Handicapping the 2014 Oscar Nominations

The last of this year's crowded field has opened to the public -- who is leading the race?

By + More

Tuesday closed the eligibility period for the Academy Awards, and voting is already underway, with the nominations being announced Jan. 16 for the March 2 ceremony, Who's leading the race and who is poised for an upset? Here's a look at this year's strongest contenders:

Best Picture

When the Academy expanded the category of Best Picture to as many as (but not necessarily) 10 nominees, it seemed like a play to attract more viewers to the show. But this year brought a noteworthy number of Oscar buzzy films. End-of-the-season releases "Her," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "American Hustle" and "August: Osage County" seem like givens, as does "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave," which came out earlier in the season to critical and commercial success. "Captain Phillips," "Philomena," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" are vying for the four final spots. However, smaller but well-received films like "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska," "Blue Jasmine" and "Fruitvale Station" could also upset the big race.

[READ: 13 Pop Culture Gems You Might Have Missed in 2013]

Best Director

"Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen of "12 Years a Slave" are the front-runners in this race, however "Her" has made Spike Jonze a late-in-the-game threat. It's hard to imagine Oscar veterans Martin Scorsese (having been nominated for 8 films and winning once) and David O. Russell (nominated for his past two films) being snubbed, even as their films "Wolf of Wall Street" and "American Hustle," respectively, have met mixed reviews. That fills out the five spots, and it seems unlikely that dark horse candidates like Lee Daniels of "The Butler" or even the iconic Woody Allen of "Blue Jasmine" will be able to sneak in.

Best Actress

Even when competing against the eye popping visuals of "Gravity," Sandra Bullock gave the film its emotional core. Amy Adams gave it her all in "American Hustle" (critics may have their qualms with the film, but few question the acting), with the smaller role she had in "Her" also buttressing her chances. When it comes to the Oscars, Meryl Streep's presence is almost inevitable, even if one critic called her turn in "August: Osage County" " a camp harridan, playing to the balcony." Even those who didn't like "Blue Jasmine" can't deny Cate Blanchett was gripping in the title role. Judi Dench of "Philomena" seems like an obvious fifth to fill out the category. Kate Winslet -- who was nominated for a Golden Globe for "Labor Day," despite its rocky reception -- may be able to sneak in as well, as could Emma Thompson for "Saving Mr. Banks." An even bigger, but not unwelcome, surprise could come if one of the "Blue is The Warmest Color" stars – Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Sedoux, who shared the film's Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes film festival with their director – managed a nod.

[ALSO: TV to Chase the Winter Doldrums Away]

Best Actor

Robert Redford is almost guaranteed a nomination, if not a win, for his mostly dialogue-less performance in "All Is Lost," which some critics hailed as his career best. His closest competition is Chiwetel Ejiofor for "12 Years a Slave," while Oscar veterans Tom Hanks and Christian Bale are likely competitors in this category for "Captain Phillips" and "American Hustle," respectively. Matthew McConaughey lost a lot of weight -- a tried and true Academy attention getter -- for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" (and that's not to say his performance isn't worthy). Leonardo DiCaprio has strong odds for "Wolf of Wall Street" too. But a number of other actors stand at the ready to turn the crowded category upside down, including Joaquin Phoenix for "Her," Bruce Dern for "Nebraska," Forest Whitaker for "Lee Daniel's The Butler," Oscar Isaac for "Inside Llewyn Davis" and even Michael B. Jordan for the summer indie "Fruitvale."

Best Supporting Actress

Since the August release of "Lee Daniels' The Butler," critics have been claiming this category is all Oprah's, however her snub by the Golden Globes has put her chances of a Oscar speech in question. Margo Martindale and Julia Roberts on paper seem like obvious choices for "August: Osage County," but for all their usual appeal that film hasn't exactly won over audiences. Odds are better for newcomer Lupita Nyong'o in this category for "12 Years a Slave." Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence managed to steal the show in "American Hustle" despite playing a smaller role among a veteran cast, making her a very strong contender in this category.