In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

It all comes down to this. A Best Picture race at the tale end of a season that brought with it an intense competition boiled down from one of the best film years in recent memory. Predictions are mostly scattered between two films on the list, but really, a number of the nominees would make for handsome winners and in the end, the journey has really been the reward. Whoever takes the stage Sunday night, it's just epilogue, really. Not that that will stop people, on whatever side of the line they may fall, from getting bent out of shape about it. It's the Oscars! Misplaced passion is sort of a must. I, for one, will be excited to see whomever it may be win the industry's top honor, because this has been one for the ages.

The nominees are…

"American Hustle" (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers)
The fact is, "American Hustle" could be a huge shocker at the end of the show Sunday. Yes, it looked pretty formidable when it lapped up a SAG win some time ago, but all the fire went away as two other films dominated the precursor circuit. That doesn't mean the simmering passion wasn't still there, and simmering passion can be a beast with a preferential ballot. The film has surely picked up plenty of #2 votes along the way and is really well-liked picture. That kind of broad acceptance is what this balloting system is all about, so watch out. (Check out our interview with Roven and Suckle here.)

"Captain Phillips" (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers)
When the nominations were revealed, it seemed Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips" showed some weakness. Tom Hanks wasn't able to crack an admittedly stacked Best Actor field and Greengrass was left on the sidelines in Best Director. But then the circuit kept its course and the film landed big wins from the WGA and ACE. It's a hugely respected piece of work that will get its share of votes, no question. But as these things go this year, it feels like it's on the second rung of power plays.

"Dallas Buyers Club" (Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers)
If "Captain Phillips" showed unexpected weakness when the nominations were announced, "Dallas Buyers Club" showed unexpected strength. A makeup nomination is one thing (it was in the mix, obviously, given the bake-off list), but picking up a film editing nod was something no one saw coming. As a result, it has six nominations total and looks to win half of them. Best Picture is obviously a pipe dream, but the film is very fine send-off for Focus Features as we've known it, fully in that prestige factory's wheelhouse. Seriously, congrats to all involved. (Check out our interview with Brenner and Winter here.)

"Gravity" (Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers)
We at HitFix are placing our bet on Alfonso Cuarón's landmark emotional study "Gravity" for the Academy's top honor, largely because we haven't picked anything else all season, but also because the logic is there to back it up. It tied for the PGA, won the DGA, is clearly a bellow-the-line beast with lots of support there and, like "American Hustle," will probably get lots of top-of-ballot support to help it through any additional rounds in balloting. If it happens, fantastic. If it doesn't, we won't cry. No one will ever forget it, no matter how much those with a weird bone to pick with it would wish otherwise. (Check out our interview with Cuarón here and with Heyman here.)

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Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.