the quietly cutting vision of “Her”? As enjoyable as “Hustle” is, it’s not directed so much as refereed, and Russell’s every-which-way-but-loose camerawork is at times downright sloppy. Still, he might squeak out a win here — or Alfonso Cuarón might for “Gravity.”

JANICE PAGE

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Should win: Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Shouldn’t be here: Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Was robbed: J. C. Chandor, “All Is Lost”

One of those years when best picture and director may not dovetail. “12 Years” can be credited more to its source material and ensemble efforts, while “Gravity,” a comer, bears the clear signature of director Cuarón. And I’d be all for Cuarón, too, if “Gravity” had a molecule of narrative, or the depth and spirituality found in “All Is Lost.” Instead, I’m rooting for Payne, whose latest is a lovingly crafted monochrome. Scorsese’s “Wolf”? I liked it better when it was called “GoodFellas.”

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

TY BURR

Will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Shouldn’t be here: Christian Bale, “American Hustle”

Was robbed: Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”

The McConnaissance should be cresting right . . . about . . . now, and after the couple of years McConaughey has had, he practically deserves a Body of Work Oscar. (In all senses of the phrase, given his weight loss for “Dallas.”) Phoenix is astonishingly subtle in “Her,” and while Bale’s worthy in “Hustle,” he’s been worthier elsewhere and will be again.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Shouldn’t be here: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Was robbed: Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

DiCaprio’s best performance this year was as Jay Gatsby. “Wolf” was merely his showiest, in an indulgent film that ached for a gram of restraint, or at least modulated excess. Truth be told, McConaughey stole “Wolf” right out from under DiCaprio, and he owned “Mud” as well. His dramatic weight loss for “Dallas” makes him almost a shoo-in, unless a “12 Years” run pushes Chiwetel Ejiofor over the top. But Redford’s near-wordless tour de force at least deserved a nod.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

TY BURR

Will win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Should win: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Shouldn’t be here: Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

Was robbed: Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Will the Blanchett juggernaut screech to a halt because some Academy voters feel uneasy voting, however indirectly, for Woody Allen? Possibly. But probably not. Still, Adams has a clearer shot than she did a month ago, and her performance is tricky, touching, and the best thing in “Hustle.” Streep? A fun slice of ham, but enough already. Delpy, by contrast, risked body, soul, and art in “Midnight.”

JANICE PAGE

Will win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Should win: Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

Shouldn’t be here: Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Was robbed: Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Pretend, for just a minute, that Meryl Streep had made her screen debut in “August: Osage County.” Is there any question that her acting crushes Blanchett, and everyone else in this category? Please. She’s appropriately enormous in that movie, yet frighteningly real, too. Blanchett will win because she’s deserving, because she’s not Woody Allen, and because she hasn’t amassed 18 nominations. Meanwhile, in a just world, Delpy’s performance registers as far braver than Bullock’s.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TY BURR

Will win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Shouldn’t be here: Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Was robbed: Will Forte, “Nebraska”

A Leto win will make Academy voters feel good about themselves and honor a hell of a performance. If Fassbender weren’t so good at playing absolute bastards, he might win someday. Hill keeps impressing with each new role, but the best performance in 2013 by a guy I’d pegged as a lightweight came from McGruber himself, Will Forte, as a gauche son with unexpected reservoirs of decency.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should win: Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Shouldn’t be here: Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

Was robbed: James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”

Leto lost even more weight than McConaughey. Plus, he’s playing a tragic transgender character. In Hollywood, if not in life, he wins. Which is good, except that Fassbender is insanely good in “12 Years.” Cooper’s not in this league (still) and Jonah Hill, who is in this league, is nothing but a toothy cartoon in “Wolf.” Gandolfini isn’t just the sentimental snub; he showed impressive range in “Enough Said.” Here and elsewhere, he’s missed.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TY BURR

Will win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Shouldn’t be here: Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

Was robbed: Margo Martindale, “August: Osage County”

