The Academy Awards air at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC, and for the first time in a while, nobody is really sure what movie will win Best Picture.
It's a dead heat between sci-fi extravaganza "Gravity" and heart-wrenching drama "12 Years a Slave," and "American Hustle" might even con its way into the top prize.
Here are some mildly educated predictions on each race, as well as personal picks for what should win. A note on my track record: In the past several years, I tend to correctly predict an average of 16 of the 24 Oscar categories. That's really not too bad, given the wonky voting in the short subject categories. Still, don't bet any real money based on these choices. Predictions in bold.
"Gravity" vs. "12 Years a Slave" with an outside shot for "American Hustle." That's what everybody is saying, anyway. "Hustle" is my second least favorite of all the nine nominees, so I'd be disappointed to see it steal the Oscar away from two movies that deserve to win for different reasons.
With "Gravity," the technical achievement is astounding. The film utilizes revolutionary special effects to create a gripping, otherworldly cinema experience. "12 Years a Slave" is a passionately made drama about an important piece of history. The story resonates, much more so than the one lodged between the acrobatics in "Gravity." Prediction: "12 Years a Slave," by the most narrow of margins.
Should win: My favorites of the bunch are "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Her," even though they most definitely won't win. I'm a big fan of "12 Years" and "Gravity" too, so either one would be a better representative of Best Picture than any winner in recent years.
For fun, here's how my ballot would rank if I voted: 1) "Wolf of Wall Street" 2) "Her" 3) "Gravity" 4) "12 Years a Slave" 5) "Captain Phillips" 6) "Nebraska" 7) "Philomena" 8) "American Hustle" 9) "Dallas Buyers Club"
Matthew McConaughey looks to be the odds-on favorite after winning the Screen Actors Guild award and Golden Globe for "Dallas Buyers Club." It's an incredible performance that stands out among a very strong field.
Should win: Make it a tie and let McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio share the stage. Both are overdue.
Woody Allen controversies aside, this award belongs to Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine." If anybody can sneak in, it will be long overdue Amy Adams of "American Hustle." Should win: Blanchett already has an Oscar, and I'm basically in love with Adams. I'm rooting for an upset.
Jared Leto of "Dallas Buyers Club" has won everything and for good reason. Probably the surest bet of the night. Should win: Leto.
A tight race between worthy competitors Lupita Nyong'o of "12 Years a Slave" and Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle." Lawrence won last year, so I can see voters shifting toward the newcomer Nyong'o. June Squibb of "Nebraska" could pull an upset. Should win: Nyong'o.
The technical achievement of "Gravity" is just too big to ignore, therefore Alfonso Cuaron squeaks out a victory over "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen. Should win: Cuaron.
"12 Years a Slave" should have this in the bag.
Here's the place to award the unique genius of Spike Jonze's "Her."
Some beautiful "small" movies in the category this year, including "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska." They will all fall to the stunning uninterrupted tracking shots of "Gravity."
"Captain Phillips" could pick up its only Oscar in this category, but "Gravity" might make a technical sweep of the night.
Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Original Score categories
Yeah, about that technical sweep - "Gravity."
Production Design and Costume Design categories
Lavish sets and fancy clothes were pretty much the epitome of "The Great Gatsby." The divisive response to the movie itself could result in "American Hustle" winning these categories, though.
Makeup and Hairstyling
As much as I'd like "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" to be an Oscar winner, I will say "Dallas Buyers Club."
"Let It Go" from "Frozen" is still stuck in my head.
"Monsters University" was inexplicably snubbed (Pixar backlash?), but Disney will still bring home the gold with "Frozen." Potential spoiler: "The Wind Rises," the acclaimed final film from master Hayao Miyazaki.
The disturbing and unforgettable "Act of Killing" has the advantage, but the lighter subject matter of "20 Feet from Stardom" might pull an upset.
Foreign Language Film
"The Great Beauty," but watch out for "The Hunt," just because that creepy guy from NBC's "Hannibal."
The Short Categories
Ugh, these are so hard to predict. Everybody loves the Mickey Mouse starrer "Get a Horse!" for Animated Short, which means it will probably lose. For Live Action Short, let's go "Just Before Losing Everything." And Documentary Short, let's say "The Lady in Number 6," just because it has been in the news lately (the 110-year-old subject of the film died this past week).
Really though, this is where the prediction game goes haywire. You're basically on your own.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to write and make fun of how bad he did come Sunday.