Who Will Win the 2014 Academy Awards?

A number of strong Oscars contenders makes it unlikely that a single movie will sweep the major categories.

Jeffrey Kurland, Governors Ball chairman, speaks to journalists on Feb. 20, 2014, at the Governor's Ball preview for the upcoming 86th Academy Awards.

The 86th Academy Awards will air March 2 on ABC at 7 p.m. EST. 

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Months of appraising, forecasting and campaigning will come to a close Sunday, when the Academy Awards take over the Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. It’s been a remarkable year for film, with a number of strong contenders making it unlikely that a single movie will sweep the major categories. Here’s our predictions:

Best picture 
"12 Years a Slave"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"Captain Phillips"
"American Hustle"
"Dallas Buyers Club"

This is a showdown between “12 Years a Slave” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” – two very different films about two very different types of American moral depravity. “Wolf” has all the flash – and that includes an impressive 11th hour campaigning push. But “12 Years a Slave” is a better film, and voters will ultimately go with substance over style.

What will win: “12 Years a Slave”

Best director
Steve McQueen – "12 Years a Slave"
David O. Russell – "American Hustle"
Alfonso Cuaron – "Gravity"
Alexander Payne – "Nebraska"
Martin Scorsese – "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Gravity” is a groundbreaking film that will dominate the technical categories, but won’t be able to pull wins in the other top awards. So giving best director to Alfonso Cuaron only seems right – and he certainly deserves it. He also already won the all important Directors Guild Award for the space thriller.

Who will win: Alfonso Cuaron

Best actor
Bruce Dern – "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor – "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey – "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leonardo DiCaprio – "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Christian Bale – "American Hustle"

The bromance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese is the stuff of Oscar voter dreams. Neither the weight Matthew McConaughey lost for "Dallas Buyers Club" nor what Christian Bale gained for “American Hustle” will be able overcome that. Bruce Dern may be the legacy candidate, but only Chiwetel Ejiofor poses a challenge to DiCaprio winning his first Oscar.

Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best actress
Amy Adams – "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett – "Blue Jasmine"
Judi Dench – "Philomena"
Sandra Bullock – "Gravity"
Meryl Streep – "August: Osage County"

Will the controversy over Woody Allen’s molestation charges cast a shadow over Cate Blanchett’s moment in the spotlight? Probably not. But if it does, it will either be Amy Adams or Judi Dench for the steal.

Who will win: Cate Blanchett

Best supporting actor
Barkhad Abdi – "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper – "American Hustle"
Jonah Hill – "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto – "Dallas Buyers Club"
Michael Fassbender – "12 Years a Slave"

David O. Russell-directed performances have a way of charming the Academy, but Bradley Cooper is facing some tough competition. Fassbender took his role as the obvious villain in “12 Years a Slave” and equipped it with a whole new level of sadism and complexity, making himself a must-be-watched symbol of America’s sick relationship with slavery. But Jared Leto has been cleaning up on the awards show circuit, because if there is one thing industry voters like more than their actresses getting ugly, it is their actors getting pretty. 

Who will win: Jared Leto

Best supporting actress
Jennifer Lawrence – "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o – "12 Years a Slave"
June Squibb – "Nebraska"
Julia Roberts – "August: Osage County"
Sally Hawkins – "Blue Jasmine"

Everyone in this category stood out in their films – but Julia Roberts, Hollywood’s sweetheart, did so because the rest of “August: Osage County” was a mess. This race comes down to national BFFL Jennifer Lawrence and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, who both elevated the work of their films’ impressive ensemble casts.  Nyong'o deserves it just a little bit more: her “12 Years a Slave” role required a level of depth, gravitas and nuance that surpasses Lawrence’s entertaining but farcical "American Hustle" performance. And the Academy will be reluctant to give a 23-year-old her second Oscar in a row.

Who will win: Lupita Nyong'o

Best original screenplay
"American Hustle" – David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
"Blue Jasmine" – Woody Allen
"Her" – Spike Jonze
"Nebraska" – Bob Nelson
"Dallas Buyers Club" – Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

David O. Russell and Woody Allen are two industry favorites. But the strength of “American Hustle” is in its performances, not its story, which falls apart upon closer examination. And renewed outrage over charges that Allen molested his daughter may make the Academy leery about naming him a winner. Which opens up the door – deservedly – for Spike Jonze to win for “Her,” a wildly inventive, moving and underrated film, that was able to pull an upset with its Golden Globe best screenplay win.

Who will win: Spike Jonze

Best adapted screenplay
"12 Years a Slave" – John Ridley
"Before Midnight" – Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
"The Wolf of Wall Street" – Terence Winter
"Captain Phillips" – Billy Ray
"Philomena" – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

Billy Ray brought suspense to “Captain Phillips,” Terence Winter brought laughs to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope brought plenty of heart to “Philomena.” But none were nearly as remarkable or challenging as the story John Ripley was tasked with adapting, and he did so masterfully.

Who will win: John Ridley

Best animated feature
"The Wind Rises"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Croods"

What to watch: “Frozen” has ruled the box office – raking in nearly $1 billion globally – and at every other awards show, with a Golden Globe, BAFTA and dozens of other critics’ awards already under its belt. This one is a no-brain(freeze)er.

What will win: “Frozen.”

Best documentary
“The Act of Killing”
“Cutie and the Boxer”
“Dirty Wars”
“The Square”
“20 Feet from Stardom”

The Square” and “The Act of Killing,” (and “Dirty Wars” too, but it’s a long shot) have the advantage of being grounded in politics – and a film’s Oscar chances always benefit from a little help from Washington. The former is a more conventional, yet stirring, depiction of an international conflict still underway. While the latter challenges the very conventions of a documentary, making it a more creative film, even when it is tough to watch. Both are facing off with the crowd-pleaser “20 Feet From Stardom” and considering that the entire Academy – not just a special pool as was done in the past – is voting, the Oscar will go to the film with the more mainstream, feel-good appeal.

What will win: “20 Feet from Stardom”