The 86th annual Academy Awards ceremony is Sunday night on ABC, and 2013 was one of the best years for movies in a long time.
That makes predicting the winners harder than usual.
The year brought tales of romance, heart wrenching drama, triumphant heroism, and some of the most beautiful films ever made, including one serious contender with ties to Billings and Laurel.
After viewing a vast majority these films, sometimes repeatedly, each film brings something entirely special.
Matthew McConaughey, one of the biggest wildcards in Hollywood, delivers the performance of a lifetime as a recently diagnosed HIV patient turned businessman in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
It’s his first Academy Award nomination and he should receive the Oscar for Best Leading Actor.
Christian Bale could also win for his role playing a conman-turned-FBI informant — with cinema’s most unruly comb-over — in “American Hustle.”
And, already passed over three times for an Academy Award, Leonardo DiCaprio could win this time for his very strong performance as a greedy corporate sleaze in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
For Best Leading Actress, Sandra Bullock’s role as a stranded astronaut in “Gravity” is truly one of the best performances of the year. Her strong acting, coupled with the emotional roller coaster she is put through in the film makes it a standout.
If Bullock doesn’t win, Judi Dench’s “Philomena” was heart-wrenching. The audience couldn’t help but feel her pain in this true story of her struggles to find the son that was taken from her more than 50 years earlier.
The Best Supporting Actor category is also close. Michael Fassbender should take home the Oscar for his role as the maniacal plantation owner in “12 Years a Slave.” Jared Leto is a close second as a desperate transgendered HIV victim in “Dallas Buyers Club.” His optimistic desperation in every syllable seems to linger throughout the film.
If there is a surprise winner, “Captain Phillips” actor Barkhad Abdi would definitely be deserving. Not only is this his first Academy Award nomination but his first acting role.
Jennifer Lawrence of “American Hustle” is heavily favored to claim her second Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Although her performance was memorable, the ideal winner would be June Squibb from “Nebraska.” She plays the wife of a mentally rattled Billings resident who is convinced he won a million dollars. Her sense of frustration and occasional glee was a little unsettling and the insults she hurls at her addled husband could make your skin crawl.
As a runner-up, Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of a hopeless slave woman in “12 Years a Slave” is absolutely haunting.
Either “Prisoners” or “Inside Llewyn Davis” should win for Best Cinematography. Both films should have received much more recognition from the Academy.
Best Documentary — a category that is almost ignored — features one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in the last few years, “The Act of Killing.” It was heavily considered the winner before the nominees were even announced.
In terms of Best Visual Effects, expect “Gravity” to be named. It was as beautiful as it was pulse-pounding.
When it comes to Best Director, there isn’t a name on the list that doesn’t belong. Still, my money is on Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity.”
The big category of the evening, Best Picture, is one of the tightest races this year.
One of my favorites is “Her.” Looking past its silly premise, a tale of romance and heartbreak are to be found.
The ultra-realistic approach that “Nebraska” takes is something that works well, given its story.
The true story of “Dallas Buyers Club” is remarkable, and one that showcases adversity in the face of certain death.
Through all of this, there can only be one winner, which I believe will be “12 Years a Slave.” The true story of a free man who is wrongfully stolen from his family and sold into slavery is incredibly powerful. At times, I was trembling in my seat due to the tension and raw emotion displayed on the screen.
Although many of my favorite films were featured, I wish both “Rush” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” would have been recognized. Both films featured an extremely talented cast and were well-received by critics and fans alike.
Travis Leer is the online movie reviewer for The Billings Gazette.