The 2014 Academy Awards

Cate Blanchett In Blue Jasmine

This has got to be the toughest Oscar race in years.

While in one or two categories there are clear cut winners, the rest of the categories are neck and neck between two clear cut potential winners. Here are my predictions for the 86th annual Academy Awards: those who should win and for those who will win.

Best Picture

For some strange reason the Academy nominated nine films in this category, and not ten as it has in years past.

12 Years a Slave is the sentimental and dramatic favorite because of its storyline, a topic no other film has tackled. Gravity could slip in and win because of it special effects wizardry, telling the amazing story of a woman adrift in space. But it looks like 12 Years a Slave will squeak by.

Nominees: The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Gravity, American Hustle, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and 12 Years a Slave.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave. The film has opened up an international conversation on slavery. And the Academy would love to see producers Brad Pitt and Steve Mcqueen on the podium.

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave. As McQueen may be shut out as Best Director, this category will be where he wins an Oscar.

Best Actor

This race is either a shoo-in for Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club or a shoo-in for Chiwotel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. While McConaughey has won 17 Best Actor awards from various critics groups, Ejiofor just recently won the BAFTA for Best Actor (Dallas Buyers Club was not eligible for the BAFTAs due to its 2014 release). If either man wins, it won't be a surprise as this is the closest Best Actor race in years. In any other year, Bruce Dern would win for Nebraska, but the quality of performances in this category this year are high caliber. So high caliber that two beloved actors who gave perhaps the best performances of their careers were overlooked: Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips and Robert Redford for All is Lost.

Nominees: Christian Bale for American Hustle, Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street, Ejiofor, and McConaughey

Should win: McConaughey. He lost 45 pounds to play AIDS patient Ron Woodruff.

Will win: McConaughey. Ejiofor may be gaining momentum, but its McConaughey's year (and he was also memorable in The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine will win and should win. Her performance of a woman who has lost everything and has to her life over again start from scratch is excellent. The other woman in this category don't stand a chance, though if Gravity sweeps everything it is nominated for, then expect Sandra Bullock to take it. Though Blanchett is a sure lock.

Nominees: Blanchett, Bullock, Amy Adams for American Hustle, Judi Dench for Philomena, and Meryl Street for August: Osage County

Should and will win: Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor

At this point it appears that Jared Leto is the frontrunner for his role as Rayon the drag queen in Dallas Buyers Club. Leto has won an incredible 38 awards for this performance, his first performance in a film since 2009's Mr. Nobody. Michael Fassbender could sneak in take the prize if the Academy feels that it needs to hand 12 Years a Slave lots of awards.

Nominees: Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Fassbender, Leto, and Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street

Should win: Leto, who has walked off with the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards

Will win: Leto, for losing a lot of weight to play a drag queen with AIDS.

Best Supporting Actress

A month ago I would've predicted that Lupita N'yongo was a shoo-in for her performance of a repressed slave in 12 Years a Slave. But Jennifer Lawrence has been winning the majority of awards for her role in American Hustle. And while Lawrence won the Best Actress statuette last year for Silver Linings Playbook, she could possibly win back-to-back Oscars. However, N'yongo and Lawrence may cancel each other out, as this how close this race is, and any of the other nominees sneak in and win.

Nominees: Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmin, Lawrence, N'yongo, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County, and June Squibb for Nebraska

Should win: N'yongo. Even though she was in very little of 12 Years a Slave, she was in it's most memorable scene where she gets lashed by Fassbender's character, one of the most brutal screen moments of last year.

Will win: Lawrence. This is her third nomination, and she is absolutely loved in Hollywood, so there is no doubt they will award her again.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron should and will win for Gravity. Cuaron waited for new technology to be built in order to make the movie that he wanted to make. Gravity has received worldwide excellent reviews and is still making loads of money. Plus, he's won the DGA, BAFTA and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Director. It is highly unlikely that Steve McQueen will win this, but if he does he will be the first African to win Best Director.

Nominees: Cuaron, McQueen, Alexander Payne for Nebraska, David O. Russell for American Hustle, and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Should and will win: Cuaron, for making an incredible and beautiful film, so unlike anything that has ever been shown in cinemas.