One minute you look around and it’s the beginning of December. The self-titled “harbingers” of the Oscars (also known as The New York Film Critics Circle) are announcing their awards, unofficially kicking off the wearisome period known as film’s “award season.”

You close your eyes, you try to block it out, but the tumult is too great. You know what’s coming, annually you’re in its cross-hairs. Boom! It strikes. There’s the National Board of Review giving you the finger. Boom! Boom! Boom! Every critic group in the nation is upon you. From the arid landscapes of Nevada to the concrete canyons of Chicago, from the urban sprawl of Dallas-Fort Worth to the Midwestern charm of Columbus, the deluge of opinion is ubiquitous and overwhelming.

“Stop!” you scream, your head swimming. It falls on deaf ears. The tidal wave continues to crash, forcing you down further as the year comes to a close. Miraculously, in an act of ethereal mercy, you suddenly gain a reprieve – a yuletide gift. The season pauses for Christmas. The cultural approbation for movie stars and millionaires reigns itself in for a day or two in honor of figgy pudding and avoiding one’s relatives.

Boom! It returns with a vengeance, like a jaded lover: more critic groups, more “Top Ten” lists. Pressure is building in your head. Is your cranium attempting to collapse in upon itself? Is it a mercy killing? One can only hope. “Oh God no,” you exclaim as Peter Travers readies his annual “Best of” list, “Anything but that, anything!” Your pleas are in vain. The moustached demon chuckles. His wizened face and beady, soulless eyes recognizes your impotence. They narrow slightly, in a way that almost seems to say “Fuck you.” Then his words, his drivel appear online, where it will forever remain. “Damn you Hollywood,” he mewls, in a painfully unfunny attempt at satiric wit, “Damn you!”

This is the last straw, you go under, the world fades away. You swim through a black ocean, a night sky without stars. Suddenly you come to, you look around. The world looks the same for the most part. There’s still snow on the ground. Daylight still fades away rather quickly. Could it be over? You begin foolishly, idiotically to hope that it’s true. You drop to your knees, offering yourself up to a higher power. You start bargaining. If awards season is gone you’ll turn your life around, you’ll start eating right, you’ll exercise, you’ll make it through one Criterion film without falling asleep.

It’s not done though – far from it. One more hurdle remains. It’s an impossible summit, the zenith of the season, the apogee of this madness. It comes when you are at your lowest. You know what to expect: long, drawn out speeches, flaccid comedic bits, and more millionaire windbags than one would see at a political convention. But what can you do? You’ve made it this far. You’ve bitched and you’ve moaned. There’s only one thing left to do: accept it, ride with it, dive into the fray yourself. So, here it is. It’s an attempt to become part of the delirium. Here are some picks for the 86th annual Shitshow, broken into what should win and what will win. One caveat: These picks only encompass some of the bigger awards, mainly because nobody gives a damn about stuff like Best Sound Mixing! Enjoy, or don’t. Let’s just get this over with.

Best Picture

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Will Win – 12 Years a Slave

At first glance 12 Years a Slave looks like the Best Picture frontrunner – especially with its historical origins and adoring reviews. Additionally, selecting 12 Years a Slave sends a strong political message for the Academy. It’s an institution still trying to make up for an industry that marginalized the impact and recognition of African-Americans for about 100 years.

Despite all of this the film is hardly what you could call a sure thing, mostly due to its blistering subject matter and absolutely devastating depictions of violence. Aside from blue hair there is nothing more widely held by Academy members than weak tummies – which would seem to place this powerhouse of a film in mortal danger. However, due to the love for both the fun but slight American Hustle and the vapid yet pretty Gravity, I predict that 12 Years a Slave will sneak through to an eventual victory. Those other two (unworthy) films will split the vote.

Should Win – 12 Years a Slave

A powerful, bleak picture that is wonderfully directed and performed, 12 Years a Slave is the best of the nominees.

Best Director

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Will Win – Alfonso Cauron

Although typically associated with one another, I predict that this year whatever wins Best Picture will not take home the award for Best Director. Therefore, because I tossed out 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture I have to go with Gravity’s director Alfonso Cauron for Best Director. The sheer force of the movie’s spectacle will be impossible for the Academy Awards to ignore. It’s like dangling a beefstick in front of a puppy. Academy members love a clear, explicit depiction of movie-making wizardry.

