No "Last Week in Pop Culture" this week. Instead, here are my picks for the "big six" Oscar categories. The winners will be announced Sunday at the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony.
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)
In the first really tight race of the night, it's a dead heat between pop culture darling Jennifer Lawrence and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o. The pair have shared the pre-Oscar hardware (including a Globe and BAFTA win for Lawrence). History tends to favor Nyong'o: she's in the more traditionally-Academy-friendly film, while back-to-back Oscar wins are rare indeed for actors (Lawrence, who won Best Actress last year for Silver Linings Playbook, would in fact be the first actor to run the lead/supporting table in consecutive years).
That said, recent Oscar history suggests we shouldn't put too much stock in Oscar history, and while 12 Years a Slave is in the thick of the Best Picture race, it doesn't seem to have the same widespread support as, say, Gravity or American Hustle. I...I just don't know, guys. I'm going to go with Nyong'o for now (if you believe 12 Years a Slave has a shot at Best Picture, and I do, then it's going to need to pickup some additional wins), but I'll be going back and forth right up to the ceremony, and it may come down to a coin flip.
1st Pick: Lupita Nyong'o
2nd Pick: Jennifer Lawrence
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)
This, then, is the first lock of the night, as Jared Leto has scooped up nearly every possible award for which he was nominated. The most difficult thing about this category is picking a potential spoiler; I'll go with Abdi, whose Cinderella narrative might appeal to some voters (and because he hails from Minnesota, and all Minnesotans must lavish attention when one of us becomes even mildly famous), and who recently picked up the BAFTA (but only because Leto wasn't nominated). But this is Leto's to lose.
1st Pick: Jared Leto
2nd Pick: Bakhad Abdi
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)
This is another near-lock, as the McConaissance will almost certainly run its course with a Best Actor win. But DiCaprio emerged as an early spoiler, and if the night goes its way, Eijofor could very easily pickup a well-deserved statute for his powerful work anchoring 12 Years A Slave. A McConaughey win is so assured anything else would feel like an upset, but an upset is possible.
1st Pick: Matthew McConaughey
2nd Pick: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
And this is the second lock of the night, as there's no way Cate Blanchett won't win. This category is such a lock that it earns this year's "Milhouse Award" (as in "I dunno...Milhouse") because it's pointless to even consider a second option.
1st Pick: Cate Blanchett
2nd Pick: Milhouse
David O. Russell (American Hustle)
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity )
Alexander Payne (Nebraska )
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
A race on the level with Best Actor in terms of certainty, in that Cuarón is the favorite to win but an upset is possible. Gravity is, above all else, a groundbreaking technical achievement, and Cuarón seems poised to capitalize on its success and appeal across multiple branches of the Academy. That said, Steve McQueen could eke out a win, should the night turn traditional. That seems unlikely, but Oscar has never shied away from playing it safe.
1st Pick: Alfonso Cuarón
2nd Pick: Steve McQueen
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Without a doubt, this is the tightest Best Picture race in years. Gravity is a stunning achievement, anchored by a strong performance (but for me), its strengths lie in its groundbreaking and well executed technical work (some have argued there's a stronger emotional core to the film than I'm giving it credit for; I don't see it), and it deserves the craft awards it's likely to win, including a Best Director win for Alfonso Cuarón, for bringing it all together. 12 Years a Slave, on the other hand, is the more traditional Oscar bait film, a period piece anchored more by strong performances than technical achievement (though it is beautifully shot). Where Gravity is an exceptionally well-crafted survival story (perhaps the best ever), 12 Years a Slave is a stunning and moving treatise about the scar which resides on the heart of the American dream.
What's more important, telling a tale really well, or telling a tale that needs to be told? That's the question at the heart of the Best Picture race (and not, as some would have you believe, a question of moving forward vs. looking back, which is a frame some pundits try to wedge every Best Picture race into), and it's not a question that's as easy to answer in terms of predicting a winner as it used to be. Gravity has broad appeal across many different branches of the Academy, while 12 Years A Slave is the kind of movie the Academy likes to crown Best Picture. Both have racked up their fair share of pre-Oscar awards, even tying for the PGA award (a reliable Best Picture-predictor), the first time that's ever happened. Gravity's director is likely to win an Oscar, but the old picture/director pairing isn't as reliable a rule as it used to be. This may come down to the preferential voting system (which has voters rank each film): Gravity, if not the first pick on every ballot, is likely to be near the top fairly regularly.
(And, it must be said, don't count out American Hustle, the third film in what was considered a three way race for Best Picture early in the season. It's cooled off of late, but it did win the SAG (and actors represent the largest voting body in the Academy), and like Gravity, it too could benefit from the preferential voting system and eek out an upset win.)
Another coin toss, then (which is a rare and pleasant thing in the Best Picture race). For now, my gut tells me 12 Years a Slave, but that could just be my preference talking. I'll be going back and forth on this one all weekend.
1st Pick: 12 Years a Slave
2nd Pick: Gravity