By Chaz Ebert
I have to admit right up front that I am terrible at guessing who will win the Oscars. The good news is that a lot of worthy people have been nominated, so I will probably be pleased with whomever wins, except for two categories.
I have a firm belief that "12 Years a Slave" should win best picture and that Cate Blanchett should win best actress. So rather than telling you who will win, I will tell you my choices.
Best actor: This is one of my most difficult categories this year because I think all of the nominees turned in exceptional performances.
Christian Bale has a habit of stealing the show in most movies he is in, and "American Hustle" is no exception. Each time he was on screen I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He doesn't just act; he inhabits his characters and imbues them with personalities, tics and attributes that turn them into real people.
I also think highly of Matthew McConaughey and his performance in "Dallas Buyers Club." Some of the most interesting acting in the last few years has come from him.
Bruce Dern in "Nebraska" reminded me of what a fine actor he was and continues to be. This is a movie I know that Roger would have loved, and I am so happy for the accolades Dern is getting in this awards season.
From "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" right up to "The Wolf of Wall Street," I look forward to Leonardo Di Caprio's roles because I know they will be electrifying.
But my choice for best actor is Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave."
This country has a very complicated history with presenting slavery on screen. In some older movies it is shown to be benign or is presented from the view point of the slave owner.
And, in fact, most times it is not presented or talked about much at all, despite the fact that it is one of the most significant events that shaped the history of the United States.
The director Steve McQueen, a black man from England, dared to take on this subject and from the point of view of the slave. And not just any slave — one who was born a free man and who was fraudulently tricked into slavery.
This movie could have stepped wrong in so many ways but Ejiofor's acting kept it at the appropriate pitch throughout. You see his gentlemanly character when living the good life of a free family man, whose musical skills are valued. And you see his horror and frustration when he is enslaved.
But the coup de grace is the gradual progression of his desperation when he realizes no one is interested in his freedom.
Best actress: This is the category that was the easiest for me. Cate Blanchett earned this award, and she will get it. Her unraveling as the deranged Blanche Dubois-like Jasmine was a delight to watch as she descends from a Hamptons society matron to the penniless sister who has to depend on the kindness of strangers.
Let's just hope that the studios have other strong roles for women coming this year that can compete with the brilliant performances given by Amy Adams in "American Hustle"; Meryl Streep in "August, Osage County"; Judi Dench in "Philomena"; and Sandra Bullock in "Gravity."
Best director: This is another difficult category because each of the directors is a bona fide master of his craft. David O. Russell is becoming one of my favorite directors and "American Hustle" was wildly entertaining.
Alfonso Cuaron created magic with the 3-D system in "Gravity" while at the same time giving us a character we could care about.
Martin Scorsese is a national treasure and his "The Wolf of Wall Street" leaves you dazed.
And Alexander Payne is a master at giving us authentic characters with which we empathize.
But my choice is McQueen. I don't always think that the best picture and the best director awards have to match.
But in this case I do.
McQueen's direction in "12 Years a Slave" was strong and assured and gave the movie a wallop, not only for the subject matter, but for the way it was portrayed.
Best picture: Another easy choice for me: "12 Years a Slave."