Handicapping the Oscars is a hazardous affair. Personal friendships, political correctness, mega-bucks marketing campaigns and even lack of time – the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have just a few weeks to watch and evaluate scores of movies – all figure into the voting. Quality may be an afterthought.

Nevertheless, guessing the winners is great fun. After all, handicappers who get it wrong can always claim the voting was influenced by one or more of the above.
The nine movies in the Best Picture category highlight just what a solid year 2013 was for moviegoers. The nominated films were well told and well produced, though “Nebraska” had serious plot and script problems. “Captain Phillips,” a tense political thriller, could entice Oscar voters the same way “Argo” did last year. “Ripped from the headlines!” seems to be an allure Hollywood can’t resist.

“12 Years a Slave” was earnest, melodramatic and painful to watch. For visual splendor and edge-of-the seat thrills, “Gravity” will get some votes. And “Her” put the “social” in social media in a unique way that was unique and fun to watch if highly improbable.

But the winner will be “American Hustle,” with a storyline that is intricate, highly literate and LOL funny. The movie was graced with spectacular performances, and while acting is a separate category, no Best Picture winner takes home the Oscar without strong performances. A close second would be “The Wolf of Wall Street” for the three-hour roller coaster ride of adrenaline, outrageous excess and terrific acting.
 
The Best Actor category is, if anything even stronger. The veteran Bruce Dern may win as a sentimental favorite in “Nebraska” – and few would begrudge a New Trier grad his moment of glory. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s harrowing portrayal of Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave” was highly effective. But for sheer performance mastery, the award will go to Christian Bale as the slick huckster in “American Hustle.”

The only category that should be no-brainer is Best Actress. Cate Blanchett was stunning as the dangerously frazzled heroine of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” But Mr. Allen has been in the headlines recently about allegations of child abuse, and the controversy could sink her chances. A safe choice would be Judi Dench in “Philomena.” She was superb as always, and it doesn’t hurt that the Weinstein Company has wheeled out its PR machine to promote the real Philomena Lee in a busy coast-to-coast promotional campaign.

But the winner will be Amy Adams in “American Hustle.” She was deliriously effective and this is her fifth nomination in eight years. It’s time.

So… a triple crown for “American Hustle,” Christian Gale and Amy Adams. Remember: You read it here first. Or maybe you didn’t.