7 Oscar categories I’m losing sleep over

Marcus Dixon stuck his neck out to discuss the Oscar predictions that will make us question his sanity – indeed, Marcus, indeed – but he’s not the only one having a dark night of the soul over some close contests, as well as contests I think are closer than they’re getting credit for. I don’t know which way I’ll ultimately land on these categories, but here are the races I’m most anxious about:

BEST PICTURE: “12 Years a Slave” vs. “Gravity
Though most of our experts have been predicting “12 Years a Slave” to win Best Picture for some time now, I’ve had my money on “Gravity” since its PGA and DGA wins. But now that BAFTA has selected “12 Years” as its Best Picture, I’m not so confident anymore. BAFTA has agreed with Oscar for the last five years, but Picture/Director splits at the Oscars are also rare — and they’re hard to predict. At this point, this year’s winner will be an anomaly no matter who it is.

BEST EDITING: “Captain Phillips” vs. “Gravity”
I’m joining Marcus on the crazy train – crazy boat, really – picking “Captain Phillips.” It does make sense given its upset win at the ACE Eddie Awards, but only editors vote for those, as opposed to the Oscars, where an industry-wide vote might lead academy members to check off “Gravity” by rote in most technical categories. But if you watch both films, “Phillips” is certainly the most edited, with director Paul Greengrass‘s fast-paced style building towards the tense final rescue of the title character, which cuts rapidly between Phillips and the military team coordinating the operation.

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Greengrass’s editor Christopher Rouse already won an Oscar for Greengrass’s “Bourne Ultimatum” (2007) and was nominated for his “United 93” (2006). And since this is the only category where “Phillips” is likely to be competitive, it might also function as a consolation prize for the six-time nominated film. But a wave of “Gravity” support could still sink this ship.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “The Great Beauty” vs. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” vs. “The Hunt
“Great Beauty” leads our racetrack odds, and I’m picking it by default because it won the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award. I have a hunch it’ll lose, though, and I’m not sure why. “Broken Circle Breakdown” has a heart-tugging story about a marriage and a child’s illness as well as its impressive use of bluegrass music. And “The Hunt” has the star power and acclaim of Mads Mikkelsen‘s lead performance, which won Best Actor at Cannes in 2011. I think one of them will win, but not sure which to choose, and in a year without an obvious choice like “A Separation” (2011) or “Amour” (2012), I’m wary of abandoning the odds-on favorite.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “The Act of Killing” vs. “20 Feet from Stardom” vs. “The Square” vs. “Dirty Wars
I think any of these four films could win – now watch “Cutie and the Boxer” take it. Last year there was a clear consensus: “Searching for Sugar Man” was the only film nominated by almost every industry guild – and won most of them too. This year the guilds disagreed (DGA to “The Square,” ACE Eddies to “20 Feet,” WGA to none of the above), and each film has its own unique strengths.

“Act of Killing” is the most acclaimed, and packs the biggest emotional wallop, if voters can get past how dark it is. “20 Feet” is the feel-good choice, and the background singers it profiles have been promoting the film at numerous events, including the Billboard Power 100 Gala and the YWCA’s Courage to Succeed Award event. “The Square” and “Dirty Wars” are both timely films of geopolitical import, whose urgent subject matter might give one of them the edge.

But this is only the second year voting for Documentary Feature is open to the entire academy, which completely changes the face of the competition, and without clear tea leaves to read, just about anybody could win.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: “The Great Gatsby” vs. “12 Years a Slave”
“Great Gatsby” won the Art Directors Guild Award for period film, as well as the BAFTA Award for Production Design. I think it’s the most deserving nominee in the category, whatever else you might think of the film as a whole, but its polarizing nature is exactly why it’s vulnerable. When all academy members vote in every category, giving Production Design to “Great Gatsby” might feel like a wasted vote if you’re one of the many who strongly dislike it, especially when this is one of the few chances to award “12 Years” below the line. That’s exactly what happened last year when “Lincoln” won this category in a surprise against a similarly divisive ADG winner, “Anna Karenina.”

“Gravity” ranks second in our racetrack odds, but I suspect this may actually be its weakest category, despite winning the ADG Award for fantasy films.

BEST SCORE: “Gravity” vs. “Philomena” vs. “Her
“Gravity” is the presumed favorite, but this is the only real opportunity to honor “Philomena,” and “Her” stands out because it has a rock star in the running (Arcade Fire‘s Will Butler). Any of the three could win.

BEST SONG: “Let It Go” vs. “Ordinary Love
Let it Go” (“Frozen“) is the frontrunner, but the star power of U2 combined with the importance of their film’s subject – the recently deceased Nelson Mandela, whose memoir is the basis of “Long Walk to Freedom” – will be awfully tempting to voters.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: “Gravity” vs. …
Just kidding. It’s likelier for Hollywood to be sucked into space in the middle of Ellen DeGeneres‘s monologue than for “Gravity” to lose this. But at least that’s one prediction we can all count on.

What categories are you wavering on? Predict Best Foreign Language Film below:

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