Oscars 2014: Races to watch as final voting begins

Weren't the Oscars great this year? Matthew McConaughey's best actor acceptance speech? That put us on a spaceship and sent us straight to Neptune, man. And we thought we were going to lose it when Cuba Gooding Jr. rushed the stage just after Ben Affleck presented the night's last award. Will somebody spring that guy from movie jail and offer him a great part again?

Wait ... what's that? The Oscars haven't happened yet? Voting for the winners is just beginning today? Huh. Really? Are you sure about that?

Yes, what with all those January awards shows and the fact that the motion picture academy pushed the Oscars back a week this year to avoid competing with some sporting event, it feels like we've seen just about all there is to see when it comes to the prize-winning prospects for the likes of McConaughey, Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto

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And, yet, there is indeed more to come. Academy members begin voting today with the proverbial polls closing on Feb. 25. Then the Oscars roll out the red carpet at the Dolby Theater on March 2 and, after that, Harvey Weinstein can leave the pope alone ... at least until next year's awards season.

So, at this late stage of the game, what's left to watch? For starters, these three races:

Original screenplay: Is it possible that "American Hustle," which, with 10 nominations tied "Gravity" atop the Oscar leaderboard, won't win anything on Oscar night? Indeed, it is quite possible, which is odd, given how many voters (especially actors) like David O. Russell's con artist comedy.

"Hustle's" strongest shot at on Oscar lies here, though it seems to be falling behind Spike Jonze's "Her" in the eyes of pundits. With "12 Years a Slave" actress Lupita Nyong'o appearing a better bet by the day for the supporting actress statuette, "Hustle" will probably need to win for its writing or for all its plunging necklines and polyester in costume design to avoid going zero for 10. 

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Original song: Having already established what song will not win, it would seem natural to assume that "Let It Go," the popular power ballad from Disney's "Frozen," will take the Oscar. But the academy is primarily comprised of older male voters, steak eaters who may well be immune to the charms of pixie ice princesses. And these classic rock listeners have an obvious alternative right there on the ballot, U2's "Ordinary Love," the anthem featured in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

The song isn't one of the band's best efforts. Not even close. But Bono has been making the rounds this awards season, being greeted like ... get this ... a rock star. He was mobbed at the Oscar luncheon earlier this week. And he has Weinstein backing him. It'd be an upset, but it's possible. If you're watching the Oscars with your 12-year-old daughter, have a box of tissues nearby, just in case.

Picture: We've already noted that after a strong start, including winning the Screen Actors Guild's ensemble award, "American Hustle" appears to be fading. So is it "Gravity" or "12 Years a Slave"? It seems safe to assume "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron will repeat his Directors Guild Awards win at the Oscars. That might lead to a best picture win for his stunning space survival story. Momentum seems to be tilting that way, though that could change if "12 Years a Slave" wins big at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts on Sunday. It's all guesswork and will remain so until that final envelope is opened 16 days from now.


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