We’re down to the wire. Sunday, we will find out just how much we did and did not know about this Oscar season. While I’ve contributed quick thoughts to our Rundown articles, I always like to do more with my final post of the year. This will include how I think the races will finish out, what has the best chances of surprising and what I overall felt about the nominees, non-nominees and other general thoughts.
The categories below are sorted in order from least competitive to most competitive.
I will not be sharing my personal thoughts on the quality of the foreign language, documentary or short film categories since I haven’t seen many of these and apart from Foreign Language Film and Documentary Feature, I don’t know that my guesses would have much impact. I have still written a little something on each and these are separated out at the end of this article.
Best Production Design
What Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. There hasn’t been this clear-cut a winner since Titanic steamrolled the competition I 1997. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. With a clean sweep of the precursors (that give out Production Design awards), there has never been a second choice in this category for anyone and that’s the way it will stand.
What Could Potentially Upset: Mr. Turner. The history of the Production Design/Art Direction award has been heavily in favor of period dramas. There have been an assortment of different films over the years, but the vast majority have been set in the Petticoat Era. Mr. Turner is the only film on the list that completely fits the tone of the majority of past winners, so it could eke out a win over the comedy, but that seems highly unlikely.
My Personal Thoughts: When I first started watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I knew that if any other film won the Oscar for Production Design, it would be a travesty. Thankfully, it’s certain to win. It’s the most lush, sumptuous, detailed and creative design I’ve seen in years. It’s so dominant that it’s almost another character in the film. I thought Guardians of the Galaxy deserved a nomination this year. It was a colorful, detailed, exuberant work and could easily have replaced the tedium of sets in Into the Woods.
Best Supporting Actor
What Will Win: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash. The precursors have lined up for three of this year’s acting front-runners, which make them seem like inevitable victors. That is easily said of J.K. Simmons, who is probably the most secure of the bunch. Here’s a longtime character actor who’s been in so many Oscar contending films in recent years that he’s almost a mainstay of the competition even if not in actuality. Now, he’ll take home a little guy of his own.
What Could Potentially Upset: Edward Norton – Birdman. How many people think Norton already has an Oscar. He hasn’t, but he has two prior nominations and if voters know that, it might give him a shot. Returning to form, Norton could have been the winner if it weren’t for Simmons’ presence. If there’s a spoiler, I wouldn’t be surprised if Norton takes it.
My Personal Thoughts: While not as bountiful as the lead actor category, Supporting Actor has had a wealth of fine work this year and Norton (among those I’ve seen) is certainly one of the finest. He commands attention for his balls-to-the-wall drunkard in Birdman. However, there are plenty of other performances deserving of praise this year, not the least of which is Logan Lerman in Fury, a brave dominant performance that grips you throughout.
What Will Win: Julianne Moore – Still Alice. She became the favored winner when she entered the race. She didn’t need the critics prizes to sweep her towards Oscar glory, but it’s hard to imagine any other result at this point. Moore could also become a double Oscar winner if her performance in Freeheld takes off next year.
What Could Potentially Upset: Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl. Both Rosamund Pike and Marion Cotillard were the dominant players in the early precursor derbies and either could mount a serious threat to Julianne Moore. I doubt either will occur, but if I had to pick one with the best chance of upsetting, it’s the thoroughly energized performance of Rosamund Pike.
My Personal Thoughts: Great women’s roles are so hard to come by that it’s no surprise that it’s the category with the smallest competitive pool to pick a nominee from. I loved Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and she’d be my pick from this list, but some actresses should have been considered, more so than they were. Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow is a good example.
Best Supporting Actress
What Will Win: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood. When Patricia Arquette began sweeping up prizes heading through Precursor Season, she reminded me of Amy Ryan who did the same with Gone Baby Gone, but she began stumbling late in the game and never recovered. Arquette, on the other hand, has been very consistent. So much so that she is now the prohibitive front-runner. Even BAFTA couldn’t launch a credible counter-contender and they’re the ones who helped us settle on Tilda Swinton back in 2007.
What Could Potentially Upset: Emma Stone – Birdman. Harvey Weinstein could have pushed Keira Knightley to an Oscar win, but The Imitation Game never built up the steam it needed to pull along someone like Knightley. Of the remaining nominees, Emma Stone probably has the best shot of staging an upset. Apart from being young, she’s amazingly talented and very well liked. If Birdman ends up a stronger contender for Best Picture than we think, she could be swept along.