Can Jennifer Lawrence be the sixth actor to win back-to-back Academy Awards? (Quick: Name the other five.) She’s an unstoppable force of nature in “American Hustle,” but Lupita Nyong’o is an unstoppable force of Oscar, tweeting like crazy, rising to every photo op, and practically wearing designer gowns to take out the trash. She’s having the time of her life, and good for her. (Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards Jr., and Tom Hanks)

JANICE PAGE

Will win: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

Shouldn’t be here: Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

Was robbed: Margo Martindale, “August: Osage County”

Nyong’o seems likely to take home the only acting prize of the night for “12 Years,” and that’s fine. She’s stunning in every way. A victory for Roberts, though, would be a victory for middle-age divas everywhere. Stripped down and riled up, Roberts lets go of what feels like decades of rhymes-with-itchiness, and the result is honest and vulnerable enough to turn critics into fans. The one supporting effort that competes is Martindale’s, which isn’t even nominated.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

TY BURR

Will win: “12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley

Should win: “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

Ridley’s script brought Solomon’s Northup’s 1853 memoirs of enslavement to the screen with a righteous and steady gaze and a barely simmering fury; it’ll win and it’ll deserve to. So no one will mind if I raise my hand for the three-way collaboration of director and actors in “Before Midnight,” a movie that’s only in this category because the characters existed in two previous films.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “12 Years a Slave”

Should win: “12 Years a Slave”

Watch for this one to tip Oscar’s hand early on. If “12 Years” takes screenplay honors, it’s on track for a best picture win. If it loses to “Before Midnight,” “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” or “Wolf,” the hatch swings wide open for “Gravity” to snatch the top prize of the night.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

TY BURR

Will win: “American Hustle,” Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell

Should win: “Her,” Spike Jonze

Wait, did “American Hustle” even have a script? Best Winging It on an Agreed Upon Scene Structure by a Vastly Talented Cast and Gonzo Director — I could live with that. Both “Nebraska” and “Her” do much more with lots less; “Her” has the wit to invent a tomorrow that feels eerily close to today and an invisible heroine with a profound personal growth curve.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “American Hustle”

Should win: “Her”

Is there a filmmaker who’s more “original” than Spike Jonze? In both concept and execution, the screenplay for “Her” sits in a class by itself. But “American Hustle” has 10 nominations and may get shut out of the acting categories, making this its best shot.

ANIMATED FEATURE

TY BURR

Will win: “Frozen”

Should win: “The Wind Rises”

Tough crowd, especially with no Pixar present. For sheer artistry alone, “The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki’s final work (he says) should win hands down, but controversy over its World War II airplane-designer hero will probably scotch its chances. The resurgent Disney Animation Studios will win for “Frozen.”

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Frozen”

Should win: “Frozen”

Hayao Miyazaki may be a master craftsman, but his dark and controversial “Wind Rises” is no match for the popularity of Disney’s “Frozen,” the shimmery princess musical that every Oscar voter’s kid knows by heart. “Let It Go” will carry “Frozen” to gold in the song category, and it’s good advice for Disney’s competitors here.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE

TY BURR

Will win: “The Great Beauty”

Should win: “The Great Beauty”

Another hard-to-predict field, with hot-button issues (Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Khmer Rouge atrocities) vying with heartrending drama (“The Hunt,” “Broken Circle Breakdown”). But only Italy’s “The Great Beauty” is one for the ages. It won the Golden Globe and BAFTA, and it should win here.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”

Should win: “The Great Beauty”

My favorite foreign films last year were “Wajda” (Saudi Arabia) and “Gloria” (Chile), neither of them nominated. If this race comes down to the Fellini-esque “Great Beauty” vs. the bluegrass-weepy “Broken Circle Breakdown,” I’m betting on bluegrass.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

TY BURR

Will win: “20 Feet From Stardom”

Should win: “The Act of Killing”

The startling “Act of Killing,” in which aging Indonesian death-squad killers re-enact their crimes, is a doc unlike any other,” and Egypt’s “The Square” puts the audience right in the middle of the Arab Spring protests. For all that, it may be tough to top the feel-good retro reclamation project of “20 Feet.”

