A-listers abound among Oscar nominees

Jared Leto as Rayon in 'Dallas Buyers Club.'
Jared Leto as Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club."

Why, isn't this a starry Oscars ceremony! Leo and Julia and Christian and Sandra and Bradley and Jennifer. It's like a People magazine come to life.

Even better, it's a real competition for the top prize this year. The movies are that good.

Let's break down the categories.

BEST PICTURE: "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years a Slave," "The Wolf of Wall Street."

What a line-up. It was a good year for quality filmmaking, folks; movies like "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" that would have easily earned nominations in other years were locked out.

And when was the last time that the best picture category was a three-way race? "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" are all in the hunt this year. "American Hustle" was a fun ride. "Gravity" was a unique and thrilling experience. But "12 Years a Slave" had a depth and historic importance that should push it over the edge to be named best picture.

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."

I'd cast my vote for Ejiofor or Bale. Ejoifor gave the most eloquent performance here. Bale morphed into a whole different being - not just with the paunch and the comb-over, but with his gait and his speech patterns. Both were genius.

But McConaughey has had a tremendous run recently - think about his roles not only in "Dallas Buyers Club" but also in "Mud" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." He has made an amazing career U-turn from being rom-com roadkill to acclaimed actor, and I predict he'll be rewarded for that. However, I will ask you this question: If he hadn't lost 40-plus pounds for this role, would his performance have been enough to win an Oscar?

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

Cate the Great is a lock, and deservedly so, embodying a modern-day Blanche DuBois in full meltdown. (And the Woody Allen issue shouldn't much affect the voter response to her performance.)

In related business: It's a shame the very deserving Emma Thompson didn't get a nod for her nuanced work in "Saving Mr. Banks."

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

Oh, Jonah Hill, what sorcery did you use to secure your second - second! - Oscar nod? Was it blackmail or bribery? Ponder this: Jonah Hill has now been nominated twice for an Oscar, while talents like Gary Oldman has only been nominated once. What a crazy, upside-down world we live in. In any case ... Leto was a revelation as Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club," and he will win.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"; Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"; Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; June Squibb, "Nebraska."

Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globe. Lupita Nyong'o won the SAG Award. It's a close call. But Nyong'o has proven to be such a gracious, lovely presence on the awards circuit - and her performance in "12 Years a Slave" is so deeply felt - that she could well be the victor.

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

"Gravity" could have gone so wrong. But, thanks to Cuaron, it was game-changing piece that put moviegeors in outerspace. It worked as a pulse-pounding thriller, a special-effects showcase, and a riveting human drama. He'll win.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"; Billy Ray, "Captain Phillips"; Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, "Philomena"; John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"; Terence Winter, "The Wolf of Wall Street."

This category is a real toss-up. I vote for "12 Years a Slave" - and I just hope they don't give it to the mammoth mess that is "The Wolf of Wall Street."

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, "American Hustle"; Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"; Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, "Dallas Buyers Club"; Spike Jonze, "Her"; Bob Nelson, "Nebraska."

Spike Jonze's "Her" was so wholly original and so fully realized, it deserves the trophy - especially since Jonze wasn't even nominated for his superlative job directing "Her."

The Academy Awards are telecast at 7 tonight on ABC.

Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett in 'Blue Jasmine.'
Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."
Nominees Christian Bale and Amy Adams in 'American Hustle.'
Nominees Christian Bale and Amy Adams in "American Hustle."


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