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Which Nominee the Best Shot at the Oscar — 'American Hustle,' '12 Years a Slave,' or 'Gravity'?

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Jan 21, 2014 | 5:40pm EST

American HustleColumbia Pictures via Everett Collection

Another weekend, another awards show, and another chance to predict the outcome of the Oscar race. This time, however, a wrench was thrown into the works when three different films took home the Best Picture title from two different academies, both of whom are considered to be excellent indicators of the Oscar race. On Saturday, the SAG Awards awarded American Hustle with Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Traditionally, the film that wins the top prize at the SAGs takes home Best Picture on Oscar night — although in recent years, their choices have not always lined up perfectly with the Academy. But before anyone had the chance to officially declare American Hustle to be the new front runner, the Producers Guild Awards hit back on Sunday, when they declared the Best Picture of the year to be a tie between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. And just like that, the Oscar race was once again, anyone's game. 

However, over the course of awards season, its become clear that the final fight for the Best Picture Oscar will come down to those three films. Last week, we aimed to predict which film had the best shot at the award based on title alone. But now, we're moving onto more substantial matters. We've seen that flashy performances entertain SAG-AFTRA, while emotional impact carries more weight with the Producers Guild, but what about the Academy? We've decided that the best way to find out is to look back at the history of the awards, and compare the previous winners to the current front runners in order to determine which one will best appeal to the Academy's sensibilities. 

You can also head over to BBC America to check out this fantastic infographic that predicts the Best Picture winner!

GENRE 
All three films are completely different in terms of genre and tone, but which one has the edge when it comes to the Oscars? 
- American Hustle, Crime and Comedy: 8 crime dramas have won Best Picture over the course of the Oscars' history: In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy, On the Waterfront, The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting, The Godather II, and The Departed. In addition, 7 comedies have take home the top prize, including It Happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You, The Apartment, Tom Jones, The StingAnnie Hall, and The Artist.
- Gravity, Sci-Fi and Thriller: No sci-fi films have ever actually won Best Picture, although 6 of them have been nominated over the past 86 years. However, 4 thrillers have won: Rebecca, Silence of the Lambs, and No Country for Old Men, and Argo.
- 12 Years a Slave, Historical Drama: The Academy Awards have a long history of rewarding dramas, including 26 histories: All Quiet on the Western Front, Cimarron, Cavalcade, Mutiny on the Bounty, Life of Emile Zola, Gone With the Wind, Hamlet, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Tom Jones, A Man for All Seasons, Oliver!, Patton, The Sting, Chariots of Fire, Amadeus, Out of Africa, The Last Emperor, Dances With Wolves, Schindler's List, Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, The King's Speech, The Artist, and Argo.

SUBJECT MATTER
It's not just dramatic films that tend to win over the Academy; often, there are certain topics or subjects that they tend to prefer over others. 
- American Hustle, Crime: As stated above, 8 films dealing with crimes, swindlers and hustlers have won Best Picture.
- Gravity, Survival: The Academy has proven that they enjoy stories of survival, even against all odds, and have crowned 5 suvivalist films Best Picture: On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Oliver!, Schindler's List, and No Country for Old Men.
- 12 Years a Slave, Overcoming Adversity and Race Relations: Stories of adversity have always done well at the Oscars, with 11 films winning the top prize: Mutiny on the Bounty, The Life of Emile Zola, Gentleman's Agreement, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Rocky, Gandhi, Schindler's List, Gladiator, Million Dollar Baby, Slumdog Millionaire, and The King's Speech
.
Another 5 films that deal with race relations in America in a major way have won Best Picture, including Gone With the Wind, In the Heat of the Night, Gandhi, Driving Miss Daisy, and Crash.

ACTING NOMINATIONS
It's always a good sign for a film when they mange to get nominated in the four acting categories, but does a "Big Four" nomination guarantee a win? 
- American Hustle, 4 Nominations: American Hustle took home the most Oscar nominations, including one each in the four acting categories. In the past, 8 films that received four acting nominations have taken home Best Picture: Mrs. Miniver, From Here to Eternity, Gone With the Wind, Gentlemen's Agreement, The Godfather, Rocky, Kramer Vs. Kramer, and Chicago.
- Gravity, 1 Nomination: Despite Gravity tying for the most Oscar nods this year, Sandra Bullock is the lone acting nominee. However, plenty of Best Picture winners have only had one nominated performance in the past - 15 of them, to be exact: The Broadway Melody, Cavalcade, The Great Ziegfeld, The Lost Weekend, In the Heat of the Night, Patton, The Sting, Chariots of Fire, Ghandi, Out of Africa, Rain Man, Crash, The Departed, No Country For Old Men, and The Hurt Locker.
- 12 Years a Slave, 3 Nominations: This year, Chiwitel Ejiofor is up for Best Actor, while Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender are nominated in the supporting categories. Three has proven the magic number for 17 previous winners: Mutiny on the Bounty, Rebecca, Going My Way, All the King's Men, Marty, The Apartment, My Fair Lady, Midnight Cowboy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Deer Hunter, Ordinary People, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances With Wolves, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Million Dollar Baby, and The King's Speech.

