FEINBERG FORECAST: Scott's Final Picks for Who Will Win at Sunday's Oscars (Analysis)

Gravity 12 Years a Slave Split - H 2014
Warner Bros./Fox Searchlight

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

This is the closest Oscar race in years -- nobody feels confident about who will win several of the highest-profile categories -- but who better to put your trust in than THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg?

Scott has been forecasting the Oscars since 2001 and has one of the strongest track records of all awards pundits at doing so. His best showings came in 2006 and 2013, when he correctly called 21 out of 24 winners. He was the only pundit to project best picture nominations for The Reader (2008), The Blind Side (2009) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) and acting noms for Silver Linings Playbook's Jacki Weaver (2012) and The Wolf of Wall Street's Jonah Hill (2013), among other long shots.

PHOTOS: 2014 Oscar Nominees

He factors into his projections personal impressions (based on advance screenings of hundreds of films each year), publicly available information (release dates, genres, talent rosters and teasers/trailers often offer valuable clues), historical considerations (comparing and contrasting how other films with similar pedigrees have resonated), precursor awards (some awards groups have historically correlated with the Academy more than others) and conversations with industry insiders (including fellow members of the press, awards strategists, filmmakers and awards voters).

Without further ado, here are Scott's picks …

* * *

Best Picture

In a very close contest, 12 Years a Slave, though difficult to watch, gets the edge because, like many winners before it, it's an adaptation of revered material, based on a true story about historical events that remain socially relevant. The preferential ballot will boost the prospects of American Hustle (the winner of SAG's top prize) and Gravity (the winner of the DGA's top prize), but this drama -- which has been recognized with the Critics' Choice and BAFTA best picture awards and tied Gravity for the PGA's top prize -- feels more "important" than 3D sci-fi (such a film has never won best pic -- Avatar, Hugo and Life of Pi all lost) or period-piece dramedy (the last comedy to win best pic was Annie Hall 36 years ago).

PHOTOS: THR's Nominees Night


Best Director

Regardless of what happens in the best picture race, it's hard to imagine that Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican auteur who won the DGA Award -- which has predicted this Oscar on all but seven occasions over 65 years -- and just about every other prize of note won't win in this category for orchestrating the most massive, daring and commercially successful of the contenders. He would be the first Hispanic winner in this category's 86-year history, just as 12 Years' helmer Steve McQueen would be its first black winner.


Best Actor

The Wolf of Wall Street's Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better, 12 Years' Chiwetel Ejiofor is the heart and soul of his film, Nebraska's Bruce Dern is the comeback kid and Christian Bale shows a side of himself we've never seen before -- but all of these things apply to Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey. He completely reinvented his career and, dropping 47 pounds, gave a performance that wowed. His strong work over the past year in Mud, Wolf and the now-airing True Detective only further bolstered his candidacy.

VIDEO: Full Uncensored Actor Roundtable


Best Actress

Sure, she's won an Oscar before -- nine years ago, in the supporting category -- and is up this year for a film that received only three total noms, but Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett looks unstoppable for her tour-de-force performance, having won virtually every major award thus far. Sure, some feel that Hustle's Amy Adams deserves an Oscar for her fifth nomination in nine years or that Philomena's Judi Dench deserves a second trip to the podium late in her illustrious career, but they are simply outnumbered.


Best Supporting Actor

Talk about a comeback: After six years away from the film business -- focusing on his other career as a rock star -- actor Jared Leto dropped 40 pounds, brought moving humanity to the part of an HIV-positive transgender woman and has won almost every award to date. His only hiccup was at the BAFTA Awards -- he wasn't nominated by the Brits (neither was his film or McConaughey) and Captain Phillips' Barkhad Abdi, who has a feel-great personal story, won -- but I wouldn't read very much into that.


Best Supporting Actress

This is so tough. While newcomer Lupita Nyong'o (winner of the Critics' Choice and SAG awards) is a revelation in 12 Years and has many enthusiastic supporters, Hustle A-lister Jennifer Lawrence (who bagged the Globe and BAFTA prizes) steals every scene in which she appears and remains as popular as anyone. Of the 14 films that received noms in all four acting categories before Hustle did, all but two won at least one of them, which bodes well for J-Law, who clearly represents Hustle's best chance. Moreover, no actress in the 21st century has ever lost an Oscar after being recognized by both international groups, the HFPA and BAFTA. Granted, she would be just the sixth thesp to ever win back-to-back Oscars.


