Rule #1: Watching the films nominated for the Oscars absolutely does not help you accurately predict who will win the Oscars
Rule #2: Paying attention to websites watching Oscar voters will help you accurately predict the winners. In fact, I'd posit that someone who has watched none of the nominated films but has followed Oscar Watch for the last two months will do miles better than a film fan who has been running around like a mad bastard trying to get all the nominated films in front of their face so as to be "educated" when they cast their ballot.
Rule #3: When in doubt, go with the assumption that the largest block of voters will act less like curators of quality film and more like high school students electing a prom court.
I haven't watched all the movies that have been nominated. I've seen less than half of them, in fact. This makes me more educated on what's been nominated than large swaths of the Academy. And since I'm cleanly divorced from the idea that the distribution of these treasured golden dildoes is based on merit, predicting the Oscars is an entirely mercenary exercise. Which it should be, if you're going to get the most enjoyment out of the glittery gladhandjob erupting this coming Sunday.
After the jump, your Oscar Ballot Cheat Sheet. Follow it closely if you want to clean up at whatever party you're attending (we suggest either the Hollywood Theatre's shindig, or ShanRock's Trivia and viewing party), and read my explanations as to why these are the smart picks, and therefore you should trust me because I'm hardly wrong about anything. Ever. Really.
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature Film: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: The Hunt
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Luzbeki, Gravity
Best Editing: Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Best Costume Design: Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
Best Original Song: Kristen Anderson Lopez, Robert Lopez, Let it Go from Frozen
Best Sound Mixing: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro, Gravity
Best Sound Editing: Glenn Freemantle, Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Gravity
Best Documentary Feature: Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen, The Act of Killing
Best Documentary Short: Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed, The Lady in Number 6
Best Animated Short: Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim, Get a Horse
Best Live Action Short: Xavier Legrand, Just Before Losing Everything
The Whys and Wherefores:
The Academy doesn't reward comedies when they can reward a very serious film instead. So comedies like Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle are right out. So are sci-fi films, and movies with concepts that are generally "weird." Those sorts of movies are relegated to Screenplay nominations, typically. That's their consolation prize. This is why 12 Years will take Best Picture. I don't think they're going to split Picture and Director, either. Rewarding the film is a message in and of itself (much like Crash was when it won), giving Steve McQueen and John Ridley statues will underline that message: the Academy is a thoughtful, compassionate group of people. They're not, but they really like pretending that they are. These are people who appreciate the power of narrative, especially if that narrative is about them and can make them feel good about themselves. The quality of the film is secondary to its ability to help deliver that message.
So why Matthew McConaughey instead of Chiwetel Ejiofor, then? Because the Academy also loves the idea of rewarding those who are "due." The concept of "due" is huge among voters, and the McConnaissance is perfectly timed. People just like that guy, and he's turning in the best work of his career, and it's impossible to ignore him thanks to his role on True Detective. In fact, this might be the first time a television show has gotten a guy an Oscar.
Along those same lines, I think Jennifer Lawrence and Sandra Bullock pick up statues due to the fact voters just like those people, and when it comes to the actor categories, the balance of "that person was nice to me," and "they're due" are the two major factors more often than not, and there aren't two women in Hollywood who are as well liked as Lawrence and Bullock. My feeling is that Cate Blanchett could have had a shot, but all the Woody Allen shit has introduced a level of awkward to the proceedings that nobody really wants to shine much of a spotlight on, especially once word started circulating that Blue Jasmine is essentially Allen's personal Mia Farrow fan-fic.
Then again: They still gave Roman Polanski an award, and then they gave him an ovation, even though he wasn't there to recieve the statue or the accolades thanks to extradition laws. So I might be wrong on that one.
Cinematography seems a weird choice, considering how much of the film is constructed in a computer, but the Academy has no problems rewarding films that look pretty, whether or not there was anything real for the Director of Photography to actually shoot. And Emmanuel Luzbeki is a recognizable name, and Gravity is a really pretty film. So essentially: "Oh! That movie was beautiful! I know that dude, I think. He wins."
I'm picking American Hustle for Best Costume Design because it seems that (in keeping with most Oscar tradition) showiness beats out legitimate quality, and there is nothing quite as showy in this category as the shit David O. Russell's Justice League had to rock in that movie. Added bonus: A large number of Academy voters are of the age where they wore that shit voluntarily and unironically in the '70s. I feel like Makeup and Hairstyling will go to Dallas Buyers Club mostly because voters won't want to put a checkmark next to Jackass or The Lone Ranger if they don't have to, and they don't.
For the documentary/shorts categories, it's a matter of "Have I at least heard of the title? No? Does the title sound inspiring-ish? Maybe? What does the trailer look like. Okay." It seems rather uninformed. It is. It's also a fair representation of how Academy voters will mark their own ballots.
Feel free to vary from this list at your own peril, but I guarantee the only 100%, no-way-this-goes-wrong locks are Frozen for Best Animated Feature, and Let it Go for Best Song.
...and now it's stuck in your head again.
Good luck with the rest of your day.