In Depth

Oscars 2014: who will win the big awards on Sunday night?

Best picture is a three way-battle, while Matthew McConaughey looks set to win his first award

12_years_a_slave_-_top_pic.jpg

THE Oscars are coming to Hollywood on Sunday night - and 2014 promises to be an exciting year, with some of the categories, particularly best picture, too close to call.

Ellen DeGeneries will be hosting the awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. American Hustle and Gravity are in the lead for nominations, with ten each, followed closely by 12 Years a Slave with nine. So who do critics think will take home the big prizes?

Best picture:

Captain PhillipsGravityPhilomena 12 Years a Slave The Wolf of Wall StreetNebraskaAmerican HustleDallas Buyers ClubHer

The contest for best picture appears to be a three-way battle between Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. Most critics are placing their bets on 12 Years a Slave, the harrowing story of a free man sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. It has been described as "simply shattering" with audiences left "shell-shocked to the core". Aside from its creative credentials, Tom Shone in The Guardian says "the Academy will not be able to live with themselves if they pass up the opportunity to reward the definitive treatment of slavery or the black experience, something they haven't even touched since In The Heat of the Night in 1968".

Best director:

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

Best director has traditionally gone hand-in-hand with best picture, but this was not the case last year when Ben Affleck failed to get a nomination for Argo. This year could see another split, with Alfonso Cuaron predicted to take home the director prize. "Cuaron spent several years working on the technically arduous Gravity and delivered something so unique, so independent in its spirit and format, that it almost belies the big budget," says Kyle Buchanan at Vulture. "No film is easy to make but on its face, Cuaron's was the most difficult out of these five, and that will go a long way with the voters."

Best 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

CNN had the web buzzing earlier this month after showing a plaque naming Leonardo DiCaprio as best actor. It later emerged that the engravers produce name plates for every nominee as standard practice, but many still think DiCaprio will win. Chiwetel Ejiofor is also seen as a strong contender for his role in 12 Years a Slave. But it is Matthew McConaughey who has emerged as the overall frontrunner. A few years ago the prospect might have been laughable, but the actor has had a career resurgence – currently being dubbed a "McConaissance" – from rom-com pin-up to serious actor. The Hollywood Reporter says this is "McConaughey's Oscar to lose".

Best actress

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine Amy Adams, American Hustle Sandra Bullock, Gravity Judi Dench, Philomena Meryl Streep, August Osage County

Cate Blanchett is seen as a shoo-in for her role in Blue Jasmine after sweeping up in the awards season so far. Jenelle Riley at Variety describes her as "unstoppable" and "a phenomenal actress who never makes a false move". All five nominees have had Oscar nominations in the past, while Amy Adams, the youngest in this year's group, is the only one not to have won an Academy Award. She has been named as a potential dark horse for her role in American Hustle, but most critics think Blanchett is a dead cert.

Best supporting actor

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

Many films buffs are putting their weight behind Jared Leto, who is reportedly bringing his mum as a date to the awards. His performance as Rayon, a transgender Aids sufferer, in Dallas Buyers Club, is described as a "career best" by Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News. Michael Fassbender could also be in with a shot for his role as villainous plantation owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave, but Neumaier says his performance may be just "too raw, too cruel" for voters.

Best supporting actress

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave Sally Hawkins, Blue JasmineJulia Roberts, August Osage CountyJune Squibb, Nebraska

The race appears to be between Jennifer Lawrence, who took home best actress for Silver Linings Playbook last year, and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o. The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern notes that Lawrence is odds on favourite after taking home a Golden Globe and Bafta for her role as the "vengeful housewife from hell" in American Hustle. But he says Nyong'o delivered "the year's most devastating performance" as Patsey, a prized cotton picker in 12 Years a Slave. "If you put the two performances side-by-side, you've got to give it to Nyong'o, who is an absolute force of nature onscreen," he says.

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