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Oscar predictions from Times movie critic Steve Persall

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Been listening to the Cabaret soundtrack while mulling over Oscar predictions, not only because I dig early-'70s Liza Minnelli but because it reminds me of Gravity. Let me explain. Aside from similarly short hairstyles on Liza with a Z and Sandra with a S, the two movies may share another distinction after tonight's 86th annual Academy Awards show: movies that won the most Oscars without capturing the best picture prize. Cabaret owns that embarrassing record now with eight wins in 1973, when voters ultimately couldn't refuse what The Godfather offered.

Gravity appears poised for similar last-envelope heartache, unless the academy decides to hand out the best visual effects Oscar over the show's end credits. Alfonso Cuarón's spiffy sci-fi adventure can be expected to plow through tonight's technical categories like so much space debris. But that's where the movie's trajectory ends. Key Oscar trivia to remember: Only two best picture winners over the past 60 years — Titanic and The Sound of Music — didn't have nominated screenplays, as Gravity's was bypassed this year. Cuarón will win the directing prize — like Cabaret's Bob Fosse did in '73 — then his movie flames out.

Which of this year's other best picture nominees steals away the big prize like The Godfather? My pick is (and has been since October) 12 Years a Slave, a movie offering the academy a chance to make reparations for past oversights of movies about the African-American experience. The complaint continues with this year's exclusion of Lee Daniels' The Butler and Fruitvale Station. Plus, it's a masterful piece of work, which shouldn't be forgotten in scrutiny of the academy's choice that's sure to follow.

Then again, I could be as wrong as Liza in Cabaret, when she believed those two dashing men were interested in her. There are 23 more opportunities to be right, and my fearful predictions follow. As always, no wagering, please.

PICTURE

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

Persall's pick: The academy can make amends for past oversights with either 12 Years a Slave or Gravity, since neither a truly African-American story nor a sci-fi blockbuster ever copped the big prize. 12 Years a Slave has the epic period quality that voters historically prefer and it makes a socially conscious statement, which the academy loves to do.

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

Persall's pick: Matthew McConaughey has now paid the dues he didn't at the outset of his career. Toss in his shocking physical transformation in Dallas Buyers Club, plus the prospect of a memorable acceptance speech, and McConaughey is looking all right, all right, all right. Upset alert: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave.

ACTRESS

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Persall's pick: Unless there is voter blowback from Woody Allen's resurrected child molestation scandal, Cate Blanchett had this Oscar wrapped up when Blue Jasmine debuted last August. The only nominee with an outside chance of an upset is overdue Amy Adams, if American Hustle recaptures the momentum it suddenly lost.

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

Persall's pick: The only acting category with a guaranteed first-time winner. All signs point to Jared Leto completing a sweep of all major pre-Oscar contests except the recent British Academy Film Awards. That prize went to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) but this academy won't agree. Taking a five-year hiatus from acting pays off for Leto.

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

Persall's pick: My heart says Jennifer Lawrence (but my heart says lots of things about her). The smarter pick is 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o, a star-is-born story in her movie debut, and a major prize before yanking the rug from under Gravity with the evening's final envelope.

DIRECTOR

David O. Russell, American Hustle

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Persall's pick: This winner and the best picture choice go hand-in-hand 73 percent of the time (62 of 85 winners). Not this year. The academy would make history by choosing Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) as the first black director so honored. But Alfonso Cuarón's ground-breaking work in Gravity swept pre-Oscar prizes. Stanley Kubrick's ghost smiles tonight.

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine

Frozen

The Wind Rises

Persall's pick: In a just world, Hayao Miyazaki wins a second time in this category for The Wind Rises. But this is Disney's world, so Frozen gets the call.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Before Midnight

Captain Phillips

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

Persall's pick: Rarely is this winner missing from Writers Guild of America nominations. However, little else this year is going by the book, so we'll pick John Ridley's take on Solomon Northup's memoirs, 12 Years a Slave, that was deemed ineligible for WGA honors.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Dallas Buyers Club

Her

Nebraska

Persall's pick: Looks like a two-script race between American Hustle and Her (which won the WGA's prize). The academy must justify giving American Hustle 10 nominations with at least one marquee win. Here it is.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium

The Great Beauty, Italy

The Hunt, Denmark

The Missing Picture, Cambodia

Omar, Palestine

Persall's pick: Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty wins Italy's 14th award in this category, including three honorary Oscars before the award was created.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

The Act of Killing

Cutie and the Boxer

Dirty Wars

The Square

20 Feet From Stardom

Persall's pick: The most critically acclaimed is The Act of Killing, a wrenching tale of Indonesian death squads. Academy voters go for the more palatable, toe-tapping 20 Feet From Stardom.

ORIGINAL SONG

Happy from Despicable Me 2

Let It Go from Frozen

The Moon Song from Her

Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Persall's pick: For a final touch before the inevitable Broadway money machine, Disney wins with Let It Go from Frozen.

ORIGINAL SCORE

John Williams, The Book Thief

Steven Price, Gravity

William Butler and Owen Pallett, Her

Alexandre Desplat, Philomena

Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks

Persall's pick: More than just musical accompaniment, Steven Price's Gravity score was a percussionless sound effect unto itself.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Grandmaster

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska

Prisoners

Persall's pick: After five nominations without winning, Emmanuel Lubezki takes home the Oscar for Gravity.

FILM EDITING

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

12 Years a Slave

Persall's pick: For a change, the award goes to the shortest movie on the list. Gravity packs its considerable punch into 91 minutes counting end credits.

SOUND EDITING

All Is Lost

Captain Phillips

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Lone Survivor

SOUND MIXING

Captain Phillips

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Inside Llewyn Davis

Lone Survivor

Persall's picks: Even if you don't know the difference between these categories, the results end up the same: Gravity squared.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Iron Man 3

The Lone Ranger

Star Trek Into Darkness

Persall's pick: If there's any bet-the-farm category in tonight's results, it's this one. That spanking new SFX process invented for Gravity is too brilliant to ignore.

COSTUME DESIGN

American Hustle

The Grandmaster

The Great Gatsby

The Invisible Woman

12 Years a Slave

Persall's pick: A close call between the Jazz Era duds in The Great Gatsby and the '70s flair of American Hustle. The latter wins because 10 nominations tell voters it should.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

American Hustle

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

Her

12 Years a Slave

Persall's pick: The Great Gatsby sneaks in a win. But if Gravity also takes this, I'll reserve the right to change my best picture prediction.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Dallas Buyers Club

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

The Lone Ranger

Persall's pick: Nobody wants to add the phrase "Academy Award winner" to a Jackass flick or a flop like The Lone Ranger. Dallas Buyers Club wins by default.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)

Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

Helium

Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)

The Voorman Problem

Persall's pick: Your guess is as good as mine. The relative star power of The Voorman Problem — starring Martin Freeman of The Hobbit trilogy — should grab voters' attention.

ANIMATED SHORT

Feral

Get a Horse!

Mr. Hublot

Possessions

Room on the Broom

Persall's pick: This is an easy one. Get a Horse! becomes the first Mickey Mouse cartoon since 1942 to take home an Oscar.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

CaveDigger

Facing Fear

Karama Has No Walls

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Persall's pick: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life wins for its uplifting story about the world's oldest Holocaust survivor, a 110-year-old optimist named Alice Herz-Sommer. She died Feb. 23.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

Oscar predictions from Times movie critic Steve Persall 02/26/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 1, 2014 4:29pm]

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