DON GONYEA, HOST:
Oscar voters can start agonizing over their ballots this morning. It's the first day of voting and this year they've a lot to choose from.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GRAVITY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Explorer, this is Houston.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Go ahead, Houston.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mission abort. Repeat: mission abort.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "12 YEARS A SLAVE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I will not fall into the spell. I will offer up my talents to Master Ford. I will keep myself hardy till freedom is opportune.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off, because it was three shy of a million a week.
GONYEA: For a look at some of these Oscar contenders, David Greene spoke with Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Kim, let's start with Best Picture. We just heard clips from "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," and also "The Wolf of Wall Street." Are those films a lock for nominations here?
KIM MASTERS: I would say so. I would say there are four locks: "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." And, David, you know, usually I have trouble thinking of even three legitimate contenders. This year, I can see the academy coming up with 10, with a few leftover which are not unworthy. And let me just run really quickly through some of these.
MASTERS: "Captain Phillips," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Philomena," "Her," "Dallas Buyers Club," "The Butler," "Nebraska," "Fruitvale," "Blue Jasmine," I mean this has been a good year for movies.
GREENE: Wow. So that's an incredibly long list. Do you have a gut feel for a few that might be in the front of the pack?
MASTERS: Often by now, we kind of know not only which ones are in the front but which one is likely to win, this early. However this year is different and I feel that, you know, because there's been a certain amount of swirl around some of these movies, for example, "12 Years a Slave," critics love it. It's going to pick up a lot of other awards but the academy is an older group, a kind of a white group, a male group.
A lot of people are wondering: Will they want to watch this film. Is it just too relentlessly bleak? And will they just kind of say, yes, it's great and I'll write it down on my list but I'm not actually watching it?
Another one is "The Wolf of Wall Street," very sexual, barely an R, barely escaped an NC-17, and there are older academy members already who have been murmuring that it's really not that acceptable; that it's not an academy movie, you know. And it took them a long time to recognize Marty Scorsese. And it may be that this one goes back to the days when they weren't going to.
GREENE: So sometimes movies can push boundaries in artistic ways that are impressive, but it can sort of hurt them when it comes to Best Picture.
MASTERS: The academy is not comfortable, yes.
GREENE: Let's look at some of the performances, Kim. What about Best Actor?
MASTERS: Again, a very impressive list: You have Chiwetel Ejiofor for "12 Years a Slave," Bruce Dern in "Nebraska" is getting a lot of talk, Tom Hanks, amazing in "Captain Phillips," Robert Redford carrying "All is Lost;" Matthew McConaughey, amazing transformation in "Dallas Buyers Club." And that doesn't even include Leo DiCaprio for "The Wolf of Wall Street" or Christian Bale in "American Hustle" - so, another strong list.
GREENE: And a lot of huge marquee names who are on the list this year.
GREENE: Another marquee name, Meryl Streep in the Best Actress category. I mean, she's been an Oscar favorite and it looks like she might be in the running again this year, right?
MASTERS: Yes, Meryl Streep. She was in "August Osage County," always has to be considered as a potential threat. But she's got a lot of tough competition again this year. Cate Blanchett, I think is, a strong frontrunner. I think this may be the most defined major category for her performance in "Blue Jasmine." But you've also got Sandra Bullock in "Gravity," Judi Dench in "Philomena," Amy Adams in "American Hustle" and Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks. I mean a lot of tough competition out there.
GREENE: Whenever we have these conversations, Kim, it always reminds me that I haven't seen nearly enough movies...
GREENE: ...during the year.
MASTERS: Yes, there's a lot to get to. This is the year where you really have to have a long list, and hopefully a long holiday break, David.
GREENE: There you have it. Kim, thanks a lot.
MASTERS: Thank you.
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GONYEA: That's David Greene talking to Kim Masters, host of "The Business" on member station KCRW.
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GONYEA: This is NPR News.
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