My Personal Thoughts: In this bunch, Emma Stone would get my vote, though the women who make up this category are all quite good. The actresses that should have been under consideration and either weren’t or didn’t make it through include Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer, Carrie Coon in Gone Girl and Rose Byrne in Neighbors. Each was superb in small or thankless roles.
Best Original Screenplay
What Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Although Birdmanhad been an early favorite with the critics, The Grand Budapest Hotel has quickly accumulated a number of high profile prizes and now seems poised to capture Wes Anderson his first Oscar. It will likely be the only opportunity the Academy has to honor him directly.
What Could Potentially Upset: Birdman. The strong Best Picture contender has been talked about frequently as a brilliant script that deserves recognition, and like Her, it’s an auteur’s story. The rest of the nominees don’t have a shot, but Birdman could take it. Especially if it’s heading towards a Best Picture victory (and winning here would suggest that it is).
My Personal Thoughts: There were a lot of excellent scripts this year and the top two contenders in this category are among them. Edge of Tomorrow should have definitely been under consideration even though it never truly entered the conversation.
What Will Win: Birdman. The defining aspect of Birdman was its seamless approach to creating the impression that it was shot in a single take. This, of course, wasn’t the case, but watching the film, it’s impossible to tell where the cuts are unless they are scene or temporal transitions. If the Academy can get past the visual look of the film being the only defining element of cinematography, Birdman should easily win.
What Could Potentially Upset: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Any of the remaining nominees could conceivably win, but The Grand Budapest Hotel and Mr. Turner seem like the most capable. Budapest is a visual feast that’s enabled by Wes Anderson’s unique flair for photography, but Mr. Turner uses a technique seldom discussed, focusing on creating the impression that you’re either looking at, or delving into a painting by the film’s subject, J.M.W. Turner.
My Personal Thoughts: There were so many handsome films this year and I’d gladly recognize any of the above, but among the non-nominated, Snowpiercer is probably the most deserving of inclusion followed by Gone Girl and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Best Costume Design
What Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s costumes don’t fit into the traditional period designs that often win this award, especially when it comes to taking both Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. Mr. Turner is much more akin to those traditional winners than Budapest is. Yet, the film has built up steam towards the Oscars and seems destined to deliver another victory lap for the film.
What Could Potentially Upset: Into the Woods. Both Into the Woods and Mr. Turner have the kinds of costuming elements the Academy has typically recognized and while Mr. Turner is more period oriented, Into the Woods has a lot of fantastical, richly detailed elements that tend to catch the eye a little better, so if Budapest loses, I expect Woods will be the beneficiary.
My Personal Thoughts: I would easily dump Into the Woods from this list. The costumes were frequently uninteresting, they never suggested some magical otherworldliness and they just seemed like the kinds of frocks that are borrowed from Broadway, but look a bit too shabby for the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy never had a chance, but would have been deserving of a nomination as would Snowpiercer and The Hobbit.
Best Sound Editing
What Will Win: American Sniper. The Academy has to recognize Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster and, being a war film, gives it an edge in the sound categories. It didn’t win at the Cinema Audio Society, but it did win the Motion Picture Sound Editors trophy. Not all voters precisely know the difference, so I suspect they may vote en bloc for the film in both categories.
What Could Potentially Upset: Birdman. While it didn’t come out victorious at the Motion Picture Sound Editors, the sound design has been frequently recognized and of all these nominees, this is the only one that feels like it could trump Sniper.
My Personal Thoughts: A lot of traditional blockbusters failed to register with Oscar voters this year, which is a shame since so many of them were deserving of recognition. Edge of Tomorrow, Fury, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would each have been worthy nominees.
Best Sound Mixing
What Will Win: American Sniper. Not knowing the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing hasn’t stopped voter from voting for the same film in the past (unless a film isn’t nominated in both sound categories). American Sniper‘s a war film, which will give it just enough boost to bring it to the brink even though it was Birdman that won the equivalent guild prize from the Cinema Audio Society.
What Could Potentially Upset: Whiplash. Birdman may have won at the CAS, but the heavy percussion and rhythmic editing of Whiplash seems much more like an upset winner than anything, though a Birdman victory also wouldn’t surprise me.
My Personal Thoughts: Add to my list for Sound Editing above The Hobbit and you’d have another strong set of choices.
Best Visual Effects
What Will Win: Interstellar. Being the front-runner for a long time has its benefits and those benefits may ultimately lead to Interstellar winning at the Oscars. The film wasn’t as well received as early predictors thought it might be, so it’s lost a lot of steam through awards season and took a final blow from the Visual Effects Society guild awards where it lost to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. That would normally be enough to hinder its chances were the VES not uneven in matching up with Oscar. Interstellar still managed to win with BAFTA, which is a better comparison in terms of member makeup to the Academy than the VES is.
