Our 2014 Oscar tips

It might be winter but Oscar season is heating up in Hollywood. We bring you our tips on some of the frontrunners in this year's Academy Awards race.

Best Film
This year's race is an extremely competitive one with the hugely acclaimed 12 Years a Slave
currently leading the pack. The film was recently nominated for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes. However, it faces strong competition in Gravity. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the film is an extraordinary mix of cutting-edge effects and physical performance.

Then there's latest film from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis. A typically quirky and atmospheric take on the 1960s Greenwich Village folk music scene, it also features a standout soundtrack.

Tom Hanks stars in another of this year's contenders, Captain Phillips, which has been nominated for four Golden Globes including Best Film. Director Paul Greengrass' skilful dramatisation of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, the film escalates tension to nail-biting proportions.

Best Actor

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a shoo-in, according to many reviewers. His dignified, powerful performance as free man turned captive Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave is said to be heartbreaking, inspiring and utterly unforgettable. Fellow Brit Idris Elba is also getting plaudits for playing the late Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Then there's Tom Hanks – outstanding in Captain Phillips, delivering a gut-wrenching turn as an ordinary man thrown into a terrifying, life-or-death situation. Talking of life-or-death, let's not forget Daniel Bruhl's memorable performance as risk-taking Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda in Rush.

Meanwhile American Hustle offers a dynamic showcase for Christian Bale, who sports an unflattering combover and gut! It's also been an outstanding year for Matthew McConaughey, who's delivered acclaimed performances in Mud and especially Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett's barn-storming lead turn in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine is unforgettable. As the eponymous Jasmine, Blanchett inspires frustration and sympathy in equal measure.

However, we think she's got strong competition in the form of the redoubtable Judi Dench in Philomena. As the Irish woman searching for her son, from whom she was forcibly separated decades earlier, Dench is outstanding, delivering a moving and funny performance.

French actress Adele Exarchopoulos excels in Blue is the Warmest Colour, an emotionally intense story of the relationship between two young women.

And in terms of sheer physical commitment, it's hard to top Sandra Bullock's performance in Gravity. The star humanises the drama, adding potent emotion to the role of astronaut Ryan Stone who simply wants to get home.