By Amanda Dyslin
---- — I've always made a big night of the Oscars — a little vino, Oscar ballot checked off and at the ready, at least three hours of pre-ceremony red carpet action.
Tonight, however, will be extra special. All of the above certainly will still be in effect at Casa de Dyslin. But having been right there at the entrance to the Dolby Theatre just a few days ago — right where Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence and George Clooney step from their limos — I will feel so much more connected. (I attended a journalism conference in Los Angeles and took in the sites while I was there.)
I mean, as an ordinary Minnesotan, standing outside the Dolby and fogging up the glass — straining desperately to catch a glimpse of something, anything, like a rolled-up red carpet or maybe a cleaning lady — you likely won't get much closer than that to actually attending the Academy Awards, right?
And so, as such, this year I feel uniquely qualified to predict the outcome of the 86th-annual Oscars, simply given the fact that my presence near the sacred grounds in Hollywood has made me at one with the event and its many famous guests.
Here's what the Academy Spirits whispered to me on the Santa Ana winds last week:
Nominees: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Who will win: The gravitas-loving Academy will give it to “12 Years a Slave,” and probably should. I've gone back and forth between the brilliant ensemble dramedy “American Hustle” and “12 Years” as my favorite film this year.
“Hustle” is the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld and his lover/partner Sydney Prossner, who are coerced into working for the FBI. Offering a completely new perspective on slavery in the United States, “12 Years” is the story of free black man Solomon Northup who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Both are effective period pieces. Both have casts full of brilliant actors playing believable characters. Both are based on true stories in America's history that few people know about. But “12 Years” has the emotional edge on “Hustle,” and I expect it to be the big winner tonight.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: Christian Bale ("American Hustle"), Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave"), Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club")
Who will win: Matthew McConaughey was brilliant in “Dallas Buyers Club,” which was another contender for my favorite movie of the year. McConaughey had to lose more than 45 pounds to play the role of a homophobic rodeo cowboy who learns he has HIV and 30 days to live at the start of the film. But let's forget the weight loss for a second.
Not so long ago McConaughey was starring in shallow and trite rom-coms, cashing checks and keeping his massive acting potential hidden away. Several years ago he made the decision to start taking some chances and forget about the Benjamins for a while in the name of honing his craft and feeling challenged.
I'm so glad he did. McConaughey's portrayal of Ron Woodroof is just one example of brilliant characters he's breathed life into recently (see “Mud,” “Magic Mike” and HBO's “True Detective”). I'd like to see him rewarded for it, and I think he will be.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominees: Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County")
Who will win: When Awards Season was just getting started in January, nobody was talking about Woody Allen's “Blue Jasmine,” so I wasn't sure the film would have enough momentum to shed proper light on Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the title character.
As the season unfolded, I was so glad to see I was mistaken. Blanchett — who plays a New York socialite in the middle of a nervous breakdown as her life of privilege falls apart — is an absolute force of nature in this film, and she's been recognized for it.
She's picked up a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a Screen Actors Guild award, among others, and tonight she'll pick up her second Oscar. (Her first was for “The Aviator” in 2004.)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips"), Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle"), Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave"), Jonah Hill ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club")
Who will win: I can't see anything stopping the Jared Leto train; he's won pretty much every award this year for his transgender character, Rayon, who is drug-addicted and dying of AIDS.
A big part of me, the part that revels in nostalgia, will be happy to see him take the stage. His rebel-without-a-cause character Jordan Catalano in the short-lived series “My So-Called Life” awakened my teenage heart once upon a time.
But I do have to admit, when I really examine the performance, the weight loss, fishnet tights, makeup and wigs did a lot of the heavy lifting for Leto as Rayon. Take away all of those things and you're left with a Southern lilt and not a lot of depth.
Leto will win. But my personal pick is for Michael Fassbender for his portrayal of the disgusting, slave-owning Edwin Epps. Talk about heavy lifting.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine"), Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle"), Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave"), Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County"), June Squibb ("Nebraska")
Who will win: Lupita Nyong'o will take home the Oscar for “12 Years a Slave.”
This is the category I wasn't too excited about this year. Every one of these actresses' performances were good, and arguably, given the subject matter that she had to take on, Nyong'o was a cut above. But I wasn't blown away.
Watch the Academy Awards at 7 p.m. today on ABC. Follow @AmandaDyslin on Twitter tonight for her thoughts on the red carpet and ceremony, and for her predictions on the other categories.