Last year, I scored a respectable 75 percent in predicting all 24 Oscar categories. But there are some much trickier races this year, including the tippy top category: Best Picture. Here’s a run-down of my picks.
Best Picture As I mentioned in a post last week, the preferential ballots used in this category (and only this category) complicate any analysis of what looks to be a very tight race. You might think that Boyhood and Birdman are the front-runners here, but they both seem to appeal to the art-house crowd. So if there are enough votes (and No. 2 votes) for a consensus favorite like American Sniper or The Imitation Game there could be a real upset here. But I’m gonna go with Boyhood FTW.
Best Actress Five-time nominee Julianne Moore will finally take gold for Still Alice.
Best Actor This is the most competitive of the acting categories, with Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Michael Keaton (Birdman) splitting a lot of the run-up awards. They each won a Golden Globe, for instance. I suspect that Eddie has the edge here. Potential spoiler: American Sniper‘s Bradley Cooper, with his third acting nomination in a row, has been gaining some late-season steam.
Best Supporting Actress Three months ago, I would not have thought that Boyhood mom Patricia Arquette would be regarded as such a lock in this category. But the Boyhood star has this one in the bag.
Best Supporting Actor Another sure thing: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.
Best Director It’s a two-horse race between Richard Linklater and Alejandro González Iñárritu. I give the edge to González Iñárritu for Birdman.
Best Original Screenplay The Academy really does prize originality in this category, which is why recent winners have included offbeat films that have fallen short of Best Picture recognition: Midnight in Paris (over The Artist), Django Unchained, Her. Boyhood‘s originality is more about director Richard Linklater’s conception of the project rather than the script, which doesn’t feel written so much as improvised. So I think this is a runoff between Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman. The fact that González Iñárritu had three cowriters may work against him here; the Academy tends to favor single (and singular) visions. So let’s go with Grand Budapest Hotel.
Best Adapted Screenplay This may be the trickiest category to call this year. A confounding hiccup in the rules bumped the highly original Whiplash into this category, but it still has a real shot. Harvey Weinstein’s machine is pushing hard for The Imitation Game, whose script I personally find to be flat-footed. (Alan Turing’s homosexuality is more posited than depicted; not that I wanted a graphic sex scene, but why would Alan Leach’s character even think to blackmail Turing since he doesn’t make so much as a sidelong glance at another man at Bletchley Park?) Jason Hall turned American Sniper into an unlikely box office juggernaut without dipping (too deeply) into jingoism. Alas, my favorite in this category, The Theory of Everything, which craftily turns a great-man biopic into a poignant two-hander, doesn’t seem to be a real contender despite winning the BAFTA. A toss-up here. But I’ll go with Whiplash.
Best Editing This category tends to line up with Best Picture. And without Birdman in the race, that would favor Boyhood — whose editor, Sandra Adair, faced the additional challenge of assembling 12 years worth of footage into a coherent narrative. The one possible spoiler here is another Best Picture nominee, Whiplash, whose effectiveness owes much to Tom Cross’ syncopated splicing.
Best Cinematography Poor Roger Deakins. The visionary behind such films as Fargo and The Reader and Skyfall is overdue for recognition, but his 12th nomination, for Unbroken, won’t be it. Birdman‘s Emmanuel Lubezki will win here.
Best Production Design Sure thing here: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Best Costume Design Expect another win for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which picked up the Costume Designers Guild Award this week for period film. The closest competition is another CDG winner (in the fantasy film category), Into the Woods, by three-time Oscar winner, 11-time nominee Colleen Atwood.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling This is a (literal) faceoff between Steve Carell’s nose in Foxcatcher and Tilda Swinton’s old-age makeup in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I give it to Grand Budapest by a nostril hair.
Best Original Score French composer Alexandre Desplat, an eight-time nominee, is overdue for recognition. The problem? He’s got two nods this year, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. Though he won the BAFTA this year for Grand Budapest Hotel (his Imitation Game score wasn’t a contender there), I suspect the Academy will go with this year’s Golden Globe winner, The Theory of Everything.
Best Original Song This should be the lone prize for the underappreciated Selma, whose closing anthem, “Glory,” fits snugly with the film’s message of historical uplift and striving for justice. But don’t rule out a surprise win for a purely sentimental choice, Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from a doc about the ailing country giant’s final concert tour.
Best Sound Mixing No, most Academy voters have no idea what this category means (and for that reason, many of them just skip it on their ballots). But this is the one that’s about the overall sound mix of the film. Music-heavy movies tend to do well (Chicago, Ray, Dreamgirls, Les Misérables) because it’s assumed that blending different vocal and orchestral and dialogue tracks is challenging. That would seem to favor Whiplash or maybe even Birdman, where the sound is so important to the overall effect of the film. But a more tech-driven film like American Sniper could also win out. I’m gonna go with Whiplash, but it’s a toss-up really.
Best Sound Editing Here’s a hint to keep things straight: Cinematography is to production design as sound mixing is to sound editing. This category is all about foley work, the gunshots and ape cries and other sound effects that get added to a film to add authenicity, flavor, and you-are-thereness. War films have tended to dominate the category in the last decade (Letters From Iwo Jima, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), so expect an American Sniper win.
Best Visual Effects In recent years, there’s been a bias against mainstream popcorn fare in favor of more Academy-leaning films that happen to be effects-driven: Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi, Gravity. No Harry Potter film ever won. The closest nominee to fill that bill this year is Interstellar.
Best Foreign Language Film Poland’s Ida is the deserved front-runner — plus, it has an Academy-bait Holocaust theme. But Russia’s Leviathan and Mauritania’s Timbuktu are both topical and compelling potential spoilers.
Best Animated Feature With The LEGO Movie mysteriously out of the race and no Pixar film to contend with, the front-runner has to be How to Train Your Dragon 2. It’ll be a bit of retribution since the first one lost to Pixar’s behemoth Toy Story 3.
Best Animated Short This category has long been my bete noir. My personal choice would be the delightful but skimpy two-minute A Single Life. Disney’s Feast has its fans, but the Academy has tended to overlook studio efforts in this category. But the film that is most like previous winners is a storybook-like yarn about a bullied piglet, The Dam Keeper. Let’s call that my pick.
Best Documentary Feature Citizenfour is the understandable favorite here. Laura Poitras’ doc about Edward Snowden is certainly newsy and compelling, but its storytelling is sometimes bumpy. Virunga is a sensational, well-constructed exposé of a British multinational’s complicity in attacks on Africa’s oldest national park. And I’m hearing that Finding Vivian Meyer, digging into the life of a posthumously celebrated art photographer, is hitting a lot of emotional buttons with Academy members. (Even if my last five movies have bombed, you can imagine them thinking, perhaps future generations will recognize my genius.) Citizenfour will probably win, but an upset would not shock me here.
Best Documentary Short The two heart-tugging vérité looks at Poles facing life-and-death challenges (Joanna and Our Curse) should cancel each other, giving HBO’s Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 a clear path to the podium.
Best Live Action Short Despite my iffy track record picking this category, there’s a strong case for Bugaloo and Graham, which is set in Ireland (like two of the last 10 winners) and boasts two adorable boys adopting chicken. But Parvaneh or The Phone Call could easily take this one.