Acting Oscar nominations often favor the very young and senior citizens. For obvious reasons.
Youth represents the fresh and unexpected; everyone likes a discovery. Older age, conversely, lends itself to touching stories and performances.
Its why 9-year-old Quvanzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) occupied the same best-actress field last year. They both lost, yet youth still was served by 22-year-old winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook).
Nominees at the 86th Academy Awards, airing at 4 p.m. March 2 on ABC, include two septuagenarians (Judi Dench from Philomena and Bruce Dern from Nebraska), an octogenarian (June Squibb, Nebraska) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), who is 64, or in high middle age on the current boomer scale.
But the young end does not go very young, stopping at Lawrence, nominated this year for American Hustle. Instead, theres heavy action in the 35-44 demographic, especially at Jack Bennys ideal age of 39.
Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper from Hustle and Leonardo DiCaprio from The Wolf of Wall Street are 39. Christian Bale from Hustle just turned 40. Sally Hawkins from Blue Jasmine is 37, and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave a year younger.
At the high end of the demographic and important end, since they likely will win are 42-year-old Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and 44-year-olds Matthew McConaughey (Dallas) and Cate Blanchett (Jasmine).
These actors sit in that sweet spot for any industry: Years of experience have honed their skill sets, yet they still have decades of productivity ahead (though McConaughey and especially Bale should lay off the extreme body makeovers).
Among them, they count 24 Oscar nominations, two wins (supporting Oscars for Blanchett for The Aviator and Bale in The Fighter) and box-office successes that have not hampered their artistic impulses.
Their histories are impressive, their futures highly promising. Especially those of four-time acting nominee DiCaprio and five-timer Adams. Though they appear to be out of the running this year, they clearly count many supporters in the Academy and probably will win someday.
More immediately, here are my predictions of who will win a week from today. Each category includes a probable victor based on pre-Oscar critics and Hollywood guild awards, Internet prognostications and instinct along with who I think deserves to win. Whats great this year is how often the will wins and the should wins line up.
The March 2 A&E section will include a complete Oscar ballot with my picks and room for yours in every Oscar category down to sound mixing.
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
Will win: McConaughey. Compare McConaugheys work from 2000-09 with his performances during the past five years. The difference could not be more stark.
In movies such as Sahara, Failure to Launch and Fools Gold, McConaughey fell into all-right all-right all-right self-parody.
In 2011, he dusted off his early indie cred from films like Dazed and Confused in the terrific star vehicle The Lincoln Lawyer. He has rolled out fine performances ever since, in the indie or indie-leaning movies Killer Joe, Bernie, The Paperboy, Magic Mike and Mud.
Sure, he tends to stick to variations of Southern Gothic. But they beat variations of Southern California doofus.
As Ron Woodroof, the hard-partying, 1980s AIDS patient and black-market drug seller (based on a real guy) in Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey offers a portrait of excess, denial, desperation and gradually dawning humanity.
But hes better in Mud and best yet on HBOs current True Detective as a brilliant, haunted Louisiana state police detective.
His Oscar will be cumulative, his reward for pulling off the greatest comeback since John Travoltas in the 1990s.
Should win: Ejiofor
Ejiofors performance is as powerful as McConaugheys but more nuanced. It comes down to how they play outrage.
In Dallas, Ron recognizes FDA feet-dragging on experimental HIV and AIDS drugs and reacts strongly. He makes scenes. Though he is dying and also the subject of prejudice because of his AIDS diagnosis, Ron still has the luxury of being able to speak out.
Ejiofors character, also a real-life figure, lacks that luxury. Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped into slavery in 1841, is apoplectic about his plight at films start but soon learns that protest brings only more and greater degradation. Therefore he must suppress his anger.
But if you look closely, you can see that the outrage Ejiofor visibly wrestled down early in the film persists. It does not raise hell like Rons outrage. It simmers. It, along with memories of a better life, keep Solomon hopeful he can regain his freedom, though little of what he sees in his dozen years in bondage indicates such a possibility.
Plus, the British Ejiofor, wonderful in English (Dirty Pretty Things, Kinky Boots) and American (Talk to Me) movies, never needed to come back from anything.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Will win: Blanchett. This category was decided when Jasmine was released in August. Blanchett has moved through the pre-Oscar awards with an ease rivaled historically only by Helen Mirren and The Queen (2006).
As Jasmine, a socialite whose cushy life is disrupted by her Bernie Madoff-esque husbands imprisonment, Blanchett invites the viewer into her characters troubled interior without trying to make it a comfortable place to stay.
