Beware: 11 possible Oscar upsets loom

There seem to be a few foregone conclusions at this year’s Oscars, but it has been a surprising race from the very beginning, so we should prepare ourselves for possible upsets, even in categories we think we know for sure.

1. Best Picture to … “American Hustle“!
What seemed like a three-horse race has narrowed down to two as “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slavehave distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in our racetrack odds, having split the major prizes – DGA to “Gravity”; Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and BAFTA to “12 Years”; and PGA to both!

However, “Hustle” still has all the hallmarks of a winner: all-star cast, box office success ($144 million and counting), nominations in key categories (writing, directing, acting, editing), the most nominations of any film (10, tied with “Gravity”), and the SAG Award for Best Ensemble, which previously predicted the Oscar upsets by “Shakespeare in Love” and “Crash.” “Hustle” may be down, but it’s not out.

2. Best Actor to … Leonardo DiCaprio!
Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“) won the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, and SAG Award, and even when he was out of contention at the BAFTAs, Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street“) still couldn’t win. But DiCaprio and McConaughey haven’t had a head-to-head match-up: the Oscars will be their first time competing against each other, so it’ll be our first chance to see how they measure up in a direct contest.

DiCaprio not only starred in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he’s also nominated as one of its producers, which brings his career total to five Oscar nominations without a win. He’s due, and fans of the film might be even more inclined to support him because of his contribution to the film behind the scenes.

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3. Best Supporting Actor to … Barkhad Abdi!
Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) has won every time he has been nominated for his role as a transgender woman dying of AIDS, but the one time he missed out on a bid – the BAFTAs – we saw an unlikely challenger rise: Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips“).

The academy liked Abdi so much they gave him a bid even though they snubbed his co-star Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass. And “Phillips” has exceeded expectations throughout the awards season, pulling off upsets at the Writers Guild, American Cinema Editors, and Motion Picture Sound Editors.

When upsets happen, it’s usually in the supporting races, and this category has awarded lesser known actors before, like Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields”).

4. Best Supporting Actress to … Jennifer Lawrence!
It would be hard to call this an upset, per se. After winning at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Jennifer Lawrence (“American Hustle“) is certainly within striking distance of SAG champ Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”). But will Lawrence really become the first actor since Tom Hanks to win two years in a row? If Hollywood is still in its honeymoon phase with the young media darling, she just might.

5. Best Adapted Screenplay to … “Philomena“!
This should be an easy win for “12 Years a Slave,” right? It’s the Best Picture frontrunner, and it’s far behind in the Best Director race, so the writing Oscar should be a given, but “12 Years” still lost this category at the BAFTAs to “Philomena.”

That could be dismissed as the British Academy favoring British star Steve Coogan, who by then was already a four-time BAFTA winner for TV, but an Oscar voter who loves “Philomena” may want to support the film in the screenplay category because it’s unlikely to win its two other major bids: Picture and Actress (Judi Dench).

6. Best Editing to … “Captain Phillips”!
“Phillips” has been coming on strong in our racetrack odds since its upset win at the ACE Eddie Awards – half of our editors are now picking it to win, including me – but it still trails “Gravity” overall. It already beat the odds to win several guild awards, so don’t count it out.

7-8. Best Production Design and Best Costume Design to … “12 Years a Slave”!
The Great Gatsby” is the frontrunner to win both categories, but will voters give two Oscars to a movie they’re not that keen on? It’s possible. Other films relegated to craft categories have won multiple prizes (“The Matrix,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Alice in Wonderland”), but either category might also be an opportunity to award “12 Years,” which voters like better overall. “Gatsby” already lost the Costume Designers Guild Award to “12 Years,” so we know it’s vulnerable.

9. Best Original Song to … “Ordinary Love“!
U2 have been everywhere promoting their new single, “Invisible,” from their upcoming album, and in the meantime also shilling hard for their Oscar-nominated song from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” including an acoustic performance on the premiere episode of Jimmy Fallon‘s “Tonight Show.” Might that kind of exposure be enough to overtake frontrunner “Let It Go” from “Frozen“?

10. Best Foreign Film to … “The Broken Circle Breakdown“!
The Great Beauty” has the best odds, but “Broken Circle” is a sentimental drama about a bluegrass-singing couple with a sick daughter. The music helps it stand out from its competition, and sentimentality has won out before in this category (“The Barbarian Invasions,” “Departures,” “In a Better World”). Not to be underestimated.

11. Best Documentary to … “The Square“!
Our odds indicate a tight race between BAFTA-winner “The Act of Killing” and the feel-good musical film “20 Feet from Stardom,” but “The Square,” about Egyptian revolutionaries, has saturated the media in recent weeks and is especially relevant given the recent uprising in Ukraine. It not only feels important, it feels important right now, and it has already pulled off one major upset: winning the DGA Award.

What do you think is going to win Best Picture? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Come back and change your predictions as often as you like till Oscar night, March 2. 

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