*EDITOR'S NOTE: Scott rescinded this projection on March 1 and switched his pick to LUPITA NYONG'O (12 YEARS A SLAVE). You can read why here.

Best Original Screenplay

In this category, truly original scripts are regularly rewarded -- i.e. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Juno (2007) -- and the WGA, Golden Globes and Critics' Choice award winner Her probably fits that bill more than any other nominee. Do note, however, that the largely older and conservative Academy has its limits; 14 years ago, another Spike Jonze film, Being John Malkovich, was nominated in but lost this category to a film Oscar voters liked even more overall, American Beauty. My hunch is that Academy members, like BAFTA members, will seize upon this category as a place to honor David O. Russell, at long last.

PHOTOS: 10 Outrageous Quotes From The Nominated Screenplays


Best Adapted Screenplay

John Ridley's adaptation of Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave didn't win the WGA Award (it wasn't eligible) or the BAFTA Award (British voters backed the British pic Philomena) but it did win the USC Scripter Award (which has picked this category's winner in four of the last five years) and, at the Oscars, the strongest best picture nominee represented in this category almost always wins.


VIDEO: Oscars: Watch the Trailers for the Best Animated Short Nominees

Best Animated Feature

Frozen can boast killer reviews, massive box-office (approaching $1 billion worldwide) and overall beauty and charm, so it would be shocking if Disney's return to the fairy-tale musical genre doesn't continue to steamroll its competition and become the studio's first winner in this category's 14-year history.


Best Documentary Feature

Each nominee has passionate backers, but while other films here have subtitles and disturbing loglines that could limit their appeal, 20 Feet From Stardom has an appealing subject matter (music) and strong word-of-mouth (it is a real crowd-pleaser) that have motivated voters to check it out.


Best Foreign-Language Film

Italy's The Great Beauty is the most visually beautiful and least objectionable. It's long and meandering, but the others involve a child's death, child molestation, Cambodian genocide and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- not exactly fun stuff. When it comes to getting voters to check these out, even a pleasing language or title can make the difference. Beauty has both.


Best Cinematography

Some are drawn to lensing that is black-and-white (Nebraska), stylized (Inside Llewyn Davis) or flashy (The Grandmaster) -- and some just want to recognize the long-overdue Roger Deakins (Prisoners) already. But, while more than a few have voiced reservations about recognizing the camerawork on a film that is largely visual effects-driven (because they don't know what's attributable to the cinematographer versus the VFX team), I think Gravity will prevail because it provides the most epic and awe-inspiring visual experience, like most past winners.


Best Costume Design

The Costume Designers Guild picks 15 nominees across three categories, but has rewarded the eventual Oscar winner on only six occasions over 14 years. This year, their period pick was 12 Years over Hustle and The Great Gatsby -- but that may be something of a career appreciation award for the film's revered 82-year-old costumer Patricia Norris. Gatsby's Catherine Martin, a past Oscar winner, won this year's BAFTA and Critics' Choice awards, and is the pick of many. But I think Hustle's flashy '70s outfits were appreciated by more voters.

THR COVER: The Wild Imagination of David O. Russell


Best Film Editing

Since 2000, the best film editing Oscar has gone to a winner of the American Cinema Editors' prize for best edited feature film drama or musical/comedy all but three times. This year, ACE went for Captain Phillips and Hustle, respectively. Oscar voters seem to respond to rapid-cutting -- see wins for Traffic, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc. -- even if they're not head-over-heels in love with the film in which it appears, which is why I'm breaking for the relentless actioner Phillips (edited by Ultimatum's cutter) over stop-and-start Gravity.


Best Makeup & Hairstyling

The makeup and hairstyling budget for Dallas Buyers Club was just $250, whereas the Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger jobs were far more expensive and elaborate. But this is a category in which coattails matter -- you have to go back 16 years to find the last time a best picture nominee lost to a non-best picture nominee in this category -- which is why best picture nominee Dallas is going to win it.


