TIME movies

Oscars 2014: Why Lupita Nyong’o Will Win Best Supporting Actress

12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave Francois Duhamel—Fox Searchlight

It all comes down to Lawrence vs. Lupita — but isn't Jennifer Lawrence's trophy case getting a little crowded?

NOMINEES
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Two dreams of an Oscar nomination: getting one with your first role in a feature film, as Nyong’o has; and being recognized, like Squibb, at 84, after a 60-year career in small roles in movies and TV shows, on Broadway and on the road. Before she secured the part of Bruce Dern’s wife — she of the ancient angelic face and the salty mouth (“I ain’t fiddlin’ with no cow titties, I’m a city girl”) — Squibb’s most notable credit was as a replacement in the original Broadway run of the musical Gypsy, in 1960. She played Electra, the stripper with the flashing lights on her costume, singing the Styne-Sondheim “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” (“If you wanna make it, / Twinkle while you shake it”). A mere 53 years later: stardom!

(READ: Corliss’ pick for Best Actor in the 2014 Oscars)

Hawkins won many critics’ awards (but no Oscar nomination) for her role as the optimistic teacher in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky in 2008; she becomes an Academy finalist playing Cate Blanchett’s reality-based sister in Blue Jasmine. Roberts, who lends passion and bitterness to her role as one of Meryl Streep’s rebellious daughters in August: Osage County, achieved movie fame in three short steps in her early twenties — Mystic Pizza, Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman, with nominations for the last two — and won her Oscar in 2001 for Erin Brockovich. She would be considered a prodigy among star actresses — unless her competition were Lawrence, Hollywood’s new great blond hope.

(READ: Corliss’ pick for Best Actress in the 2014 Oscars)

Nominated at 20 for Best Actress in the indie drama Winter’s Bone, Lawrence won last year as the truculent widow who gets Bradley Cooper to dance in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook; she was the second youngest winner in this category (after 21-year-old Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God in 1987). If the Academy blesses Lawrence for her film-stealing role as the sexy wife in Russell’s American Hustle, she would be the youngest performer with two competitive Oscars. In between these award-winning turns, all she’s done is anchor the sensationally popular Hunger Games franchise. With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she became the first actress since Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music to be the top-billed female star of the year’s highest-grossing movie.

(READ: Corliss’ pick for Best Supporting Actor in the 2014 Oscars)

There’s simply no comparing Lawrence’s saucy comedic brio in American Hustle with Nyong’o’s long-suffering sanctity as the prize property of sadistic Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave. Nor do the usual auguries point to a clear winner. Nyong’o, raised in Kenya and a graduate of the Yale Drama School, won most of the critics’ prizes and the Screen Actor Guild award; Lawrence took the Golden Globe and BAFTA citations. We can safely predict that Nyong’o will be named Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards, held on her 30th birthday, the evening before the Oscars. (Lawrence is not nominated there, because the American Hustle budget was too high for the movie to be eligible as an indie production.)

(READ: Lisa Schwarzbaum on Nyong’o “the front runner”)

On Oscar night, it’s a coin toss — the closest race among the major categories. Our tentative guess: the Academy will decide that Lawrence, still only 23, will be around for ages to cop more statuary, and that Nyong’o and the searing film she represents is worthy of one acting award (plus, possibly, Best Picture). But we won’t be shocked if the golden girl with the throaty laugh is on stage to receive yet another item for her overstocked trophy case.

TIME awards

Oscars 2014: Forecasting the Unlikeliest Presenter Pairings

2001 MTV Movie Awards - Backstage
Well, maybe this one isn't too unlikely. KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick could duke it out for America's Most Winsome Sweetheart, while Matthew McConaughey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt could enjoy an Angelic reunion

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Academy Awards producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan announced the 46 presenters for the 86th Academy Awards, which will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres on Sunday. As ever, there’s a solid slate of silver screen royalty (Robert De Niro, Glenn Close, Kevin Spacey), up-and-coming stars (Michael B. Jordan, Emma Watson, Andrew Garfield) and previous year’s winners (Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway).

Often, the presenters are paired with someone with whom they’re about to share the screen, or a peer with similar gravitas. Or, in the case of the previous year’s winners, they present alone. That said, it would be more fun to pair some of these stars up in a less predictable fashion.

A few ideas:

Daniel Day-Lewis and Tyler Perry

Daniel Day-Lewis is a three-time Oscar-winning actor who is universally lauded for his willingness to throw himself into a role. By nearly all accounts, he is the finest actor of his generation. Tyler Perry is a prolific writer, actor, director and producer best known for his numerous performances as Madea, a 78-year-old woman. If Day-Lewis is looking for a real challenge, he could take a stab at taking the Madea role from Perry — as the 11-time Razzie nominee looks to tackle more serious parts.

Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick

The competition for America’s Most Winsome Sweetheart has been fierce, but it’s time to crown a winner. Do you go for the wildly talented, Oscar-winning, Letterman-charming, self-deprecating Hunger Games starlet or the wildly talented, Oscar-nominated, social media-winning, “When I’m Gone”-reviving Pitch Perfect thesp? There’s really no wrong answer here — though there’s a chance we may be seeing a bit less of J-Law in the next couple of years.

Harrison Ford and Anne Hathaway

Think James Franco let Hathaway down by not embracing their 2011 Oscar hosting gig with gusto and enthusiasm? Ford would make Franco look like, well, Anne Hathaway. And that’s saying something.

