Although they don't get a lot of attention in Washington, DC, the Oscars are still an election. I'm attracted to them for a lot of the same reasons I am politics, but I admit they can be inaccessible for the uninitiated. First and foremost, it just isn't any fun to follow elections where you don't know what's going on. In politics, this is a problem fixed by people who handicap elections for us and provide the proper context: the Cook Political Reports of the world. If only someone would do that for the Oscars.
Well, luckily, I've been following this year's Oscars race as closely as if they were a Colorado recall election. Below are my own Cook-esque "ratings" of each of the 24 Oscar races—complete with "leans," "likelies," and "tossups." Now, note that these represent not my personal picks (which in some cases differ), but rather my view on where the conventional wisdom lies for each category. My hope is that, when you tune into the Oscars on Sunday night, these ratings serve as a viewers' guide to how well the night is staying on script.
Best Picture: Leans 12 Years a Slave
On a night that should otherwise feature few surprises, this may very well be the most competitive Best Picture race in years. 12 Years a Slave is seen as favored, but quite a few pundits (myself included) are picking Gravity, and American Hustle was also seen early on as a potential dark horse.
Best Director: Solid Alfonso Cuarón
Cuarón faces no realistic competition. His Gravity was so technically heavy, and reliant on his vision, that no one in Hollywood doesn't think he deserves this.
Best Actor: Solid Matthew McConaughey
The star of Dallas Buyers Club has swept the precursor prizes, although at least one pundit is picking Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street. But there's no reason to think McConaughey has slipped up or done anything to cough this up.
Best Actress: Solid Cate Blanchett
Not even the controversy surrounding Woody Allen can screw this up for Blanchett.
Best Supporting Actor: Solid Jared Leto
Leto's performance as a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club is the stuff Oscar loves. If Michael Fassbender hadn't refused to campaign for his role in 12 Years a Slave, we might have had a race, but he did and we don't.
Best Supporting Actress: Likely Lupita Nyong'o
The one acting category that's even remotely competitive. This looked safe for Nyong'o for a long time, but Jennifer Lawrence has picked up steam in some observers' eyes, and momentum is important in Academy races.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Solid 12 Years a Slave
An easy win for the Best Picture favorite in a race where it doesn't have to face its two biggest rivals, neither of which qualified in this category.
Best Original Screenplay: Tossup
This is a good old-fashioned horse race between American Hustle and Her—the former the Best Picture juggernaut, the latter the quirky low-budget film this category loves.
Best Animated Feature: Solid Frozen
Or Frozen solid. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Best Foreign Language Film: Likely The Great Beauty
Best Documentary Feature: Leans 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Cinematography: Solid Gravity
Best Costume Design: Leans The Great Gatsby
Best Film Editing: Leans Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Solid Dallas Buyers Club
Best Production Design: Likely The Great Gatsby
Best Original Score: Solid Gravity
Best Original Song: Likely "Let It Go"
Best Sound Editing: Solid Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Solid Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Solid Gravity
Best Documentary Short: Solid The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Best Live-Action Short: Leans The Voorman Problem
Best Animated Short: Solid Get a Horse!