Oscar 8 Ball: 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Her' could land academy gold

Will academy voters reward or reject your favorite movies and performances? Time again to consult the Oscar 8 Ball for answers.


It is certain: The movie's one slam-dunk nomination comes from Jared Leto's supporting turn as the transgender woman Rayon, who partners with Matthew McConaughey's homophobic, HIV-diagnosed hell-raiser and forces him to rethink his prejudices. Leto's dramatic transformation in the role has made him one of the favorites to win the supporting actor Oscar. It's likely between him and "12 Years a Slave" standout Michael Fassbender, and with a role that wins the audience's sympathies (that scene when Rayon puts on a suit and meets with her father to ask for money is devastating), Leto should be considered the front-runner. Also helping his cause: Leto has been making the rounds on talk shows and academy and guild screenings, letting people know how happy he is to be acting again after taking a long break to focus on music.

Most likely: If you've seen the movie or paid even peripheral attention to the reviews, you know McConaughey is pretty good too. Both actors dropped significant weight for their roles, but the performances are so authentic and immersive that there's little thought of any kind of gimmick at work. They did what they needed to do and they did it extremely well. Like Leto, McConaughey possesses an appealing narrative for voters. Fellow actors can't help but be impressed — and maybe a little inspired — by his commitment to reinventing his career, transforming himself from a rom-com leading man to an acclaimed actor. In a crowded lead actor field, that back story, combined with his on-screen excellence, likely lands him a nomination.

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Don't count on it: The movie's Oscar appeal probably ends with the two high-profile acting noms. The film has been at the edge of the best picture conversation, but voters haven't embraced it with enough passion to put it among the likely nominees. The original screenplay, by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, could sneak in, though the competition in that category is fierce and filled with academy favorites (Woody Allen, the Coens).

Total nominations: 2


You may rely on it: Spike Jonze's one Oscar nomination came for directing "Being John Malkovich." Charlie Kaufman wrote that film and its follow-up, "Adaptation," winning screenplay nominations for both movies. With "Her," the story of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falling for Samantha, an intuitive computer operating system, Jonze is the writer and director, and could well pick up nominations in each category. The movie's beautifully imagined, beguiling love story would seem to be a surefire hit with writers-branch voters. And Jonze's previous nomination for directing indicates he has his admirers in that branch as well, and they may opt to reward him again for a work that some will see as more focused than that of other contenders.

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Outlook good: If Jonze does win nominations for writing and directing, a best picture recognition wouldn't be far behind. The movie has been feted by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. as well as the National Board of Review, putting it squarely in the minds of voters. K.K. Barrett's sleek, modernistic production design also went over well with L.A. critics, though it might be too understated to register with voters' ideas for the future. (What? No flying cars?) But it deserves consideration, as does Hoyte Van Hoytema's intimate cinematography, Arcade Fire's gorgeous score and Karen O's lovely original composition, "The Moon Song." We'd like to think at least one of these contributions would pop with voters.

Very doubtful: Scarlett Johansson's vocal turn as Samantha stands as one of the year's most fully realized performances, but that won't matter to actors branch members disinclined to reward a performance not seen on-screen. And though Phoenix, with his work here and in "The Master" last year, is making a persuasive case for his place among the world's great actors, he probably will fall short of repeating in the lead actor category. It's just crazy crowded this year. Ask McConaughey.

Total nominations: 3


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