Sunday night is the big night! The night when Hollywood’s brightest star shine! When everyone puts on their coolest tux and their hottest gown and trips the light fantastic! The night — ah, to hell with it. Yes, we’re finally creeping up on Oscar night, and some of us are just plain wheezing to the finish line; after all, it seems like we’ve been talking about this ultimately barely consequential ceremony since Labor Day, and the de rigueur whisper campaigns and insider sniping and baffling nominations can make it all seem very predetermined and exhausting. But wait! Let’s not overlook the fact that these nominees, while betraying a couple of irritating blind spots, also spotlight some really excellent films — and while a couple of the races have been locked for months, there are at least a couple of key nail-biters that should make Sunday’s ceremony a bit more suspenseful than usual. And thus, we present our annual look at the nominees: who we think is going to win (based on trusted prognosticators, buzz, history, and gut instinct), and who would win, were your film editor the sole voter.
Best Picture American Sniper Birdman Boyhood The Imitation Game The Grand Budapest Hotel Selma The Theory of Everything Whiplash
PREDICTION: You’ll have to go back to 2006 (oh, Crash, you’ve already reared your ugly head) to find a year when Best Picture was this up in the air, this close to the ballgame. A pronounced dominance among the critics’ groups made Boyhood the early favorite, but then (because buzz and momentum and all that other bullshit cycles so quickly) it became the easy, “overrated” pick. And then Birdman started winning awards — specifically, the SAG, PGA, and DGA prizes, and the last time a movie won all three of those and didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar was all the way back in 1995. Grantland’s Mark Harris thus made a sensible case for Birdman being the frontrunner, based both on that precedent and the Academy’s recent predilection for bestowing that prize on movies about movies (The Artist and Argo, two of the past three years). But Harris has since walked that back a bit, and for good reason; those who love Birdman really love it, and those who hate Birdman really hate it. And that polarization means that it might not do well in the Academy’s slightly complicated and widely misunderstood weighted voting system. Put simply, in order to get to a 50 percent “majority” vote, the system can lean towards movies that might be second or even third choices on a ranked ballot — movies with less of a love/hate vibe than a love/like one. And thus, long story short (too late!) your film editor thinks the pendulum will ultimately swing back to Boyhood, since even those who aren’t wild about it don’t actively loathe it. But I could totally be wrong here! PICK: Selma, the year’s best film, which doesn’t have a chance in hell, sadly.
Actress in a Leading Role Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything Julianne Moore, Still Alice Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl Reese Witherspoon, Wild
PREDICTION: Julianne Moore‘s been pegged for this one since before the nominations were announced, for two good reasons: 1. She’s due (or, as Slate’s Dan Kois puts it, “And the Oscar goes to Julianne Moore, for Short Cuts, Vanya on 42nd Street, Safe, Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven, The End of the Affair, Children of Men, The Kids Are All Right, Don Jon, 30 Rock, Game Change, As the World Turns, and Still Alice“); and 2. She’s playing a woman with an affliction, and Oscar loves that shit. PICK: Marion Cotillard, who is magnificent not only in the Dardennes’ wrenching drama, but in The Immigrant. Have I mentioned you can watch The Immigrant right now?
Actor in a Leading Role Steve Carell, Foxcatcher Bradley Cooper, American Sniper Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game Michael Keaton, Birdman Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
PREDICTION: The evening’s second-tightest contest has basically come down to a two-man race between young upstart Redmayne and comeback kid Keaton. Redmayne seems to have the momentum behind him, taking the prize at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the SAGs (which have matched up for the past decade). Keaton is the sentimental favorite, and — not that this matters — gives the far better performance. Eddie Redmayne is a mediocre actor at best, but he’s playing a real person overcoming a physical hardship, and I don’t think we can be too cynical on this one. PICK: Michael Keaton, who’s delightfully twisted and endlessly entertaining in a role not too far removed from, at the very least, the common perception of himself.
