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Oscars 2014: Peter Travers Picks Who Should (And Will) Win

In the tightest race in years, the question is: Can anyone take down the box-office and critical smash that is 'Gravity'?
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american hustle
Francois Duhamel/Sony Pictures

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Best Picture

Nominees:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Faves: Sure, there are nine movies nominated for Best Picture, but if you're not Gravity, American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave, consider yourself A-Rod: You're not playing this season. Ever since the Academy started increasing the number of contenders from five to as many as 10 (to spread, what, the wealth of chances to boost your box office?), the unwieldy list of nominees has cheapened the process. So let's cut it down for you. When the Best Picture Oscar is doled out on March 2nd, the odds will favor Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, the acclaimed space epic with a gross ($262 million) that's more than its two top rivals combined. The downside is that, with the exception of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Academy traditionally shafts fantasy and sci-fi for the big prize. From 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars to District 9 and Inception, fantasy spells defeat. Cheery news for David O. Russell's wildly entertaining and expertly acted comedy, American Hustle. But wait, comedy is a genre Oscar sniffs at nearly as often as sci-fi. The Woody Allen win for Annie Hall was almost four decades ago. Enter Steve McQueen's brilliant and brutal 12 Years a Slave, which radiates Oscar-friendly gravitas. The catch is that the film's violence turns off Academy blue-noses, some of whom may never allow such suffering to stream into their consciousness. There you have it: 6,000-odd (I use the term advisedly) Oscar voters trying to pound their prejudices into a consensus. No wonder it's such a bitch to get all categories right in the office Oscar betting pool.

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