BBC Culture

The Oscar nominations: What history says will win

About the author

Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

  • Best Picture

    Likely to win: 12 Years a Slave

    The demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tend toward the elderly, and there have been reports of grumbling within its ranks that Steve McQueen's film is "too brutal". But whatever misgivings members may have, those are not likely to prevent the searing tale of Solomon Northup from taking the top prize – the Academy will not want to be seen as "out of touch" by not recognising a landmark depiction of a historical tragedy. Just as they awarded another empathetic masterpiece 20 years ago, Schindler's List, they'll give it 12 Years a Slave.

    Worthy but likely to lose: Her

    Spike Jonze's film is both brainy and warm, socially critical and deeply humane. But the Academy has never cared for science-fiction and its elderly, technology-averse voters will be completely put off by the concept of a human/computer romance no matter how delicately it has been realised. (PR handouts)

  • Best Actor

    Likely to win: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers' Club)

    The Academy loves to see intense physical commitment from an actor: gain or lose a lot of weight and your odds of winning go up. But what it loves even more is a compelling narrative: McConaughey's turnaround from shirtless rom-com pretty boy to serious actor - a role-reversal Academy favorite Sean Penn once managed - is appealing. It may result in him usurping even 12 Years a Slave's Chiwetel Ejiofor.

    Worthy but likely to lose: Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

    Several high-profile film critics called Dern a leading contender for best actor after his performance in Nebraska drew raves at Cannes. But his prospects have diminished since then. "Career victory lap" Oscars for ageing performers who haven't previously won – as Dern hasn't – have not materialised in recent years for such revered Oscar-less thespians as Peter O'Toole, Emmanuelle Riva and Max von Sydow. (PR handouts)

  • Best Actress

    Likely to win: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

    She is an Academy favourite, having already been nominated five times and having snatched the best supporting actress Oscar for The Aviator. And recent best actress winners have played characters with over-the-top personalities that border on insanity: just think of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Kate Winslet in The Reader. It's a tradition that stretches all the way back to Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, a film that serves as the template for Blue Jasmine.

    Worthy but likely to lose: Judi Dench (Philomena)

    Judi Dench's thoughtful, subtly moving performance as a mother searching for the son she was forced to give up for adoption decades earlier may not provide the kind of showy emotional fireworks the Academy voters appear to be looking for these days. (PR handouts)

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Likely to win: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

    Lawrence is perhaps the most famous movie star in the world today. Last year, she scooped the best actress award – but the Academy has no problem giving out back-to-back Oscars to performers it adores: Luise Rainer won in 1936 and '37, Spencer Tracy in '37 and '38, Katharine Hepburn in '67 and '68 and Tom Hanks in '93 and '94.

    Worthy but likely to lose: Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)

    Like Barkhad Abdi, Nyong'o just doesn't have the name recognition that is usually needed to take home the prize. But her performance as horrifically abused slave Patsey is in many ways the heart of director Steve McQueen's film. More than that, 12 Years a Slave is Nyong'o's debut film. Only two performers in the past 20 years have won best supporting actress for their first film: Anna Paquin for The Piano in 1994 and Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls in 2007. (PR handouts)

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Likely to win: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers' Club)

    Like McConaughey, Leto's extreme weight loss will impress Academy voters. The fact that his transformation made him nearly unrecognisable – the male equivalent of Charlize Theron's total body-swap in Monster, which won her best actress – helps even more. And like McConaughey, Leto has a great story: he hadn't acted for six years before donning Rayon's heels.

    Worthy but likely to lose: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

    But having a great story of transformation only works if we know the actor already. Abdi, a Somali refugee, worked as a limousine driver in Minneapolis before getting the part as Tom Hanks' pirate captor in Captain Phillips. He makes a character that could have been one-dimensional stunningly believable. But, like 2011 best actor nominee Demián Bichir (A Better Life), he won't have the name-recognition to get the votes. (PR handouts)

  • Best Director

    Likely to win: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

    Gravity provides all the visual razzle dazzle that the Academy has been looking for in its best director winners of late - Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) all took the prize for technically demanding, effects-heavy films. Looking further back, films containing challenging set-pieces like 1959's Ben-Hur (with its chariot race) have landed their directors a gold statuette.

    Worthy but likely to lose: David O Russell (American Hustle)

    American Hustle isn't as obviously eye-popping as Gravity, but it was no less a directorial challenge. Russell had to modulate the performances from a vast ensemble of actors and replicate a '70s aesthetic that could have tended to cliché. But it is the kind of movie that can be regarded as an actors' showcase, not a director's. That charge has prevented major figures from Orson Welles to Russell himself, whose only previous nominations came for The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, from taking home the prize. (PR handouts)