Directing Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman Richard Linklater, Boyhood Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
PREDICTION: The tradition used to be that this prize and Best Picture were inseparable; the Best Picture clearly had the Best Director, and that was that. But that’s not been the way it’s gone down the past few years; Argo won Best Picture in 2012 despite Affleck’s snub in the director category (Ang Lee won that prize), and last year, Gravity took Director while 12 Years a Slave won Picture. That ended up being a fine way to split the honors between two almost equally good films, and I’ve got a feeling that may prove the solution to the Best Picture competition this year. And since I’m going Boyhood there, I think Alejandro González Iñárritu wins here, with the Academy going for the difficulty of long takes over the difficulty of a dozen years shooting without a payoff. PICK: Can I call it a tie?
Actress in a Supporting Role Patricia Arquette, Boyhood Laura Dern, Wild Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game Emma Stone, Birdman Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
PREDICTION: Patricia Arquette, done, end of story, move on. PICK: Sometimes the frontrunner is the front-runner for a reason.
Actor in a Supporting Role Robert Duvall, The Judge Ethan Hawke, Boyhood Edward Norton, Birdman Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
PREDICTION: J.K. Simmons, done, end of story, move on. PICK: Sometimes the frontrunner is the frontrunner for a reason.
Writing – Adapted Screenplay Jason Hall, American Sniper Graham Moore, The Imitation Game Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
PREDICTION: The Academy’s affection for Whiplash could easily extend here — five nominations is nothing to sneeze at. But neither are Imitation Game‘s eight, and this seems to be the most likely consolation prize for the Weinstein Company’s hard-fought (and frequently gross) campaign. Its WGA win doesn’t hurt the odds, either. PICK: The biggest long-shot of the bunch is Inherent Vice, but boy would that win make me happy — particularly since it’s the only one of these scripts (even the good ones) that’s even the slightest bit narratively and structurally loosey-goosey.
Writing – Original Screenplay Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman Richard Linklater, Boyhood E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
PREDICTION: If Adapted Screenplay is Imitation Game‘s consolation prize, then this will be Grand Budapest Hotel‘s. Plus, it’s a filmed valentine to writers and storytelling, which has to sit well with its primary audience. PICK: The further I get from Nightcrawler, the more its rule-bucking spirit and sardonic intelligence stick with me. But I’m not mad at Wes Anderson finally getting an Oscar.
Foreign Language Film Ida Leviathan Tangerines Timbuktu Wild Tales
PREDICTION: It’s a pretty competitive category, with strong support for all of the nominees here (particularly, over the past couple of weeks, the nutso Wild Tales). But I’m predicting the Oscar goes to the permanent frontrunner, Poland’s Ida. PICK: It’s not really one you can argue with, either; the picture is deeply moving, emotionally intelligent, and gorgeously rendered.
Animated Feature Film The Boxtrolls Big Hero 6 How to Train Your Dragon 2 Song of the Sea The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
PREDICTION: The story on this one remains not what was nominated, but what wasn’t: The LEGO Movie. With that perceived winner out of the race, it probably comes down to Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (the nominations are probably seen as the prize for the three small and small-ish films). Dragon 2 won the Golden Globe, but if these voters are leaning traditional — and snubbing The LEGO Movie indicates as much — I’m thinking they go with Disney and Big Hero 6. PICK: The Boxtrolls, if for no other reason than because Laika should have won something by now.
Documentary Feature CITIZENFOUR Finding Vivian Maier Last Days in Vietnam The Salt of the Earth Virunga
PREDICTION: Good films all, but CITIZENFOUR has that whole watch-history-happening thing going for it (to say nothing of pretty much every indicator award so far). That said, don’t be surprised if something like Finding Vivian Maier pulls an upset, as the doc voters have frequently leaned in favor of feel-good flicks about rediscovered artists, like 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching For Sugar Man. PICK: Also, um, your film editor sort of prefers Finding Vivian Maier anyw– [ducks to avoid tossed objects]
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel Dick Pope, Mr. Turner Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski, Ida Roger Deakins, Unbroken
PREDICTION: Sure, Emmanuel Lubezki just won this prize last year. But you can’t exactly hold that against him, now can you? PICK: And you shouldn’t. Even Birdman‘s haters have to admit that his camerawork and compositions are astonishing. (I mean, they have to admit that, right?)
