Oscars nominations 2014: Five races to watch Thursday morning

We're presuming that if you're reading this that you're awake (and if you're here on the West Coast, may we ask "why?" or is that a little nosy?) and ready and raring to devour the motion picture academy's Oscar nominations when they're revealed beginning at 5:38 a.m. PST this morning. (Streaming begins live at 5:30 a.m. PST here on Movies Now.)

How will the major races shake out? Here are five key areas to watch once you're properly caffeinated:


Best picture. How many? Since the academy moved to a preferential best picture ballot designed to produce between five and 10 nominees, we've had two years in which nine movies have been nominated. With so many strong films contending this year, most pundits believe we'll see another bountiful crop. And even then, some deserving films will be overlooked.

After the three front-runners ("12 Years a Slave," "Gravity" and "American Hustle"), you have a second tier of movies presumed safe ("Captain Phillips," "Nebraska," "The Wolf of Wall Street"). Then it gets tricky. Will critical favorites "Her" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" make the cut? Does "Dallas Buyers Club" ride a wave of guild nominations into the dance? Will Harvey Weinstein's late push for "Philomena" win it a spot? Has the criticism plaguing "Saving Mr. Banks" taken it out of the race?

Best actor. DiCaprio or Redford? "The Wolf of Wall Street" was the last film to leave the gate this Oscar season, but Martin Scorsese's wild and crazy romp hasn't had any trouble gathering attention. Does Leonardo DiCaprio's manic performance have enough momentum to displace the most vulnerable lead actor contender, Robert Redford? A Redford snub was unthinkable months ago, but academy members have resisted watching his nearly wordless movie, "All Is Lost." The lack of eyeballs could cost him a nomination.

Best actress. No Meryl? Redford's "Out of Africa" co-star, Meryl Streep, may be vulnerable here for her showy turn as the pill-popping matriarch in "August: Osage County." Then again, Oscar voters have checked off her name for lesser work, and Streep delivers the kind of big performance that plays well to the actors branch. Many pundits have "American Hustle's" Amy Adams now ahead of her, but Streep's academy appeal shouldn't be underestimated.

Best supporting actor. Tribute to James Gandolfini? The category sports a couple of certain nominees -- Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club") and Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave") -- but also has room for surprises. One of them might be Gandolfini, the late "Sopranos" star who gave a warm, open-hearted performance opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the romantic-comedy "Enough Said."

Best supporting actress. Oprah out? Like Redford, Oprah Winfrey was long considered a solid bet to show up among the Oscar nominees. She still might land a nod, but many prognosticators have Sally Hawkins from "Blue Jasmine" taking her spot. Women in Woody Allen movies have a long history of winning favor with the academy. Hawkins could join co-star Cate Blanchett in the nominees' circle.