What Could Potentially Upset: Guardians of the Galaxy. While Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would seem the perfect runner-up option, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that so many people loved, but not quite enough to propel it to a Best Picture nomination. While Best Makeup and Hairstyling would seem the best place to recognize the film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also a major threat there and this would be the only opportunity to recognize Marvel’s franchise launcher. That said, if enough voters can remember that Rise of the Planet of the Apes famously lost Best Visual Effects despite a near-sweep of critics’ prizes, they might decide to give it an award, but more likely they’ll just think it’s been honored before and skip it this time in favor of something new and/or original.
My Personal Thoughts: This was such a bountiful year for visual effects that you could have expanded this category to ten slots and not been at a loss for films to include. Among the notable misses are Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Snowpiercer, Lucy and Birdman.
Best Adapted Screenplay
What Will Win: The Imitation Game. While The Imitation Game has faltered nearly everywhere else, the one category it seems to have picked up steam in is Best Adapted Screenplay. It lost the BAFTA to fellow nominee The Theory of Everything, but victory at the more accurate USC Scripter Awards and a win at the Writers Guild of America suggest the film still has legs and that this will be the only place the Academy will choose to honor the film.
What Could Potentially Upset: American Sniper. American Sniper has divided more people than it’s united, but it’s strong box office run has given it a lot of boost and this category could be where the Academy decides to recognize it if they don’t want to give it a lower profile award like the sound prizes or editing.
My Personal Thoughts: Snowpiercer was hands-down the best screenplay of the year. Gone Girl was a close second. Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a surprisingly adept screenplay and How to Train Your Dragon 2 was one of the best animated sequels outside of the Toy Story franchise.
What Will Win: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything. A physical transformation paired with an ever-present campaign has put Redmayne into the thick of the hunt for a victory at the Oscars. I had originally put Redmayne down as the potential victor several months ago and it wasn’t until Michael Keaton began running the table in the early precursor that I began to doubt his chances. Now, the tables have turned back and I believe that Redmayne has pulled ahead and will most likely become the winner.
What Could Potentially Upset: Michael Keaton – Birdman. He’s an actor that has been respected for the better part of three decades even if he hasn’t done a lot of work in that time. Right now, all the awards he’s won leading up to the Oscars put him in a stiff competition to win Best Actor, but hitting so close to home (“washed up” actor trying to live down his famed superhero performance) may make voters think there isn’t much of a stretch going on, which they love. It’s also possible that Bradley Cooper, riding the wave of support of American Sniper, could win on his third consecutive nomination, but history is largely against him.
My Personal Thoughts: There were a lot of terrific performances from male actors this year. Michael Keaton is one of my favorites, but I also appreciate Eddie Redmayne’s work. Benedict Cumberbatch is strong in The Imitation Game and Tom Cruise is the best he’s been in years in Edge of Tomorrow. Ralph Fiennes (Grand Budapest), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Chris Evans in Snowpiercer would also have been worthy nominees.
Best Film Editing
What Will Win: Boyhood. I’ve been waffling for the last week on what film to pick in this category. It’s such a toss up that almost anything could win. At first, I didn’t think voters would notice Boyhood‘s strengths as an edited piece, but it seems there’s plenty of attention being drawn to its cobbling together of 12 years of footage without the benefit or potential of reshoots and still coming up with a cohesive drama. If enough voters think about the film in that way, Boyhood should have little trouble winning.
What Could Potentially Upset: Whiplash. Still, there are two films that could easily take the laurels. American Sniper may be a war movie, but those who’ve seen it suggest it isn’t nearly as persuasively edited as most war films are. Whiplash, on the other hand, has been earning all manners of attention for its rapid-fire editing that beats along with the drums, rhythmically keeping track. Like the Academy’s predilection towards boxing movies because of their quick cutting action, Whiplash could benefit from that and from being one of the year’s most appreciated films.
My Personal Thoughts: Boyhood‘s effort is spectacular, but so is Birdman‘s. Snowpiercer is better than all of them though and should have been given a nomination (thank goodness Harvey lost the battle to cut the film to his liking). Edge of Tomorrow also features strong editing, cutting between multiple iterations of the same day without feeling the least bit repetitive.
Best Animated Feature
What Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2. The void left by The Lego Movie‘s nomination failure has seemingly galvanized support for DreamWorks’ film How to Train Your Dragon 2. With a more traditional narrative than the likes of its nearest competitor (Big Hero 6), the boost of winning the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature even against The Lego Movie is an added benefit. The win at the Globes helps too.
