Byline: Jeff Long
When was the last time that films involving Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts all went into the big night as underdogs? The oceanic upheaval that rocked Robert Redford's world in last year's "All Is Lost'' is just a pond ripple, compared to the turbulent sea change that is in the offing this Oscar evening.
Why is this? In 2013, there was, simply, a superabundance of brilliant pictures and sterling performances. It was a more overcrowded field than, well, the chaotic gridiron sung about by Don McLean in "American Pie.''
And, as usual, there were some questionable calls. The gripping "Fruitvale Station'' received not one nomination, while the utterly boring Animal-House-on-the-Hudson parable "Wolf of Wall Street'' -- an uninvolving retread of a 1929 movie of the same title -- somehow grabbed five.
But enough carping! The envelopes, please:
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave''
Yes, in "American Hustle,'' Jennifer Lawrence deftly tapped into the cunning but vulnerable mind of Rosalyn Rosenfeld. But Nyong'o delivered an absolutely searing performance in "12 Years a Slave'' as abused human property. Overlooked, but worthy of inclusion in this category: Ellen Page ("The East'') and Juliette Lewis ("August: Osage County'').
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club''
Again, the versatile Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave'') will go home empty-handed. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips'') may silently pray to the Academy voters, "Look at me!'' But how could they have taken their eyes off of the superb acting and miraculous transformation -- of gender and emaciation -- turned in by Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers Club''? Overlooked, but worthy of nomination: Will Forte ("Nebraska'') and Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12'').
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine''
This category boasts perhaps the largest number of potential and actual contenders. As riveting as Amy Adams was in her duplicitous role in "American Hustle,'' her acting was outmatched by Ms. Blanchett's unerring exploration of a woman's wounded psyche in "Blue Jasmine.'' Overlooked, but worthy of inclusion: Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks''), Brie Larson ("Short Term 12''), Julie Delpy ("Before...