It's all built up to this. The campaigning, the buzz, the lesser awards shows, all seem like a prologue to the main event: the Academy Awards. Casual viewers and hard–core film geeks alike gather around the couch every year for Hollywood's Super Bowl, a three–hour epic (4+ if you count the red carpet) of pomp, glitz and drama.
If this year's Oscars reflect the quality of this year's films, we're in for a treat: 2013 has been praised as an outstanding year for film, with good reason. We had a harrowing, technically marvelous space epic (Gravity), a landmark film about slavery in America (12 Years A Slave), a brilliantly entertaining 70s crime caper (American Hustle)—any of them could've won the top prize in a lesser year. Only one will take home the coveted Best Picture statue.
There are a lot more categories to watch, though. The actor and actress categories are stacked with excellent performances and big questions. Will Jennifer Lawrence win a second consecutive Best Supporting Actress Oscar over breakout star Lupita Nyong'o? (More importantly, will she trip on her way to get it?) Matthew McCounaghey is a favorite in the Best Actor category — but can he stave off the Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio?
Lower on the Oscar totem pole are the other awards (sound mixing, live action short film) sometimes called the "awards no one cares about," but they often lead to some of the best and most touching moments of the night, even if they mess up your Oscars ballot.
Guiding us this year will be the wonderful Ellen DeGeneres, who returns for her second Oscars as host. She'll add a funny, affable touch to the telecast, but don't expect her to ruffle too many feathers.
The 86th Academy Awards officially begin this Sunday, at 7pm EST on ABC. Follow the drama with us on this live blog, where we'll provide to–the–minute coverage, dissect big wins and losses, and examine the moments that'll be memes on Monday.