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Should Win – Steve McQueen

Less showy than Cauron yet far more thematically complex and potent, McQueen’s work in 12 Years a Slave is special. It’s stark, unsentimental, and nearly overpowering with its searing depiction of injustice and brutality.

Best Actor

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Will Win – Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey will most likely win an Oscar for his role as the Ron Woodroof – which is kind of a bummer. Not only is this the least interesting part he has played in the last three years, but it is also a distressingly conventional part for the Academy to honor. Just look at it. The role is defined by weight loss, it’s rooted in historical truth, and his character is framed as a populist hero. You would think someone consulted a road map to the Oscars when writing this film.

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Should Win – Leonardo DiCaprio

A big, bombastic, showy role, Leo’s performance as the titular Wolf from The Wolf of Wall Street is both utterly expected and utterly revelatory. Between his turns as Jordan Belfort and last year’s Calvin Candie, DiCaprio has shown that he can be a great antihero or straight up villain (in addition to a conventional lead). In The Wolf of Wall Street Leo goes bigger than ever, and almost all of it works. His Belfort is truly outrageous – funny, slimy, pathetic, and always intriguing. It combines the actor’s trademark dramatic intensity with a disarming grasp on verbal and physical comedy. It’s the type of performance that on the surface seems like an Oscar magnet. Yet, the role (and the larger film) is so profoundly amoral, so devoid of any cathartic resolution that DiCaprio will have to settle for his nomination. His butt will remain in his seat.

Best Actress

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Will Win – Cate Blanchett

One of the clear frontrunners this year it is Cate Blanchett in the Woodster’s Blue Jasmine. She has swept nearly every precursor award so far. No other actress comes close. I haven’t even seen the film, but I would bet some big money that she will take home the award.

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Should Win – ???

I honestly can’t comment here; I would just be writing something just to write something. I haven’t seen three out of the five nominees (Blue Jasmine, August: Osage County, Philomena). All I can say is that I hope Bullock does not win. While her performance was good the writing behind it was lackluster, possessing about the same amount of depth as a communion wafer. I’m not a fan of Gravity (as I’m sure you’ve surmised). I personally wish it had just been a short film, and that it would have ended with Bullock simply floating out into the celestial void. Finally, does Meryl get nominated for every film she does now?

Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win – Jared Leto

By playing the dignified, long-suffering Rayon, Jared Leto earned himself nearly every major award this season, not to mention a place in the hearts of most audiences (except, you know, the ones that don’t like any “gay stuff”). He’s really good in the role. However, similar to McConaughey’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club, the fact that this will win Leto an Oscar feels just so… boring? There’s nothing overly surprising here, and Dallas Buyers Club follows a long-running trope in cinema where gay characters are typically doomed characters.

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Should Win – Bradley Cooper

American Hustle is filled with good performances. The Academy clearly believes this (as evidenced by the film’s four acting nominations). Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso is as strong a performance as his wanna-be optimist in Silver Linings Playbook, and deserving of attention. The only other performance I would want to see win here would be Minneapolis’s Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips. Yet, because Bradley Cooper is so much fun to watch (especially his dynamic with Louis CK) he gets my vote (which is of course meaningless).

Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win – Jennifer Lawrence

Supporting Actress is probably one of the only Oscars that American Hustle will take home this Sunday, which is really, really disappointing. It’s not that Jennifer Lawrence is bad in the film, she’s just not that good. It also would be an unsurprising, uninspired choice (like many of the people who will win this year). In this hammy role Lawrence consumes all of the gaudy 1970’s scenery in her midst. There is little nuance here, just a great channeling of Sharon Stone from Casino.

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Should Win – June Squib

While I am tempted to select Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave, the more I think about her performance the less award-worthy it becomes. Rarely has there been such an excruciating depiction of agony, humiliation and despondency put on film – but that’s essentially all that the performance contains. Thus, I’m left with June Squib, who was definitely one of the best and funniest parts of Nebraska.

Who do you think will (or should) win? (The correct answer is is that you don’t care.)

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