Once again, it’s time to present our year in advance predictions for the 2014 Academy Awards. Our track record continues to be quite good. Last year, we predicted five of the nine eventual Best Picture nominees, including the Best Picture winner (Argo, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty)! In 2010, we predicted both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor winners (Colin Firth, Christian Bale) and in 2011, we predicted the Best Actress winner (Meryl Streep). This year, we aim to put out our most successful predictions to date.  So after careful deliberation, here we go with our 2014 Oscar predictions.

2014 Best Picture Nominees:

The Wolf of Wall Street:

It’s hard not to like this film. Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo Dicaprio in a story about greed and corporate misfeasance. The supporting cast includes Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, and Jonah Hill. The film’s recently announced release date of November 15th (right in the heart of awards season) may also tell you a thing or two about its prospects. This is a lock for a nomination if there ever was one.

August: Osage County:

It’s a widely acclaimed adaptation of a famed theatrical play about a family coping with the sudden disappearance of their alcoholic patriach. The stellar cast includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin and the film is produced by last year’s Oscar winners George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Add in distribution by The Weinstein Company and how can you miss?

Foxcatcher:

Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) directs Steve Carell in a true story about paranoid schizophrenic millionaire John Du Pont, who is convicted of murdering an Olympic gold-medal winning wrestler. This change of pace for comedic actor Carell may prove rewarding. Think “Milk” crossed with “A Beautiful Mind.”

Nebraska:

This father/son road trip dramedy from Alexander Payne, director of Sideways and The Descendants, looks to have a leg up on the competition. Payne is excellent in crafting original, unforgettable characters and situations and the Academy has been very kind to him (his last two films garnered Best Picture nominations).

The Butler:

Lee Daniels burst onto the scene as the director of “Precious,” in 2009, which earned Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Monique) and Best Adapted Screenplay. This time, he’s spearheading a very intriguing film about Eugene Allen, the real life butler who served eight US Presidents over the course of three decades. The cast includes Forest Whitaker as Allen, Oprah Winfrey as his wife, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, John Cusack as Nixon, and Robin Williams as Eisenhower.

Untitled David Russell Abscam Project:

Here’s another terrific director who will be aiming for his third Best Picture nomination in a row. This true tale of a 1970s FBI sting operation which resulted in the conviction of  US Congressmen stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams. Russell knows how to elicit great performances from his actors, so expect a nomination or two…or three, or four!

The Counselor:

Here’s Ridley Scott back in the game and lucky for him, he’s directing a story based on a script by No Country For Old Men author Cormac McCarthy. The film stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Javier Bardem and is about a lawyer who becomes involved in the world of drug trafficking.

The Fifth Estate:

We’re high on this one. Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) takes on the story of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. Casting rising star Benedict Cumberbatch as his lead may turn out to be a stroke of genius. The Fifth Estate could be 2013’s version of The Social Network, as it focuses on a friendship and how it’s affected by the burgeoning success of a concept/website.

The Place Beyond The Pines:

And here’s your wild-card of the bunch. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper as crook versus cop in a story by the director of Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance. Once again, Gosling plays a stunt car driver, which is probably one reason the film got pushed back two years after Drive. But with actors this good and Cianfrance at the helm, this film may have the emotional pull to make voters remember it despite its late March release date.

Just Missing the Cut:

We really are looking forward to “Fruitvale,” the recent Sundance winner about a real life shooting in Oakland (the Oscar Grant story), but something tells us it just may fall short going up against so many big studio offerings. Same goes for “Before Midnight,” another Sundance hit that reunites Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater in the latest installment of the “Before” trilogy. “Labor Day” will be heavily buzzed due to its pedigree: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey McGuire with Jason Reitman directing, but we fear Reitman may have some trouble with the source material, and his last film (Young Adult) was a bit underwhelming. Most pundits have George Clooney’s “Monuments Men,” with its star studded cast featuring Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and Daniel Craig, on their Best Picture shortlist, but we think this film, about museum curators racing to save precious artifacts from the hands of Nazis, will be more of a commercial hit than a critical one.

Best Actor:

There’s no Daniel Day-Lewis in this group, but there are some top flight actors. Tom Hanks returns to the Oscar scene as a seaman taken captive in “Captain Phillips.” He’ll go up against Steve Carell in the true life murder story of “Foxcatcher,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and Christian Bale in the steelworker drama “Out of the Furnace.” Don’t count out Ryan Gosling either in the crime saga “The Places Beyond the Pines.” In the end, we’ll throw this one to Carell, who seems to have the meatiest and most challenging role of all of them.

Best Actress:

It may be a battle of Princesses as close friends Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts face off for the golden statuette. Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the Weinstein Company’s “Grace of Monaco” and Watts portrays Princess Diana in “Diana,” about the last two years in her life. Marion Cotillard may also be in the mix as a troubled immigrant woman in “Lowlife,” after just missing out on a nomination for her incredible work in “Rust and Bone.” Since Kidman has already won an Oscar, we’re tempted to go with Watts, who is certainly overdue and who just moved audiences with her turn in last year’s tsunami drama “The Impossible.” However, playing the Princess  of Wales is a heavy burden and her performance is bound to be scrutinized. Kidman, on the other hand, will play the less controversial role. We’ll therefore give the edge to Kidman.

Best Supporting Actor:

There are so many candidates to choose from here. You have Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Ewan McGregor from “August: Osage County,” Josh Brolin as a felon in “Labor Day,” the red hot Bradley Cooper in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” and Benedict Cumberbatch in just about everything! We’ll just go out on a limb and pick Cooper, who will be remembered for his brilliant work in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Supporting Actress:

There’s no Anne Hathaway this year either, but Amy Adams is back once again, nabbing a role in David Russell’s Abscam film. Carey Mulligan may have two shots at an Oscar, for Baz Luhrman’s highly anticipated “The Great Gatsby” and The Coen Bros.’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Margo Martindale and Juliette Lewis are said to steal scenes in “August: Osage County.” We really want to pick Adams again, like last year, but we think the relatively unknown Martindale has the edge.

Best Director:

Usually (though Ben Affleck can beg to differ), this film matches up pretty well with Best Picture, so expect strong showings from Bill Condon, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, David Russell, Lee Daniels, and Bennett Miller. Condon could be a real sleeper. He’s well respected in the industry and will be taking on a challenging story (WikiLeaks). Russell will also be a serious contender, having been nominated for Best Director two of the last three years.

The Best Picture Winner:

Fresh off the heels of Argo’s improbable journey to Oscar gold, we forsee another wild race. Early buzz will focus on indie hits “The Place Beyond The Pines,”  “Before Midnight,” and “Fruitvale.” In fact, we would not be surprised to see “Fruitvale” take down numerous critics awards. However, once the studio films are released, the race will boil down to Condon’s “The Fifth Estate” versus Daniels’ “The Butler.” In the end, the most uplifting film wins again, as voters will be unable to resist the feel-good true story of an ordinary butler who served through eight administrations. “The Butler” will be your 2014 Best Picture of the Year.

Summary of Oscar Predictions:

Best Picture: “The Butler”

Best Director: Lee Daniels, “The Butler”

Best Actor: Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, “Grace of Monaco”

Best Supporting Actor: Bradley Cooper, “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Best Supporting Actress: Margo Martindale, “August: Osage County”