Best Original Score

Forget The Book Thief (as beloved as John Williams is) and Saving Mr. Banks (as overdue as Thomas Newman is); a non-best picture nominee has won this Oscar only once this century. Arcade Fire's William Butler and collaborator Owen Pallett have their champions for Her and Philomena's Alexandre Desplat is revered enough to be up for his sixth nom in eight years (he has yet to win). But I'm betting on Gravity's young composer Steven Price, who already won the Critics' Choice and BAFTA awards for his booming score, which had a co-starring role in the otherwise quiet film. (In space no one can hear you scream!)

PHOTOS: The Making of 'Gravity'


Best Original Song

All four nominees are impressive and have passionate backers, but I give a slight edge to "Let It Go," which is belted out by Broadway sensation Idina Menzel and appears in the most popular film of any of the nominees, Frozen. The Academy has a long history of passing over songs by celebrities (i.e. U2 and Pharrell Williams) in favor of undeniably catchy tunes -- including no fewer than 10 others from animated films -- and this one, the hit single from a chart-topping soundtrack, certainly fits that description.


Best Production Design

Many are picking Gatsby, which makes sense considering that its art director, the aforementioned Catherine Martin, is a past winner and her work on this film has already won the BAFTA Award and Art Directors Guild Award for best period film. But there's no love lost for that middling summer film, whereas WB's two other nominees in the category, the fall releases Gravity and Her, are both nominated for best picture and also won ADG Awards (for best fantasy film and best contemporary film, respectively). The epic 3D and visual effects-driven Avatar and Hugo are past winners in this category, so why not Gravity?


Best Sound Editing

Because the vast majority of Academy members know nothing about sound -- the members of the sound branch and the directors branch combine to account for just 13 percent of the entire Academy -- the most popular film nominated in each of the sound categories usually wins (generally a best picture nominee) and the winner in both of them is often the same film (see five of the last eight years). This year that could be Captain Phillips (which won the Motion Picture Sound Editors' award for best dialogue and ADR), but I suspect it will be Gravity (which won the MPSE's award for best sound effects and foley, plus the BAFTA for best original music, the closest thing they have to this prize).


Best Sound Mixing

In this sound category, too, Gravity is up against Captain Phillips, but the sleeper threat may well be Inside Llewyn Davis, not because Academy members love the movie (this is one of only two noms it received), but because films that feature music generally do well here -- plus it's hard to imagine that very much of the sound we hear while watching Gravity was actually recorded on its set. Still, I'd stick with Gravity, in part because it won the Cinema Audio Society's highly predictive prize for outstanding achievement in sound mixing (and was also recognized with BAFTA's aforementioned award for best original music), but mainly because most voters don't ask themselves too many questions when it comes to these categories.


Best Visual Effects

If Gravity is notable for anything, it is the awe-inspiring visual experience provided by Tim Webber's VFX army, which raised the bar to make things cinematically possible that never had been before. The 3D masterpieces that paved the way for it to be made -- i.e. Avatar, Hugo and Life of Pi -- all won here. More importantly, from a statistical standpoint, no best picture nominee that was also nominated in this category has ever lost to a non-best picture nominee that was also nominated in this category -- and Gravity is the only best picture nominee represented in it this year.


Best Animated Short

I'm going with Get a Horse!, not because I think it's the most creatively animated (that would be Mr. Hublot) or endearing (that would be Room on the Broom), but because I think more people will have heard of and seen it than any of the others (it precedes all theatrical screenings of Disney's blockbuster Frozen), everyone grew up on Mickey Mouse and voters aren't likely to rally en masse behind any one of its rivals.


Best Documentary Short

CaveDigger revolves around a compelling individual, Facing Fear tells a remarkable story, Karama Has No Walls features amazing footage and Prison Terminal is surprisingly moving -- but all of these things apply to The Lady in Number 6, which seems to me to be tailor-made for the Academy, covering as it does the Holocaust, music and elderly people, three subjects that have long been embraced by Oscar voters. It's a shame its inspirational subject, who died this week at 110, won't be around to see it win.


Best Live-Action Short

Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (think Modern Family) and The Voorman Project (think The Twilight Zone) are lightweight but amusing and Just Before Losing Everything (which is about spousal abuse) and That Wasn't Me (which is about African child soldiers) tackle serious subject matter but are too long and oppressive, whereas Helium is substantive and engaging.


Twitter: @ScottFeinberg