Oscars: Todd McCarthy on Who Should Win

 Illustration by: John Ueland

A version of this story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Oscars 2014: Live Blog

Best Picture:

It's between American Hustle, an outrageous look at the recent past, and Her, a provocative vision of the near future. The Wolf of Wall Street also is a pretty amazing piece of work, but the ensemble of performances in Hustle gives it a slight edge, and the last lap of Her does lag just a bit. I could throw a dart at the board to decide, but right now, I'll take Hustle.

DESERVES TO WIN: AMERICAN HUSTLE

Best Director:

Gravity provides a spectacular, unforgettable viewing experience but lacks the resonance, complexity and thematic intrigue of a truly great film. Still, Alfonso Cuaron has long since proved himself to be a great director, so on the basis of body of work amplified by the tremendous cojones he showed with Gravity, I'd be more than happy to see Oscar in his hands.

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DESERVES TO WIN: ALFONSO CUARON, GRAVITY

Best Actor:

Leonardo DiCaprio gives his greatest performance in Wolf, and Christian Bale's reserve in Hustle contrasts brilliantly with his fellow actors' frenzy. But I never expected to see from Matthew McConaughey what he showed this year, so he's the man.

DESERVES TO WIN: MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Best Actress:

Tiny voices in the balcony have criticized Cate Blanchett for being "actressy," but hers is an incredibly moving portrait of a meltdown. And to keep one's eyes on Amy Adams amid the wild swirl of Hustle also is a revelation. This time I will throw a dart at the board. OK … Cate.

DESERVES TO WIN: CATE BLANCHETT, BLUE JASMINE

Best Supporting Actor:

A surprise, out-of-nowhere factor may accentuate the effectiveness of Jared Leto's performance in Dallas Buyers Club. But that doesn't lessen its charm and emotional power, which take his work to a place beyond the parameters of the other characterizations in the category.

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DESERVES TO WIN: JARED LETO, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Best Supporting Actress:

This is a three-way affair among Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o. What somewhat constricts Nyong'o's performance is that, due to the story's nature, there's little opportunity for character development. Lawrence won the big one last year, so give it to Hawkins.

DESERVES TO WIN: SALLY HAWKINS, BLUE JASMINE

Best Original Screenplay:

Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska are all exceptionally well-written films. But American Hustle pops from the pack with verbal electricity, surprise, left-field humor, character detail, roller-coaster plotting and everything else you look for in a great screenplay.

DESERVES TO WIN: ERIC WARREN SINGER AND DAVID O. RUSSELL, AMERICAN HUSTLE

Best Adapted Screenplay:

The emotional dynamic of an entire relationship is encompassed in the nonstop dialogue of Before Midnight, making plain how this man and woman love each other and yet sometimes barely can tolerate being together.

DESERVES TO WIN: RICHARD LINKLATER, JULIE DELPY, ETHAN HAWKE, BEFORE MIDNIGHT

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Best Foreign-Language Film

Except for The Hunt, which I consider a manipulative fraud, the foreign-language nominees this year are all plausible entrants. But The Great Beauty is my choice: As a reflection of a country's decline, personal and historical underachievement and, above all, a piece of mise-en-scene and a rapturous evocation of a great city, it is near-sublime.

DESERVES TO WIN: THE GREAT BEAUTY

Best Documentary Feature:

I have no strong preference in this category. Each film is worthy in its own way, even if my preferred choice, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, wasn't even nominated. But I would not vote for The Act of Killing, a favorite of many, or 20 Feet From Stardom. I'll sit this one out in deference to better films not nominated.

DESERVES TO WIN: NONE

Best Animated Feature:

This is one of the weakest lineups of animated films to have been nominated in a long time -- and Pixar's 2013 release, Monsters University, is (deservedly) not even on the list. At the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, I voted for Lauren MacMullan's fabulous Disney short Get a Horse!, nominated in the animated short film category. Otherwise, I would have abstained.

DESERVES TO WIN: NONE

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