Local critic offers Oscar predictions

Cate Blanchett will win Best Actress for her excellent work in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

There – I just had to get that out of the way!

Despite years of writing Oscar predictions, I feel undone by the current slate, which practically defies prognostication. Having already snagged two dozen prizes for “Jasmine,” including a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Screen Actors prize, Blanchett is the only safe bet on Sunday night.

Yes, Jared Leto – as a transgender AIDS victim in “Dallas Buyers Club” – is a strong contender for Supporting Actor; but I have a hunch first-time nominee Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) might take this honor instead.

Speaking of which, the 2014 docket is leavened with first-timers like Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club”) and supporting nominees Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”) and Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”); the latter two, in fact, had never made a film before.

Yet it also features many veterans: Meryl Streep (18 nominations), Amy Adams (five), Blanchett (six) and Judi Dench (seven).

I think Nyong’o, who opens with Liam Neeson on Friday in “Non-Stop,” will win for her amazing performance as a brutalized American slave.

And for Best Actor, I’m going on a limb with Bruce Dern in “Nebraska.”

Again, McConaughey is perhaps a favorite. He too took the Golden Globe and Screen Actors trophies, and “Dallas” is one of three successes he scored last year (don’t forget “Mud” and “Wolf of Wall Street”).

Indeed, Best Actor may be the toughest race to call, a slate that also includes previous nominees Leonardo DiCaprio (“Wolf of Wall Street”) and Christian Bale (“American Hustle”), plus the galvanic Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years A Slave.”

But I see Dern as a sentimental favorite; he has a 50-year, 80-film career (let’s face it, everyone has seen a Dern movie) and only one other nom: 1978’s “Coming Home.”

And while we’re on Best Actor, let’s note the irritating omission of Tom Hanks, who notched not one but two stellar 2013 performances: “Captain Phillips,” a Best Picture nominee and “Saving Mr. Banks,” glaringly snubbed for Best Picture – even though a 10th spot was open.

Emma Thompson’s sensational lead performance in “Saving Mr. Banks” was also inexplicably ignored.

Oh well. Perhaps “Saving Mr. Banks” can still take Best Score for the brilliant Thomas Newman, now on his 12th nomination without a win.

While I’m complaining, might I also ask how “42” – one of the year’s most beloved movies – failed to receive a single nomination? I’d hoped to see Harrison Ford score a supporting nod for that film. (He’s also nearing 50 years in the business and holds only one previous nom: 1985’s “Witness.”)

Other predictions:

Alfonso Cuaron as Best Director for the dazzling “Gravity”; Spike Jonze for original screenplay on “Her” (I may be the only critic in the country who disliked this film); and “Frozen” for Best Animated Feature (this is a no-brainer).

And Best Picture? I’m going with “12 Years a Slave,” the finest film I saw last year and a likely winner over fellow front-runners “Gravity” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”

And even if most of my calls are wrong – well, at least we’ve got Ellen DeGeneres back as host.

The Oscars air Sunday at 8:30 p.m.