Sandra Bullock, Chiwetel Ejiofor
12 Years a Slave or Gravity? Or something else? Oscars' tightest race for the top prize in years will come down to a photo finish Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT, ABC). In the meantime, let's make some predictions. Check out the nominees here, make your picks and compare them to ours below.
American Hustle, Gravity lead Oscar nominations
Who will win: 12 Years a Slave
This one is coming down to the wire between 12 Years and Gravity, with an outside shot for SAG ensemble champ and one-time front-runner American Hustle, which co-leads the field with 10 nods with Gravity (12 Years has nine). Despite not dominating at ceremonies, 12 Years has won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Awards, BAFTAs and Producers Guild Awards, where it tied with Gravity, which has won all the director statuettes. Picture/director splits, which have occurred 22 times in 85 years and six times in the last 30, are usually surprises or anomalies (see: last year when Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Argo), but everyone seems to have agreed on a split this year. 12 Years' unflinching naked brutality is difficult to watch (some voters have admitted to not watching it), but its importance and impact might be too much for the academy to ignore, not to mention the historic significance of awarding the top honor to a film about the black experience for the first time.
Watch out for: Gravity
The groundbreaking, awe-inspiring visual masterpiece benefits from the preferential voting system, where consensus trumps passion. Gravity is liked by (mostly) all, meaning it will likely be ranked higher on ballots than a challenging film like 12 Years. Except for the PGA, which also uses a preferential ballot, all of 12 Years' other Best Picture wins were determined via a singular vote. As every academy member can vote in all 24 races, Gravity will also have massive support from the tech categories, which it ought to sweep. It would be the first sci-fi film to win Best Picture.
Did you know? Gravity does not have a screenplay nomination, and only seven films have won Best Picture without one, four of which were in the first six years of the Oscars. The other three: Hamlet (1948), The Sound of Music (1965) and Titanic (1997).
Who will win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Regardless of what happens in Best Picture, Cuaron has got this in the bag, having helmed an ambitious, effects-laden film that resonates emotionally. He has made a clean sweep of all the major prizes, including the Critics' Choice, the Globe, BAFTA and the Directors Guild Award, which has only mismatched with Oscar seven times in its 65-year history. Cuaron, who was born in Mexico, would be the first Latino winner of the Best Director honor.
Watch out for: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
McQueen's harrowing, unforgiving direction is ambitious in its own right, and 12 Years would be nowhere near as powerful had he held moviegoers' hands in confronting America's greatest shame. He's only the third black director up for the award and would be the first to win.
Did you know? The last time Oscar split picture and director two years in a row was 61 years ago, when John Ford won for The Quiet Man while The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture, a year after George Stevens (A Place in the Sun) and An American in Paris won.
Who will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
The McConaissance will come full circle at the Dolby Theatre. McConaughey's transformative portrayal of HIV-afflicted hellraiser Ron Woodroof, who refused to go down without a fight, is worth its weight in Oscar gold alone, but his recalibrated career and narrative the past few years will put him over the edge. He also has two ace cards in his pocket: his scene-stealing, chest-thumping appearance in rival Leonardo DiCaprio's The Wolf of Wall Street and his likely future Emmy-winning work on True Detective, aka his anti-Norbit. (The critically panned flick killed then-front-runner Eddie Murphy's Oscar hopes in 2007 for Dreamgirls.)
Watch out for: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
If it were up to us, we'd give all the awards to Leo for that Quaaludes scene. The Inter-webs has been trying to make DiCaprio happen in recent weeks for his compulsively watchable, outrageously repugnant turn as Wall Street bad boy Jordan Belfort, but he really needed the BAFTA win, where McConaughey wasn't nominated, to legitimize his threat. (Chiwetel Ejiofor won the BAFTA.) Still, there is a small glimmer of hope for DiCaprio, who won the comedy Globe: He has yet to face McConaughey head-to-head at an awards show.
Did you know? This is the first time in 47 years that all five Best Actor nominees are in Best Picture nominees.
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Who will win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Done deal. Blanchett, who won Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator, has dominated all awards season with her startling, intoxicating (no pun intended) portrait of a spiraling, spoiled socialite. The rehashed sexual allegations against Woody Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan shouldn't hurt Blanchett, as the academy has shown it won't punish those uninvolved in the family matter. Both Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway) and Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) won Oscars for Allen films within the first four years of the scandal in the '90s, and Penelope Cruz prevailed for the director's Vicky Cristina Barcelona five years ago.
Watch out for: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Any other year, Adams, on her fifth nomination, could be a front-runner for her sexy, persona-shifting con woman. The comedy Globe winner is aided by being the sole nominee in the field who hasn't won an Oscar yet, but she'll likely have to wait again to get her hands on the statuette. A loss would tie Adams with Irene Dunne and put her one behind Deborah Kerr, Thelma Ritter and Glenn Close, who share the record for most nominations without winning among actresses.
Did you know? Five women have won both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress: Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange. Blanchett, Judi Dench (Philomena), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) are each looking to join the club this year.
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Who will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
After a six-year absence from films, Leto returned with a vengeance, turning heads and breaking hearts with his immersive, vulnerable and poignant performance as McConaughey's charming but doomed transgender business partner Rayon. The 30 Seconds to Mars frontman has collected tons of hardware already, including the Globe, Critics' Choice and SAG trophies.
Watch out for: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
The former limo driver who went toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks in his first movie pulled off a slight upset at the BAFTAs, where Leto was not in the running, over homegrown boy Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave). Fassbender, lest we forget, has eschewed campaigning this season after getting snubbed two years ago for Shame.
Did you know? Four films have swept the male acting races, the last being Mystic River 10 years ago for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.
Who will win: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
This is a tight one. Nyong'o has bagged the SAG and the Critics' Choice. J. Law has won the Globe and the BAFTA. Only three people, none actresses, have lost the Oscar with the Globe-BAFTA combo since the latter was bumped up to precede the Oscars in 2001: Bill Murray, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke. But we'll tip Nyong'o, whose scorching film debut as the tragic, tortured slave Patsey is a force of nature. The breakout star — on screen and on the red carpet — is 12 Years' best chance for an acting win and a top-line award.
Watch out for: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
The reigning Best Actress champ can seemingly do no wrong right now, and her manic spitfire in Hustle is a rollicking delight. But it's extremely rare to pull off back-to-back acting wins (she'd be the sixth to do so and the first to do so in different categories), and her age, 23, could work against her as well. (Of note: Lawrence did not win the BAFTA last year.) Like Nyong'o though, Lawrence is the best chance for Hustle, the 15th film to earn acting nods in all four races, to snag a big prize. Only two of the 15, My Man Godfrey and Sunset Boulevard, did not win at least one acting award.
Did you know? Fifteen people have won Oscars for their film debuts, eight of which came in Best Supporting Actress, most recently in 2007 for Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls).
Who do you think will win? The 86th Academy Awards airs Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET /5:30 p.m. PT on ABC.