Matthew McConaughey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

There are plenty of people on this list that McConaughey could be paired with, mostly because he’s Matthew McConaughey. But no introduction could top this one: “And now, here to present the award for Best Sound Editing are the fourth and ninth male leads of Angels in the Outfield, respectively, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew McConaughey!” (Sidenote: the 1994 baseball classic is basically a who’s who of past and future stars — JGL, McConaughey, Danny Glover, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Neal McDonough, Dermot Mulroney and Adrien Brody.)

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta

So there’s this movie called Pulp Fiction

Zac Efron and Sidney Poitier

One of the most respected actors in the history of film on stage with the star of High School Musical (and High School Musical 2) should manage to get a giggle or two out of the stuffy crowd at the Dolby Theater — or at the very least, viewers at home.

Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments below — the possibilities are endless.

TIME movies

What Makes An Oscar Winner

Is it survival, honor or a punch in the face? A break down of all Best Picture winners since 1970 into their most common themes. See how this year's contenders stack up

Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards stick to a well-thumbed manual. It’s a pantheon crowded with mafia bosses, adultery, flashbacks, fist fights and dream sequences, not to mention a miles-long parade of naked bodies.

This chart uses IMDB keywords and original research to chart 30 of the most common themes, characters, locations and patterns from every winner back to 1970. See how the nine movies up for this year’s nod compare to past Hollywood royalty. Click the labels to reorder the boxes.

While packing a movie full of popular keywords doesn’t make you a winner—otherwise, The Wolf of Wall Street would be the runaway favorite—there are some lessons to be learned. Many past winners have laid off the opening credits, and nearly twice as many winners featured naked women rather over naked men. Houses of God also show up twice as often as nightclubs. With all the violence and infidelity going on here, that might be a good thing.

TIME movies

Here’s What the Gravity Trailer Would Look Like If It Were Actually Honest

Spoiler alert, but also LOL alert.

+ READ ARTICLE

Just in time for the Oscars, the ever-observant Screen Junkies have brought us a new “Honest Trailer” — this time for Best Picture contender Gravity.

Basically, they pinpoint just about every criticism you probably had while watching the film — or the criticisms you didn’t realize you had until now. For example: Sandra Bullock’s character appears to have had little to no astronaut training, the film is essentially an hour and a half of people bumping into things and trying to grab things, and watching it on anything other than an IMAX screen will be wildly disappointing.

If you haven’t seen Gravity, be warned that this does contain some major spoilers. But it also might convince you not to see Gravity at all, in which case, spoilers are irrelevant.

TIME celebrities

Channing Tatum Gazes at Matthew McConaughey Bust While Writing ‘Magic Mike 2′

Where can we get one of those?

Channing Tatum is putting on his writing cap (literally) to pen the sequel to his male stripper movie, Magic Mike. Tatum’s Instagram followers got a behind-the-scenes look at his creative inspiration Monday when he posted a pic of himself writing while looking at a bust of his Magic Mike co-star Matthew McConaughey.

And why not? Magic Mike revived McConaughey’s career. The former rom-com staple is now the front runner in the best actor category headed into the Oscars for his turn as AIDS victim Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club. And his chiseled jawline is currently gracing HBO in the smash-hit True Detective.

As Tatum wrote in his Instagram post, “What better way to start writing #MagicMike2 than with my old friend Dallas? #runatribe”

TIME Oscars

Make Your Own Oscar-Winning Movie With One Click

TIME analyzed 242 best-picture nominees to create an algorithm that generates story lines for Oscar-caliber movies.

In honor of the 2014 Academy Award nominations, which were announced Thursday, TIME took the 242 movies that have been nominated for Best Picture since 1970 and melted them down to their constituent parts. Each time you click “Keep playing,” our algorithm recombines a few of these scraps into a synopsis for a new movie that could reasonably complete for the film industry’s top prize.

To see which movie inspired each term, hover your mouse or tap on a word.

How it works

We started with the keywords from the Internet Movie Database for each of the 242 nominees going back to 1970, a total of 12,020 unique tags like “cancer,” “California” or “Catholic.” Here’s one tip gleaned from that chaos of data: Want to win an Oscar? Hire a doctor. There are 48 of them peppered across the 242 movies we studied, more than any other profession. You’d do well to place him in 1940s New York City as well, since that is the most popular decade and location (though not always in combination).

Since the goal was to create plots that were plausible, we couldn’t just string together randomly selected keywords into Mad Libs-style plot summaries. (This sort of strategy would be high in anachronisms and completely non-sensical phrases.) To choose how to combine the keywords, this tool looks at which ones are most likely to appear alongside one another in a picture. After randomly choosing a tag to begin with, the algorithm performs an association game by looking at which other tags belong with that one. If the first tag is “mafia,” for example, the related tags will include “organized crime,” “New York City,” “violence,” and so forth. After choosing one of these related tags, the algorithm then looks at that tag’s relatives, and so forth and so on, spidering out through the network of themes, characters and locations until a coherent ensemble emerges.

It doesn’t always work. There will occasionally be a character in 17th-century Washington, D.C. or a World War II veteran in the year 1920. But by and large, the combinations make sense. There may also be some offensive plot combinations in there. Since there are truly billions of possible outcomes, it’s impossible for us to check them all.

This feature was updated on Jan. 16 to include the 2014 Oscar nominations. Additional research provided by: Charlotte Alter, Sarah Begley, Samantha Grossman, Laura Stampler and Olivia Waxman. Designed by Alexander Ho.

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