What Could Potentially Upset: Big Hero 6. Disney has a strong record of winning at the Oscars in this category and they would love to add another trophy to their overburdened mantle. While Dragon seems like the solid choice, the volatility of the category is too high to count out Big Hero 6 as a winner, though as Wreck-It Ralph understands all too well, sometimes the less unusual the story (it lost to Brave) is the more likely winner.
My Personal Thoughts: I like The Lego Movie, but I also recognize it as a derivative work at best, copying from the myriad direct-to-video efforts that have been out there and the brief live-action sequence near the end, almost killed that film for me. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the most compelling, heartfelt, wonderful animated film released this year and I will forever be stymied as to why more people didn’t love it.
Best Original Song
What Will Win: “Glory” – Selma. Too much was made of Selma‘s virtual shut-out at the Oscars. Taking home only two nominations, one in Best Picture and one in Best Original Song, many think that the lack of support elsewhere (and the major press attention that caused) will mean that “Glory” is the de facto winner here.
What Could Potentially Upset: “Everything Is Awesome” – The Lego Movie. The Lego Movie has just as much claim to a win here as any film. Until “Glory,” no one would have bet against “Everything Is Awesome.” It’s an energetic song that’s quite catchy and, with the film’s failure to earn a Best Animated Feature Oscar against all odds, fans of the film will also want to put some votes behind it here. Ultimately, I think “Glory” has an edge, thanks to its victories elsewhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lego had an awesome night.
My Personal Thoughts: There were some great unnominated songs this year, including tunes from Big Eyes, Big Hero 6, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and more. That the likes of “Lost Stars” and “Grateful” are even in this competition is a bit disappointing.
Best Original Score
What Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Will it be one of Alexandre Desplat’s two nominations or will The Theory of Everything swoop in for the win. It would be easy to pick Theory of Everything as the most likely winner because of its win at the Globes, but that group has long been a poor forecaster of the Best Original Score Oscar, frequently failing to even see its winners nominated. Desplat is one of the most talented composers working today and it feels like it’s finally his time to shine. With two nominations this year, he joins a very small club, which includes John Williams on multiple occasions. Of the two, The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s score is more memorable and quite a bit more fun than The Imitation Game. Imitation has also struggled this season, which makes Budapest seem more likely.
What Could Potentially Upset: The Theory of Everything. The problem with betting on the double nominee is that more often than not, they lose. John Williams has lost several times in spite of being double nominated frequently and you have to go back quite some time to find the last double nominee to win. That gives some credence to the Theory of Everything taking the win. It’s a very common score, even if pretty, but the Academy does like its expectations to be met in this category and stretching beyond the norm can be dangerous.
My Personal Thoughts: I love the score to The Grand Budapest Hotel, so I would be ecstatic if it won. The Gone Girl score should have been nominated, as should the score from the final Hobbit film.
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
What Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy. Everything will come down to the wire for this category. There are three films here that have equal opportunity to win. Most prognosticators seem to be split between the three films, never knowing precisely where the Academy will fall. On the one hand, you have Guardians of the Galaxy, a makeup-heavy sci-fi spectacle with plenty of alien creations, painted skin and prosthetic effects that are capital “N” Noticeable. That used to mean a lot in this category.
What Could Potentially Upset: The Grand Budapest Hotel. However, when a Best Picture nominee gets into the list, the table turn and the Best Picture nominee is favored to win. The Grand Budapest Hotel would seem like the perfect film to embody that concept. Yet, it doesn’t have a lot of obvious makeup effects, which could hurt its chances, especially compared to Guardians. Of course, Foxcatcher has quite a bit of Noticeable makeup, with receded hairlines, false noses and more.
My Personal Thoughts: Guardians is a terrific nominee. I can’t really think of any other film that would deserve to be included on this list, though The Hobbit should have already won it.
What Will Win: Richard Linklater – Boyhood. The most competitive categories this year happen to be the two biggest of the night. Alejandro G. Inarritu has won several awards and capped his Precursor Season run with the DGA victory. The Directors Guild has a long history of correctly forecasting the Oscar winner. That makes Richard Linklater’s chances a bit dimmer. However, when it comes to accomplishment, it’s hard to beat a director who slaved for twelve years to make a film and ultimately created something that worked. This may ultimately appeal to voters in a way that Inarritu’s film can’t. That being said, it might also be the only opportunity they have to honor Linklater, who’s never been nominated in this category before whereas Inarritu has. If people think about that, it may be easier to recognize Linklater that way. My guess is it goes to Linklater.
