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The Arguments Against the Oscar Frontrunners

Oscar Frontrunners
(Getty Images)A super competitive awards season comes to a close tonight, and while some of these races already feel like foregone conclusions, there are still good reasons to choose the second or sometimes even third-ranked nominees when making your final Oscar pool picks. With that in mind, here's a little intelligence to help you look like a plugged in pro when you choose Amy Adams over Cate Blanchett or Gravity over 12 Years a Slave.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave
(Fox Searchlight)The movie's critics (perhaps most famously and most dubiously Armond White), have accused Steve McQueen of making a movie mostly concerned with shocking and disgusting its audience through depictions of violence and degradation. This "torture porn" argument against the movie has been quietly hanging around since its premiere. There's also a chance Oscar voters just found the movie's subject matter so unpleasant they either didn't watch it or picked a more enjoyable movie in its place.

Finally there's Harvey Weinstein's take on the movie. The producer (widely regarded as the most expert Oscar campaigner in the game) had this to say about it. "To me, Django Unchained is a political masterpiece. I liked 12 Years A Slave, but Quentin covered a lot of that ground first, and dealt with violence, slavery and oppression, shining a light on the American holocaust, as he called it."

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuaron
(Getty Images)Gravity is the work of an auteur at the top of his game, but even so, director Alfonso Cuarón could find himself Oscar-less Sunday night. The most likely scenario would be if Oscar voters decide 12 Years a Slave is so important it deserves to win across the board, triggering a sweep in nearly all the major categories. Of course, there's also an outside chance Oscar voters decided to vote on a director who was working on a larger scale and pick either 12 Years or American Hustle. After all, David O. Russell is obviously deserving of an Oscar considering the prestige of his last three movies (American HustleSilver Linings Playbook, and The Fighter), and it would be wise to honor him sooner rather than later for a lesser picture.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett
(Getty Images)After winning nearly every Best Actress award of the season, Cate Blanchett could still be seen as vulnerable at the Oscars for two key reasons. First is the backlash against Woody Allen. Controversy around the Blue Jasmine director flared back up this year over allegations that he sexually abused adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. Dylan asked in an open letter (published in the New York Timeson the subject, "What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?" When confronted with the essay by Jeffrey Wells (of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com) at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Blanchett said, "It's obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace."

The second argument emphasizes the momentum behind American Hustle. The movie's late awards season release helped Amy Adams secure an unexpected spot in the Best Actress race, and may carry her onto a Dark Horse win. Meanwhile momentum has flagged considerably behind Blue Jasmine. It might also help that Amy Adams is the only Best Actress nominee who hasn't previously won an Oscar. Her first-timer status may win her the extra votes she needs to win.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey
(Getty Images)Riding high on a mid-career resurgence, Matthew McConaughey seems poised to win his first Oscar tonight. If he doesn't, the award will most likely go to Bruce Dern for Nebraska. Dern, who at 77 has never won an Oscar, may win votes from an Academy voting body that skews old (and white, and male). After all, it might be the last time the aging actor gets a shot at the award, and McConaughey will undoubtedly have other opportunities. It doesn't hurt that Dern has made himself very available to media outlets, campaigning practically since the movie's premiere. (Even we got to talk to him!)

The other possibility is that McConaughey loses to Chiwetel Ejiofor who would most likely win in a 12 Years a Slave sweep scenario.
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o
Lupita Nyong'o
(Getty Images)Jennifer Lawrence is still a serious threat for Best Supporting Actress. Lupita Nyong'o took frontrunner status after her SAG win (the most accurate predictor of Oscar victory), but Lawrence won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, and she has late-season momentum on her side. That's why this is probably the most interesting race of the night.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto
Jared Leto
(Getty Images)After winning nearly every Best Supporting Actor award in existence, Jared Leto seems poised for an Oscar win, but it's still a very competitive field with Michael Fassbender running a close second for 12 Years a Slave. It bodes poorly for Leto, who plays a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club, that he's failed to win support from the trans community. Time magazine's Steve Friess warns that the praise for Leto's performance will seem offensively self-congratulatory 10, 20, and even 30 years later, akin to honoring Hattie McDaniel's portrayal of Mammie in Gone with the Wind. McDaniel's house slave has since become a prime example of Hollywood's not-so-proud history of piecing together inadvertently racist characters from outdated clichés and stereotypes. It's doubtful those arguments have resonated with, or even been heard by, the majority of Academy voters, but they're out there, and they could torpedo Leto's Oscar hopes.
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