Blanchett reveals that interior not through Jasmines interactions with other characters (Jasmine continues to put on airs despite her downfall), but through her own unflinchingly honest relationship to Woody Allens camera. Blanchetts faraway eyes tell us Jasmine is coming unraveled even before her characters designer clothes fall victim to over-wear.
Should win: Blanchett
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
Will win: Leto. As transgender AIDS patient Rayon, Leto combines a gentle spirit and physical fragility with displays of inner strength.
Laid-back and observant, Letos Rayon makes a lovely foil/friend for McConaugheys manic, reactionary Ron. But Leto gives the character enough steel for Rayon to be just as believable when putting the hammer down with Ron regarding their drug business and Rons bigotry.
Should win: Fassbender. Its no fault of Letos, but Rayon a composite character in a reality-based film sometimes comes across as too angelic to be true.
Fassbenders sadistic plantation owner in 12 Years, by contrast, is based on a real devil and reveals an attendant depth. Fassbender shows how the planter, Edwin Epps, worries for his own soul as he systematically destroys the spirit of field hand Patsey (Lupita Nyongo), whom Epps praises by day and rapes at night.
Fassbender does not shy away from portraying Epps as a monster. But he makes him a three-dimensional monster, highlighting the mans inner torment suggesting guilt and twisted affection within his cruelty along with his vicious behavior.
As played by Fassbender, Epps embodies the pervasive sickness of an economic system that traded in human beings.
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Will win: Nyongo. Yale School of Drama alumna Nyongo, 30, made the most stunning film debut of the year as Patsey, a beautiful young woman whose remarkable physical and spiritual resilience is threatened by a sadistic plantation owner (Fassbender).
Though Nyongo has faced stiff competition from Lawrences wild performance as an unhappy housewife in Hustle (Lawrence won the BAFTA award and Golden Globe), Nyongo won the Screen Actors Guild Award. This bodes well because actors make up the Academys biggest voting bloc.
Much has been made of the physical rigors of Nyongos role, which entailed scenes of great brutality. But smaller moments are just as affecting.
Like one in which Patsey emulates the pinky-up drinking style of the former slave turned plantation mistress (Alfre Woodard) with whom Patsey sits down to tea. Nyongo shows Patseys quiet fascination as this woman offers frank assessments of men like Epps.
And Nyongo devastates in a scene with Ejiofor in which Patsey expresses abject despair.
More even than Ejiofors Solomon, Nyongos Patsey represents the hopelessness of a system in which the owned could do everything right yet still be wronged at will.
Should win: Nyongo
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Will win: Cuarón. The special-effects people helped out, but the vision behind the remarkable cinematic achievement Gravity was Cuaróns.
Cuaróns long, continuous shots established a visual flow that allowed the audience to swing into open space with stranded astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
Gravity succeeds so mightily at creating its world that you accept that world without thinking about whats behind the curtain. But whats behind it are famous actors in harnesses and thousands of details that needed to be ironed out in translating Cuarns (and his co-writer son Jonas) zero-gravity vision to the screen.
A directors job is creative but also highly technical. There was no greater technical achievement in 2013 than Gravity.
Should win: Cuarón
American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten & Melissa Wallack
Her, Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Bob Nelson
Will win: Hustle. Her has its supporters, but that film had one great idea a near future of people so isolated by technology that a man romances a computer operating system and several boring scenes.
Hustle lacks great ideas but includes many fun ones. There are short cons, a long con and at least some basis in American political history: The movies sometimes-ridiculous scenes of corruption come directly from the sometimes-ridiculous 1970s Abscam FBI operation that involved a fake Arab sheikh and netted several lawmakers.
The film zings with energy generated by its performances, Russells direction and a script filled with well-drawn characters and funny lines.
Should win: Hustle
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter
Will win: 12 Years. Ridley kept the formal speech from Solomon Northups 1853 memoir about his time in slavery but none of its politeness. Ridley distilled Northups dozen years in bondage and the slavery system itself down to its inhuman essence, but without simplifying matters.
Should win: 12 Years
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Will win: 12 Years. When you consider its hauntingly beautiful visual composition (director Steve McQueen has an art-world background), superb performances and inherently compelling true story, 12 Years ranks alongside Gravity and Hustle among the years best films.
But it surpasses them in impact. It provokes more thought and more emotion as it sheds light on an aspect of American history many people prefer not to consider.
The only way 12 Years will not win is if Academy voters find it too difficult. It could happen: Last year, Oscar voters chose the tense but humor-inflected Argo over the more topical and dead serious Zero Dark Thirty. In 2006, the Academy picked the life-in-Los Angeles ensemble Crash a film that had some sociocultural resonance at the time but is hard to remember now over Brokeback Mountain, a film for the ages.
Should win: 12 Years. It too is one for the ages.
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.