For the third straight year, I watched all of the 9 best picture nominees, as well as a couple other nominees (this year only cinematography/sound mixing nom Inside Llewyn Davis and original score nom Saving Mr. Banks). Still, that means I saw all but three of the nominees for the big 8 awards (August Osage County with nominees Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, Blue Jasmine with an original screenplay nomination to go with Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, and adapted screenplay nominee Before Midnight). So to start with, here are my personal choices on the big eight awards, with those I did not see unranked.
Philomena (and from what I've heard, Before Midnight) are the more talk-y script-heavy movies, but 12 Years a Slave is the best written of the four I saw, fairly easily.
Her is the most original screenplay, and while that is not exactly what the award is for, it's clever and fun and I would like to see it get honored.
Hill and especially Cooper are not in the same class as the top three, and Leto is a bit overrated. Abdi is a revelation in his first film, but Fassbender is also excellent in 12 Years.
This is not really close. To me, Nyong'o is the emotional force in 12 Years, far beyond what Ejiofor does. Squibb is fun, but Margot Robbie does a better job in Wolf of Wall Street doing what Lawrence does in American Hustle.
Christian Bale being here is a joke. Bruce Dern should be in the supporting actor category; he was very good but Will Forte was the leading actor in Nebraska (and excellent in it). Ejiofor is solid, but it feels like there are many actors who could have been just as strong in that role. These are the defining roles of both McConaughey's and DiCaprio's career, and I just preferred McConaughey's performance.
The fact that the single biggest non-Blanchett reason that Sandra Bullock will not win an Oscar for Gravity is that she won for The Blind Side is incredibly silly. The performance Bullock gives, mostly alone, through Gravity is outstanding.
I do not know if it was a directorial or editorial problem, but both Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle seemed to drag on forever for me. Payne does a good job with Nebraska, but it does not hold a candle to the top two. As well made as 12 Years a Slave is, McQueen is stuck in the wrong year. Gravity is such an incredible directorial achievement that Cuaron is a lock here even for many who have 12 Years as the best picture.
I, however, do not have 12 Years as my best picture. I did not hate any of these movies, but I truly enjoyed the top seven here. Hustle is fun but meaningless, and Wolf of Wall Street could have been an hour shorter and still too long. Dallas Buyers Club has a tremendous performance but sort of a generic-Oscar bait story, and generic-Oscar bait is certainly a phrase that can be used for the sweet, and surprisingly funny Philomena. Movies 2 through 5 could be mixed in almost any order for me, but Captain Phillips stuck with me the most, while Her and Nebraska seemed like far more unique films than 12 Years. Gravity, however, is in a class of its own, a stunning technical, directorial, and acting experience. It was my clear number one.
That's who I like, but here is who I think will win in each category. Most of these I have no expertise, and I am following some combination of my preference, expert picks, and what seems the most Oscars-y. My best picture pick is so close, I flipped it several times before writing this, and I could switch several more times between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity before the ceremony tonight.