By Richard Corliss
February 20, 2014

BEST PICTURE

American Hustle / Captain Phillips / Dallas Buyers Club / Gravity / her / Nebraska / Philomena / 12 Years a Slave / The Wolf of Wall Street

‘Gravity has my vote, but sci-fi never wins the top prize (2001: A Space Odyssey, E.T., Avatar). Oscar loves the past, not the future. Bet on Slave.’

BEST ACTOR

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)

‘Bale gained weight, McConaughey lost a lot; both are superb. I’d pick the Texan. So will the voters. They love a reformed movie star.’

BEST ACTRESS

Amy Adams (American Hustle) / Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) / Sandra Bullock (Gravity) / Judi Dench (Philomena) / Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

‘Adams, the soul of the Hustle scam, is my choice, followed by the spritely-saintly Dench. But Blanchett is a lock for this prize.’

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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)

‘If McConaughey is the heart of Dallas, Leto, as the transgender Rayon, is its sweet, damaged, crafty soul. He deserves to win, and will.’

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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

‘Lawrence is terrific as the “dumb blonde” schemer; Nyong’o is an angelic welt of pain. I go with J. Law, but Oscar may reward Lupita.’

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell) / Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) / Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack) / her (Spike Jonze) / Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

‘I admire the soft, nutty originality of her, but Hustle has my vote as the smartest, funniest, talkiest film in ages. The Academy will agree.’

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

The Croods / Despicable Me 2 / Ernest & Celestine / Frozen / The Wind Rises

‘A huge hit, with an iTunes-topping score. Plus, it’s great. Frozen will win the statuette–which should be in ice-sculpture form.’

BEST DIRECTOR

American Hustle (David O. Russell) / Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) / Nebraska (Alexander Payne) / 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen) / The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

‘McQueen and Russell directed their fine films. Cuarón created a work of majesty that points the way for movie art. He should win, and will.’

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the March 03, 2014 issue of TIME.

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