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Tom Tangney predicts the Oscar winners (and tells you who should really win)

The Academy Awards are quickly approaching. Host Ellen DeGeneres will soon take the stage, along with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, to present Oscars to this year’s winners on Sunday, March 2 at 5:30 p.m.

Whether you’re attending an Oscar party or watching from the comfort of your couch, you can follow along with award-winning film critic Tom Tangney’s predictions … and also find out what he thinks should win instead.

Best Picture
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  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years A Slave
  • Wolf of Wall Street
This is a three-way race between the spectacular “Gravity,” the powerful “12 Years a Slave,” and the outrageous “American Hustle.” Although “Gravity” is the slightest of favorites, I still predict “12 Years A Slave” will win the big prize, primarily because it deals with Big Issues and the Academy is still a sucker for “important” movies. My hunch is the voters will end up giving so many Oscars to the movie’s technical accomplishments, that they’ll find it only fair to right the imbalance a bit with a nod to “12 Years” for Best Picture. “American Hustle,” although much appreciated, is still more comedy than not and comedies always have a tougher time at the Oscars.

And despite the fact that I think it doesn’t deserve the Oscar for the reason most voters will use to justify their vote for it – that it’s a socially important movie – I do think “12 Years A Slave deserves the Oscar over its worthy competitors. For me, what makes “12 Years” so effective and powerful a film is that it unexpectedly places the horrors of slavery in the midst of some of the world’s most gorgeous settings. It’s that striking contrast that makes the movie’s unflinching gaze all the more poignant.

Best Actor
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  • Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
  • Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
  • Chiwetel Ejiogor, “12 Years A Slave”
  • Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
This is an easy category to predict but a hard one to vote on. Matthew McConaughey is the heavy favorite and would be a worthy winner, regardless of whether you think he should get credit for losing all that weight in order to play an AIDS patient.

But this is such a packed competition. On my BFCA ballot I voted for Bruce Dern who’s finally found a role worthy of his talent in “Nebraska.” But that was a couple of months ago and now I find myself appreciating both Christian Bale’s ridiculous con man and Leonardo DiCaprio’s gleefully sleazy Wall Street scam artist a little more. In the end, I decided I prefer DiCaprio’s “bigger than life” to Bale’s “over the top.”

Best Actress
tom bestpicture
  • Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
  • Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
  • Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
  • Judi Dench, “Philomena”
  • Meryl Street, “August: Osage County”
Although I personally think Brie Larson in “Short Term 12” and Adèle Exarchopoulos in “Blue is the Warmest Color” were even better, Cate Blanchett was brilliant as a contemporary version of Blanche DuBois. The complex shades she brings to her smug yet insecure character is daunting. Blanchett has been cleaning up this awards season and I expect more of the same Sunday night, although a Sandra Bullock upset is possible, since many more people (and voters?) saw “Gravity” than “Blue Jasmine.”

Best Supporting Actor
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  • 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”
If there is an Oscar lock this year, it’s Jared Leto as an HIV-positive transgender woman. He’s won just about every award imaginable and I expect him to cap his run with the Oscar. He’s very convincing in a showy role that the Academy historically loves to reward. But for my money, Michael Fassbender gives a more nuanced reading of a more complex character and Barkhad Abdi is even more convincing as a desperate Somali pirate. I truly believed it when he announced “I am the captain now!” and that’s why I’d give him my vote.

Best Supporting Actress
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  • Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine
  • Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
  • Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years A Slave”
  • Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
  • June Squibb, “Nebraska”
This is a two-woman race between
a perennial Oscar favorite, Jennifer Lawrence and an African newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. The two roles couldn’t be more different. Lawrence’s is a pitch-perfect comic performance – a con artist’s lonely, bored wife with a few outrageous plans of her own. Nyong’o role is pure tragedy – a put-upon slave who’s sexually brutalized by her master and then blamed for it by a vengeful master’s wife. I’m rooting for Nyong’o because she may have fewer opportunities for Oscar glory, but I’d still vote for Jennifer Lawrence as the best of the year.

Best Animated Film
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  • The Croods
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Ernest & Celestine
  • Frozen
  • The Wind Rises
“Frozen” has been winning most of the pre-Oscar contests, and it will no doubt win Best Song as well, but I was disappointed with its generic storytelling and its surprisingly bland songs. It’s a perfectly inoffensive animated movie but that’s hardly grounds for winning an Oscar.

By far the much richer experience is Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises.” It’s a valentine to flight in general, and to airplanes more specifically. It’s also a visually stunning profile of a real-life Japanese engineer whose dreams of the perfect plane ended up producing the kamikazi warplanes of World War Two. It’s a morally fuzzy film, but in some ways that makes it even more intriguing.

Best Documentary Feature
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  • The Act of Killing
  • Cutie & The Boxer
  • Dirty Wars
  • The Square
  • 20 Feet from Stardom
“20 Feet From Stardom” is a real crowd-pleaser, about some of the greatest back-up pop singers in American music. For me it’s a little too scattered to be a great documentary, but I acknowledge it will be hugely popular, at least by documentary standards. I prefer “Cutie and the Boxer,” another intriguing look at under-appreciated artists, this time a Japanese husband and wife who’ve lived and worked in New York City for 40 years. It’s a tightly focused look at their artwork, their financial struggles, and their long, stormy marriage.

But for the audacity and scope of its subject matter, “The Act of Killing” gets my vote. The filmmakers convince many of the most notorious members of the government-backed death squads in 1960’s Indonesia to re-enact in movie form the killing and torture of thousands of victims. Most of them brag of their exploits but others seem quite shaken by their re-enacted atrocities. The horror, the horror …

Best Director
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  • “American Hustle,” David O. Russell
  • “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuaron
  • “Nebraska,” Alexander Payne
  • “12 Years A Slave,” Steve McQueen
  • “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese
The technical marvel that is “Gravity” is so impressive, I think Alfonso Cuaron will overwhelm his competitors. He’s already won the Director’s Guild Award and he’ll soon be adding an Oscar to his shelf. My own vote would go to Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave” because, for all Cuaron’s technical bravado, “Gravity” can’t match the heart and soul of “12 Years.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
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  • Before Midnight
  • Captain Phillips
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years A Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
This is a close call but I think the fact that “12 Years A Slave” had to be adapted from a little known 19th century slave narrative will impress Oscar voters. But if I’m wrong, then “Captain Phillips” will probably take the prize. After all, it did win the Writer’s Guild Award. “Philomena” is well-told but conventional and “Before Midnight” a little too improvisatory for the Academy. And yes, if it was left up to me, I’d give it to “The Wolf of Wall Street.” That film’s voice-over narration alone so perfectly captures the trashy, flashy charisma of Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort, it deserves Oscar recognition.
Best Original Screenplay
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  • American Hustle
  • Blue Jasmine
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Her
  • Nebraska
Spike Jonze has been writing and/or directing bizarrely original screenplays for years (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, “Where the Wild Things Are.”) With “Her,” a clever film about a man in love with his operating system, I think the Academy has finally caught up with his edgy sensibilities. If not, the much-liked “American Hustle” will probably snag the Oscar, since I don’t think it will win the other big awards it’s up for.

Personally, I’m rooting for Almost Live alum Bob Nelson to win for his deadpan “Nebraska” script. But I actually think the best original screenplay of the year was Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” When I finally caught on – about 30 minutes in – that this is a contemporary riff on “A Streetcar Named Desire,” I was blown away. It not only deepens an already good Woody Allen storyline, it also re-orients how I think about the Tennessee Williams’ classic. Impressive stuff.

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