What Could Potentially Upset: Alejandro G. Inarritu – Birdman. However, betting against the DGA is folly at times, which makes my decision a tougher one than I really would want it to be. Inarritu won the DGA prize, but lost BAFTA, which may be the sign we need to show that it doesn’t have nearly the support within the narrower bodies as it does within the much larger guilds.
My Personal Thoughts: Ava DuVernay may have made a relatively conventional film, but it was a well crafted one. She probably should have been nominated, but I’d have rather put Joon-ho Bong on the list for Snowpiercer or David Fincher for Gone Girl. Wes Anderson continues to approve, so I would definitely leave him on this list.
What Will Win: Boyhood. Myriad precedents are in play and many of them will fall. Ultimately, I am rationalizing my selection of Boyhood in two ways. No film since 1980 has won Best Picture without a Best Film Editing nomination. On top of that, Birdman may have a string of guild wins, but those all crumpled under the weight of the BAFTA selection of Boyhood for Best Picture (and Director). That shows us that a smaller group with older voters tend to favor less controversial or off-the-wall films. It will be a close race and until Best Director is awarded, we may not know for certain. Of course, a win in either Film Editing (somewhat expected) or Original Screenplay (not at all expected) could forecast the win for Boyhood.
What Could Potentially Upset: Birdman. On the other hand, wins for Birdman in either or both of the sound categories, Best Original Screenplay and/or Best Actor could be a sign that Best Picture is in Birdman‘s grasp. Inarritu winning Best Director would help. No film has taken the WGA, SAG, DGA and PGA prizes and lost Best Picture. That’s a hefty precedent to follow and betting a split is seldom advisable (though it has become more common in the last two decades). So, while Boyhood seems the safer choice, a Birdman would be within the realm of possibilities. Of course, some are saying Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is benefiting form a late surge, but I almost think that The Grand Budapest Hotel has a better shot at winning.
My Personal Thoughts: Snowpiercer was easily one of the best films of the year and absolutely should have been nominated. Gone Girl and Guardians of the Galaxy also would have been worthy nominees. Surprisingly, I could almost make a whole slate of Best Picture nominees from genre films (X-Men, Captain America, Edge of Tomorrow) which were largely terrific this year, a rarity to be sure.
Below are the remaining categories for the Oscars. I haven’t seen all or enough of these to make decisions on what should win, what should not or what even should have been nominated. They are all also equally close in terms of potential winners. Best Documentary Feature and Best Animated Short Film are the only categories anyone is really talking about the winner being a “done deal,” but nothing at the Oscars is ever guaranteed.
Best Foreign Language Film
What Will Win: Ida. Force Majeure was the film everyone thought would win Best Foreign Language Film until it wasn’t nominated. Then, Ida became the prohibitive front-runner thanks to its amazing streak at the precursors. The problem is that the Globes through a wrench into the machine and Ida‘s potential dominance faded.
What Could Potentially Upset: Leviathan. That wrench was Leviathan, a potboiler that seems out of the ordinary for Oscar’s consideration, but which seems to be running a strong second at this point and could easily upset. The same could be said of both Timbuktu and Wild Tales.
Best Documentary Feature
What Will Win: Citizenfour. The political nature of this documentary makes it a tough one to beat. The strong support from critics also helps.
What Could Potentially Upset: Last Days in Vietnam. However, the unusually strong lineup of nominees has made the possibility of an upset even stronger with Last Days in Vietnam (more likely) and Virunga (slightly less likely) potential successors to the prize.
Best Documentary Short Subject
What Will Win: Crisis Hotline. I haven’t seen these films, but from title and subject alone Crisis Hotline seems like a good choice.
What Could Potentially Upset: Joanna. Most prognosticators are selecting Joanna as the potential winner. At this point, I don’t know for sure and any of the nominees could win.
Best Animated Short Film
What Will Win: Feast. Some have said Feast is weak, but now that all Academy members get screeners, a broader voting pool could give it an edge. It’s an incredibly sweet tale that tugs at the heartstrings.
What Could Potentially Upset: The Bigger Picture. I honestly have no idea what else could win as just about anything could. Pixar and Disney have not had a good track record in recent years, so the possibilities are endless.
Best Live-Action Short Film
What Will Win: The Phone Call. The names involved with this one give it a slight edge, but without having seen any of them, I have no idea which will tickle the Academy’s fancy.
What Could Potentially Upset: Aya. I have no idea, but Aya and Paravaneh seem to have the most potential.