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “The Act of Killing”

Should win: “The Act of Killing”

If there was one must-see film in all of 2013, it was “The Act of Killing” — good enough to have been nominated for best picture, not that it ever would be. I loved “20 Feet From Stardom” as much as the next person, but it’s a glorified concert. “Act of Killing” is genius.

VISUAL EFFECTS

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, and Neil Corbould

Should win: “Gravity”

Whether or not “Gravity” scores in any of the major categories, it stands poised to sweep the technical awards. Starting with this one. As sure a lock as there is this year.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Gravity”

Should win: “Gravity”

Easiest call of the night. Groundbreaking effects in simulated outer space. With. No. Narrative. If it doesn’t win here, the film has no business being up for best picture or best director.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Emmanuel Lubezki

Should win: “Nebraska,” Phedon Papamichael

Philippe Le Sourd’s stunning imagery for the artful martial arts epic “The Grandmaster” wasn’t seen as widely as it should have been, but the translucent black-and-white of Phedon Papamichael’s work for “Nebraska” cuts deeper. No matter: “Gravity” will win.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Gravity”

Should win: “Nebraska”

Outer space generally photographs well. Not easily, but well. The plains, in black and white especially, can be harder to get right. Papamichael really gets it right.

FILM EDITING

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger

Should win: “Captain Phillips,” Christopher Rouse

Another technical win for “Gravity,” which keeps suspense cooking with a bare minimum of cast and plot. But “Captain Phillips” ratchets up the tension even with an ending the audience already knows.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Gravity”

Should win: “Captain Phillips”

Again, a most worthy contender isn’t here. Given the absence of Ron Howard’s “Rush,” I’d vote for “Captain Phillips.” But “Gravity” could easily sweep the technical categories, and this could fall in lockstep.

SOUND EDITING

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Glenn Freemantle

Should win: “ Gravity”

From a production standpoint, everything about “Gravity” is a remarkable achievement: Bullock and Clooney aside, everything else is made from scratch. Including the eerie silence and eerier sounds of outer space.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Gravity”

Should win: “Gravity”

What’s the famous “Alien” tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream”? But you can hear the “Gravity” cash registers racking up more post-Oscars box office. Can’t you?

SOUND MIXING

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro

Should win: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland

Chalk up another likely win for Cuarón and his sound team here, although some of us would love to see the plangent Greenwich Village soundscape of “Inside Llewyn Davis” honored.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Gravity”

Should win: “Gravity”

Cha-ching!

PRODUCTION DESIGN

TY BURR

Will win: “Gravity,” Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, and Joanne Woollard

Should win: “Her,” K. K. Barrett and Gene Serdena

A hard one to call. Will Academy voters go for the glitz of “Gatsby,” the retro chic of “American Hustle,” the pinpoint 19th-century realism of “12 Years a Slave,” the present-tense future of “Her”? Nah, they’ll probably go for “Gravity” again.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “The Great Gatsby,” Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn

Should win: “The Great Gatsby”

Even those of us who thought the production and set design of Baz Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” felt a little overcrafted had to admire the craftsmanship that went into it. Though “Her” may rightfully give “Gatsby” stiff competition, old West Egg is ever more seductive than new Los Angeles.

COSTUME DESIGN

TY BURR

Will win: “The Great Gatsby,” Catherine Martin

Should win: “American Hustle,” Michael Wilkinson

Catherine Martin — a.k.a. Mrs. Baz Luhrmann — has been nominated for almost all the couple’s films and won for “Moulin Rouge.” The Academy likes her a lot, so if “Gatsby” gets anything, it’s this.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “American Hustle”

Should win: “The Great Gatsby”

The Roaring Twenties vs. the Disco Seventies. Disco cleavage wins.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

TY BURR

Will win: “Dallas Buyers Club,” Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

Should win: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Among “Dallas,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” this is an easy call. But why wasn’t “American Hustle” even nominated?