Music – Original Score Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game Hans Zimmer, Interstellar Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything
PREDICTION: Oscar prognosticators seem convinced that Desplat’s two scores will cancel each other out, but “canceling each other out” happens less often than you’d think. Desplat and Wes Anderson are a good team, and I think voters can likely separate the lively, memorable score for The Grand Budapest Hotel from whatever he did for Imitation Game. PICK: I know it’s not cool anymore to dig Zimmer’s boom-crash cues, but his sound was just right for the sometimes-unsteady Interstellar, and often articulated the emotion of its scenes in ways Nolan couldn’t.
Music – Original Song “Everything Is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie “Glory,” Selma “Grateful,” Beyond the Lights “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me “Lost Stars,” Begin Again
PREDICTION: They’ll give it to “Glory” and feel better about Selma‘s shut-outs. And that’s too bad, because I’m kinda with Slate’s Aisha Harris on this — it’s actually not a great song. PICK: Too many movies about pop music feature songs that wreck the narrative, because you don’t believe they could actually be hits. That was never a problem in Beyond the Lights.
Film Editing American Sniper Boyhood The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game Whiplash
PREDICTION: The sheer daunting nature of wrangling a dozen years of footage will probably put Boyhood over the top — especially since the invisible stitches of Birdman were apparently too invisible for a nomination. PICK: Whiplash, whose razor-sharp cutting mirrored the intensity and hypnotic rhythm of the narrative.
Makeup and Hairstyling Foxcatcher The Grand Budapest Hotel Guardians of the Galaxy
PREDICTION: This one may go to Foxcatcher, by a prosthetic nose. But I think they’ll pick The Grand Budapest Hotel, which convincingly rendered Tilda Swinton as an aging socialite without resorting to the Plastic Turtle look of J. Edgar and the like. PICK: Grand Budapest.
Costume Design The Grand Budapest Hotel Inherent Vice Into the Woods Maleficent Mr. Turner
PREDICTION: Grand Budapest again, which combines two of the costume award’s most frequent elements: period and eccentricity. PICK: Grand Budapest.
Production Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game Interstellar Into the Woods Mr. Turner
PREDICTION: And make it three for Grand Budapest. PICK: I once again concur, while pausing once more to note how insane it is that the hideously ugly, community theater design of Into the Woods got an Oscar nomination.
Visual Effects Captain America: Winter Soldier Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Guardians of the Galaxy Interstellar X-Men: Days of Future Past
PREDICTION: A legitimately tough call, since all of these entries impressed. But I’d give the edge to the jaw-dropping spacescapes of Interstellar. PICK: And they are mighty impressive, but those human-to-ape transformations of the movies continue to knock me out.
Sound Editing American Sniper Birdman The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Interstellar Unbroken
PREDICTION: Most viewers and Oscar watchers (and, it seems, more than a few voters) can’t even tell this and the next category apart. But there is a subtle difference — put simply, editing is more about sound effects, which means American Sniper. (The war movie wins every time.) PICK: Here’s another way to tell the difference: the complaints of murky dialogue and overpowering music make Interstellar‘s Sound Mixing nomination odd, but its effects work was flawless.
Sound Mixing American Sniper Birdman Interstellar Unbroken Whiplash
PREDICTION: Sniper may very well take this one too (again, since at least some of these voters aren’t sure what the hell they’re voting for here), but we’re gonna bet on Whiplash, which relies on its mix to tell a very sound-heavy story. PICK: Whiplash.
Confession time! Your film editor has not seen the Oscar-nominated shorts, so feel free to check out here. But I’ve pored over the predictions of colleagues that have, and feel confident with these consensus guesses — they’re the ones I’ll use on my ballot, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
Short Film – Live Action Aya Boogaloo and Graham Butterlamp Parvenah The Phone Call
PREDICTION: The Phone Call
Short Film – Animated The Bigger Picture The Dam Keeper Feast Me and My Moulton A Single Life
Short Film – Documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 Joanna Our Curse The Reaper White Earth
And there you have it! Best of luck, and if you’d like some distraction, commentary, and bad jokes during the big show Sunday night, join me on the Twitter.