12 Years a SlaveFox Searchlight Pictures via Everett Collection

LOCATION
Sometimes, the Oscars have the same philosophy as real estate, and it's all about location, location, location. But what's the most beneficial place to set your film?
- American Hustle, New York: The film is in good company, with 14 Best picture winners taking place in the Big Apple: The Broadway Melody, The Great Ziegfeld, The Lost Weekend, Going My Way, All About Eve, On the Waterfront, Marty, The Apartment, West Side Story, Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, The Godfather, Annie Hall, and Kramer Vs. Kramer.
- Gravity, Space: No film set in outer space has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture.
- 12 Years a Slave, The American South: South of the Mason-Dixon line is a popular setting for movies, and 5 of those were lucky enough to be awarded Best Picture: Gone With the Wind, In the Heat of the Night, Driving Miss Daisy, Forrest Gump, and No Country For Old Men.

TIME PERIOD
Everybody knows that the Academy loves a period piece more than anything else... or do they? 
- American Hustle, 1970s: For this category, we looked at films that were made in 1980 or later, but set in the 1970s, as American Hustle is. It may have narrowed down the field some, but there are still 3 winners: Platoon, Forrest Gump, and last year's Best Picture winner, Argo.
- Gravity, Modern Day: There have been a great deal of Oscar-winning films that, like Gravity, were set in the same time period as the film's release. In fact, this has been the case for a grand total of 31 Best Picture winners: Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night, You Can't Take it With You, Going My Way, The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentleman's Agreement, All The King's Men, All About Eve, An American in Paris, On the Waterfront, Marty, The Apartment, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Rain Man, Silence of the Lambs, American Beauty, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country For Old Men, and The Hurt Locker.
- 12 Years A Slave, 1800s: Between the reign of Queen Victoria, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the ninettenth century has provided the inspiration for 8 winners: Cimarron, Gone With the Wind, Around the World in 80 Days, Tom Jones, Oliver!, Amadeus, Dances With Wolves, and Unforgiven.

RUNTIME
- Both American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave have the distinct advantage in this category, with runtimes of 138 and 134 minutes, respectively. If one of them wins, they would join 24 other films whose runtime has been between 121 and 140 minutes. For the most part, the Academy ends to favor movies around this length, although the award usually tends to go to the longest film nominated, which could spell trouble for these two front runners (fellow nominee The Wolf of Wall Street beats them both at 179 minutes).
- Gravity is the shortest film in the running for Best Picture at only 91 minutes long. However, that doesn't mean it has no chance of winning, as 4 films with runtimes between 81 and 100 minutes have won the top prize in the past: Marty, Annie Hall, Sunrise, and Driving Miss Daisy.

GravityWarner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection

DIRECTORS
All three directors have achieved or are set to achieve milestones if they take home the Best Director award. What kind of influence will that have on the Best Picture race?
- American Hustle, David O. Russell: This is Russell's second nomination, but its also the first time in the history of the Oscars that a director has earned all four acting nominations two years in a row (after last year's Silver Linings Playbook). That kind of star power could sway the votes in his favor, as he's proven twice now that he can deliver excellent performances from big name actors.
- Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron: After winning the Golden Globe, Cuaron seems to be the front runner for the Best Director race; if he wins Best Director, that could be a good sign for the film as a whole. In the last 86 years, 62 films have won both the Best Director and Best Picture award, proving, on a whole, that the two tend to go hand in hand. Plus, if he wins, he will be the first Spanish director to win an Academy Award. 
- 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen: Like Cuaron, McQueen is a first-time nominee, and if he wins, he would be the first black man to win the Best Director prize. That kind of history-making impact could help sway the Academy, and thus, ensure a Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave.

Your Best BetBased on the winners of the past, it looks like 12 Years a Slave has the best chance of winning on Oscar night, with an ideal runtime, the best amount of acting nominations, and both a genre and subject matter that the Academy tends to enjoy rewarding. Of course, since anything can happen once the awards are tallied, there's still a chance one of the other films can sneak in and win. But for now, we'd reccommend you go for 12 Years a Slave when it comes time to fill out your Oscar ballot. 

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