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should win: “Dallas Buyers Club”

There isn’t any way an Oscar goes to “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.” And “The Lone Ranger” has only slightly more than that snowball’s chance. “Dallas” takes it by default.

ORIGINAL SCORE

TY BURR

Will win: “Saving Mr. Banks,” Thomas Newman

Should win: “Saving Mr. Banks”

I’m going to go out on a limb here: Steven Price’s music for “Gravity” is considered a front-runner, but the well-liked and very talented Thomas Newman has been nominated 12 times in this category and never won, and his “Saving Mr. Banks” score is typically clever, tuneful, and memorable.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Saving Mr. Banks”

Should win: “Her,” William Butler and Owen Pallett

How little faith do I have in Oscar voters? I suspect they’ll see “score” and automatically vote for the Disney film, that’s how little. If they opt instead to recognize the perfect score of “Her,” bravo.

ORIGINAL SONG

TY BURR

Will win: “Ordinary Love” (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”), Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen

Should win: “The Moon Song,” Karen O and Spike Jonze

The Academy loves rock superstars and global freedom fighters, and Saint Bono singing a paean to Nelson Mandela more than fills the bill. Except for “Moon Song,” the dinky little love ditty from “Her,” this entire category is over-produced schlock. There, I said it.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Let It Go” (“Frozen”), Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Should win: “Ordinary Love” (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”)

As much as we would all love to see Spike Jonze pick up an Oscar for songwriting, this category is a face-off between U2 fans and Disney princess fanatics. I expect the princesses to prevail. What definitely won’t win: “Alone Yet Not Alone,” disqualified for unseemly campaigning.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

TY BURR

Will win: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed

Should win: “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Jack Hall,” Edgar Barens

Five solid doc shorts. The feel-good “Lady in Number 6,” about an irrepressible 109-year-old Holocaust survivor, will probably push voters’ buttons, but the fluky “CaveDigger” and especially the stark “Prison Terminal” are somewhat more deserving.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

Should win: “CaveDigger,” Jeffrey Karoff

With a piano-playing, Holocaust-surviving centenarian at its center, “Lady in Number 6” is custom-made for Oscar votes. “CaveDigger” won’t win, but its study of a man in New Mexico who carves elaborate living spaces underground is absolutely awe-inspiring.

ANIMATED SHORT

TY BURR

Will win: “Get a Horse!,” Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim

Should win: “Feral,” Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden

Disney Animation Studios has been on a real roll: “Paperman” won this category in 2013 and the delightful meta-Mickey shenanigans of “Get a Horse!” will almost certainly get the gold this year. Dark horse contender: “Mr. Hublot,” about a man and his robo-dog. The dreamlike wild-child visions of “Feral” remain hard to shake.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Get a Horse!”

Should win: “Get a Horse!”

Anyone who’s seen “Frozen” in a theater knows you don’t want to miss the opening short. “Get a Horse!” blends vintage Mickey Mouse (and friends) with “Roger Rabbit”-esque snap. It’s delightful. And it’s a lock.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

TY BURR

Will win: “The Voorman Problem,” Mark Gill and Baldwin Li

Should win:“Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything),” Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras

“The Voorman Problem” has stars (Martin Freeman, Tom Hollander) and a droll gimmick — a mental patient thinks he’s God and maybe is — and stands to win on that alone. But the best in a weakish lineup is “Just Before Losing Everything,” a 30-minute nail-biter from France.

JANICE PAGE

Will win: “Helium,” Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson

Should win: “Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)”

Oscar voters might be drawn to “Helium,” a heart-tugger about a dying boy and the hospital janitor who comforts him with magical tales. Or they could prefer a well-crafted short that makes the heart race: “Just Before Losing Everything,” a gripping snapshot of a mother fleeing domestic abuse.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Janice Page can be reached at jpage@globe.com.
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com