Christian Bale, American Hustle Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street Chiwetel Ejiofer, 12 Years a Slave Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Will Win: Rather than throwing McConaughey a separate “Welcome Back!” party where they’d have to get a cake and find out his favorite boozes, Hollywood will just save some cash and give McConaughey a lil’ awards statue. They know he’ll drawl out a decent speech, and they’ll hope (to the degree that anyone in the Academy cares) that he’s already done the post-Oscar cash-in and will continue being awesome for at least a few more years. That said, I can see an upset happening here, in favor of Dern (for the career), DiCaprio (for the ambition), or Ejiofer (for the devastating portrait and/or white guilt).
Should Win: I treasure McConaughey’s return from an epic 10-year stay in the wasteland, but as good as he is here, I prefer his supporting turns in Magic Mike, Mud, Killer Joe, and even The Wolf of Wall Street. Instead, I’d go with either his Wolf costar DiCaprio, because dude always brings it hard, or, if I’m in a quieter mood, Bruce Dern’s minimalist turn in Nebraska. But you know what? Ejiofer was terrific and Bale was delightful. So it’s pretty much a can’t-lose category, in which the default weakest performance will probably win.
Missing: When nominations came out, everyone talked about Hanks and Redford getting ignored, but I more feel the absence of Oscar Isaac’s prickly, heartfelt, and singing-heavy Inside Llewyn Davis performance.
Amy Adams, American Hustle Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Will Win: This comes down to longtime frontrunner Cate Blanchett versus late-breaking favorite Amy Adams. Blanchett is the undisputed showcase lead of her movie; Adams is part of an impressive ensemble. Blanchett has been nominated six times, and already won (in the supporting category); Adams has been nominated five times (before this year, always in the supporting category), but has never won. It feels like a toss-up to me, though with Hustle potentially going unrewarded elsewhere, and Jasmine edging close to a year old at this point (it just had its 34th week of play at the Angelika), Adams has some momentum.
Should Win: It’s faintly (which is to say entirely) possible that a crush biases my choice here, but: Amy Adams forever! She does a lot in American Hustle, and not just in the big ways that Blanchett Does a Lot in Jasmine: Adams plays funny, angry, scheming, sexy, and broken, and never feels like she’s putting on a show. She makes a great con artist, and I mean that in the best way.
Missing: It’s cool that Adams is the youngest nominee, and that everyone here is a multi-nominee vet. That said: Streep and Dench aren’t really at their career best in their respective movies, while relative youngsters Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) and Brie Larosn (Short Term 12) carried better movies with amazing work.