The 2014 Academy Awards are set for dispensing this Sunday, March 2, when they’ll remind us of the year’s most breathtaking cinematic achievements, then incorrectly reward other talented individuals. (C’mon, you know it’s true.) Here’s PW’s breakdown of Hollywood’s biggest night out, expounding on the first-rate films and stars we think will likely be taking home Oscar gold—and who actually deserves to.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who should win: Before Midnight provided a poignant conclusion to Richard Linklater’s trilogy, a labor of love that’s managed never to lose naturalism or heart. Steve Coogan’s Philomena is a mature, nimble character study that never tips into treacle.
Who will win: The Wolf of Wall Street might get the thumbs-up, since it won’t be getting within 10 yards of Best Picture.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who should win: Nebraska’s dark comedy is an Academy-pleasing portrait of family limbo; Blue Jasmine could have fallen from grace after Woody Allen’s recent scandal. Her is the flashiest, the sort of seemingly-ambitious fare the Academy loves to honor, instead of Upstream Color, which it actually should have honored.
Who will win: Dallas Buyers Club could blindside everybody, but more likely it’ll go to this year’s “safe” movie: the undeserving American Hustle.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Who should win: Gravity was merely serviceable in script and acting; its stunning visuals received their strongest emotional support from Steven Price’s score, alternating between tensely minimalist and cosmically exuberant.
Who will win: The manic pixie piano-playing in Her might result in their consolation prize this year.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Who should win: Denmark’s The Hunt is a gripping psychodrama about the fragility of community, but the Palestinian Omar, a bleak examination of an impossibly compromised life, is one of the most quietly wrenching dramas of the year—in any language.
Who will win: Italy’s The Great Beauty measures its glittering visuals of wild parties against the creep of spiritual emptiness (an Academy sweet spot), and it’s more artfully done than Gatsby.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Who should win: A strong field, though big-scope and small-scope can make uneasy bedfellows. The slice-of-life commentary of Cutie and the Boxer, about a woman reclaiming her artistic identity, and the charismatic backstage bios in 20 Feet from Stardom are engaging, but hard to measure against more overtly political The Square, following the Egyptian uprising, or the devastating artifice-as-truth in The Act of Killing.
Who will win: With The Square and 20 Feet from Stardom equally deserving, the nightmare-logic atmosphere of The Act of Killing will probably win out.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Who should win: Tough call. It’s hard to parse any field in which The Croods is a nominee. Miyazaki’s positioned for the career-capper, though The Wind Rises is hardly his best; Frozen has the power of Disney behind it. For sheer charm, Ernest and Celestine could take it, but might not have enough push.
Who will win: The Wind Rises and Frozen will duke this out all the way to the podium.