The Academy Awards are still more than three weeks away, and, by this point, there's the feeling that everyone involved should be looking (or at least feeling) like Cate Blanchett's desperate, fallen socialite at the end of "Blue Jasmine" — bleary-eyed, babbling and drenched in perspiration. Those who have avoided that fate have probably honed their personal mantra along the lines of Matthew McConaughey's chest-bump money chant in "The Wolf of Wall Street," something along the lines of: Mmmm-hmmm-hmmm. Twenty-four. Mmmm-hmmm-hmmm. More days. Mmmm-hmmm-hmmm-mmmm-hmmmm-hmmm-mmmm-hmmmm. No more chicken dinners or Q&As.
With Oscar voting still almost a week away, might the academy spring a late-season surprise in one of the four acting categories, races that seem to have settled a bit in recent weeks? Here's our predictions:
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"
And the winner is: McConaughey. While the leading contenders in the best picture race try to build that last blast of momentum, it feels like McConaughey sealed the deal here sometime between the Christmas premiere of that aforementioned "Wolf of Wall Street" cameo and the Jan. 12 debut of the mesmerizing HBO miniseries "True Detective." When you have the performance and the narrative behind the performance (the McConaissance, man!) along with further evidence of greatness currently before voters' eyes, you have yourself a perfect awards-season storm and the opportunity to hear McConaughey utter the immortal words "all right, all right, all right" one more time from the podium.
Unless: DiCaprio would seem to be the nominee with the most heat right now to challenge, but you wonder about the volume (though not the passion) of "Wolf's" support within the academy. Ejiofor, meanwhile, could receive a nice bump with a win at the British Academy Film Awards next week. There has never been any question over the quality of his work in "12 Years," though some have dismissively called Ejiofor's character "passive," as if the struggle to maintain dignity, identity and sanity as a plantation slave isn't a mind-bending example of enormous effort. Give the man his due.
Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"
And the winner is: Blanchett. Reminiscent of the way Marion Cotillard ran the table for "La Vie en Rose" in 2007-08, Blanchett has been forced to refine her acceptance speech numerous times in the last few weeks. Her win here has felt inevitable since "Blue Jasmine" began screening in July.
Unless: Streep delightfully presents an award to Blanchett sometime between now and the end of balloting, calling out the sins of Woody Allen in the process.
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"
And the winner is: Leto. He took a six-year break from acting. (You could say nearly the same thing about McConaughey from, say, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" to "Fool's Gold.") And here he is, a likely Oscar winner and a deserving one at that. The "Dallas" duo's respective journeys should give hope to any actor who has lost his way or been denied opportunity. The lesson: It's never too late for a second or third career act. The prediction: Get ready to welcome Robert Downey Jr. back into the fold of serious actors for "The Judge" later this year!
Unless: Um ... hmm ... Leto publicly renounces the craft of acting and returns to music full time? It's difficult to imagine any scenario that doesn't have him winning.
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"
And the winner is: Nyong'o. "12 Years" received nominations in three of the four acting categories. "American Hustle" is represented in all four. And it's this race where one of the films should come away with what will likely be its only acting win. Nyong'o has carried herself with grace throughout the awards season and is arguably the most deserving of the nominees for her stunning turn as Patsey, the slave on the receiving end of obsession and cruelty from Michael Fassbender's plantation owner in "12 Years." Also in her favor: Voters like to reward newcomers in this category.
Unless: The academy is ready to give the 23-year-old Lawrence back-to-back Oscars, though it feels just a bit soon for that sort of thing, even for someone as gifted as Lawrence.
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