Last year, The A.V. Club correctly predicted 19 of the 21 Academy Award races it examined. That’s a pretty good batting average, but the truth is that most of the categories were sewn up by Oscar night. (We goofed only when straying from the consensus favorites, like Lupita Nyong’o and Spike Jonze.) This year, many of the same major races are too close to call; if there’s anything we’re really sure about, it’s that our track record as amateur Nate Silvers is likely to take a hit. So before filling out your own office Oscar ballot, remember that the following predictions are just educated guesses. As for the preferences, those should be taken with an even larger grain of salt. Please direct all dissenting opinions to the comments section below, where you too can test your prognostication skills by making like a walking, talking, opinionated magic eight ball.
Prediction: The Academy’s top prize is a toss up between a drama that spans 12 years and another shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, with a film titled American something next in line. Sound familiar? Yet this year’s Best Picture race, unlike last year’s, will not come down to a title fight between Hollywood spectacle and serious indie cinema. Boyhood and Birdman occupy roughly the same industry sphere—they’re beloved mini-major releases, featuring strong casts, directed by important filmmakers, and defined by a central “stunt.” For months and months, Boyhood was the critics-approved front-runner. But while its victories at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs confirm that it’s still very much in contention, momentum has shifted to Birdman, which has picked up top honors from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild. It’s been two decades since anything accomplished that feat and then lost Best Picture—and Birdman’s focus on the artistic anxieties of a movie star should appeal to the Academy’s largest branch, the actors. But AMPAS could go either way. Or it could surprise everyone and pick American Sniper, a colossal smash by an industry veteran that’s made more money than every other Best Picture nominee combined.
Preference: There’s a not a lot to complain about in this year’s lineup; with the exception of those dueling biopics about brainy Brits, the nominees are all auteurist achievements—yes, even Sniper, which is much more about Clint Eastwood’s reoccurring preoccupations than Chris Kyle’s life and career. But while we could live with at last half of these movies winning the big one, it’s Boyhood that deserves it most. Capturing a child’s dozen-year passage into adulthood, year by year, is impressive enough. Culling that footage into a coming-of-age story that feels both relaxed and deeply resonant is Richard Linklater’s true accomplishment. In an ideal world, Best Picture would always go to a film as adventurous as this.
Overlooked: Gone Girl is mainstream entertainment done right—a twisty, sinister thriller for adults, directed by one of Hollywood’s most meticulous craftsmen. Maybe Gillian Flynn should build her next page-turner around the mystery of why this well-reviewed smash failed to secure more than a single Oscar nomination.
Nominees: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman; Richard Linklater, Boyhood; Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Prediction: As usual, this race mirrors Best Picture, putting Boyhood’s Richard Linklater neck-in-neck with Birdman’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The latter won the DGA, but the sheer scope of what Linklater attempted (and achieved) with Boyhood may put him on top. It feels like one of those years when AMPAS will split Picture and Director between two films—though they might go the opposite route of what we’re predicting, handing Iñárritu the Oscar for direction and Boyhood the main prize.
Preference: Wes Anderson created a whole world from the ground up, as he always does, with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Richard Linklater, on the other hand, gave us a whole childhood in under three hours. He deserves the Oscar he’ll probably win.
Overlooked: For the first time since the Academy expanded the Best Picture slate past five nominees, a filmmaker has managed to slip into the Best Director lineup despite the fact that his movie is not up for Best Picture. But while we appreciate the sentiment that the best directed films of the year aren’t always the flat-out greatest ones, Bennett Miller’s odd-man-in nomination for Foxcatcher comes at the expense of a more deserving nod for Damien Chazelle, whose tight-as-a-drum work on Whiplash marks him as a thrilling new voice in American cinema.
Prediction: Five-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore is poised to become a first-time Oscar winner for her performance as a woman losing her faculties to early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Preference: Marion Cotillard bares her soul, scraping away all the movie-star glamour concealing it, as a desperate working-class mother going door to door to save her livelihood in Two Days, One Night. Extra points for blending into the largely no-name ensemble of a Dardenne brothers movie—and, additionally, for delivering an equally terrific 2014 turn in James Gray’s The Immigrant.
Overlooked: Were it not for a silly genre bias—and sillier eligibility laws concerning when a film plays theatrically and when it’s available on VOD—Essie Davis’ intense starring role in The Babadook might have been a potential dark horse contender.
Nominees: Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Michael Keaton, Birdman; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything
Prediction: Hollywood loves a comeback story, maybe even more than they love a technically precise impersonation, and Michael Keaton’s work in Birdman might be too wink-wink, art-imitating-life resonant for voters to resist. That said, Eddie Redmayne’s uncanny portrayal of Stephen Hawking has won most of the precursors, including the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, and SAG. Care to guess how often the winner of the latter has gone on to win the Best Actor Oscar in the last decade? Hint: The percentage of times it’s happened has three digits.
Preference: In a year when four out of the five Best Actor nominees are playing real people, a heavily fictionalized (a.k.a. dishonest, at least as written) take on a public figure might seem like an odd choice for MVP. Fidelity aside, however, Bradley Cooper is quietly superb in American Sniper, internalizing his character’s trauma and conveying his emotions through mostly physical means. It’s every bit as controlled as Redmayne’s Hawking impression, just in a less showy way.
Overlooked: Was there a spookier star turn last year than the vampiric sociopath routine Jake Gyllenhaal cooked up for Nightcrawler? His Lou Bloom is an opportunistic creep par excellence, every bit as can’t-look-away repulsive as Travis Bickle.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; Laura Dern, Wild; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; Emma Stone, Birdman; Meryl Streep, Into The Woods
Prediction: Sinking 12 years into a project has its benefits, as Patricia Arquette will continue to discover when her awards-season hot streak culminates in the addition of “Academy Award winner” to her resume. (Ten bucks says they go with her tearful “I thought there’d be more” monologue for the performance clip.)
Preference: Arquette is plenty moving in Boyhood, especially during that aforementioned speech. But she doesn’t stop her movie cold (in a good way) the way Emma Stone does as the short-fused, emotionally wounded daughter of Birdman.
Overlooked: As screamingly funny as Jason Schwartzman is in Listen Up Philip, the film’s most affecting scenes belong to Elisabeth Moss, chafing with heartache and rejection during a brilliant, mid-film perspective shift. There will be life for her after Mad Men.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Robert Duvall, The Judge; Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; Edward Norton, Birdman; Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Prediction: From the moment Whiplash premiered at Sundance more than a year ago, J.K. Simmons has been on a fast track to the podium. His terrifying transformation into the music mentor from hell has earned pretty much every major Supporting Actor prize available. Academy voters are probably too scared not to vote for him.
Preference: Sometimes the sure thing is a sure thing for a reason. Simmons makes Fletcher a fascinating human monster, and Whiplash’s thrilling ambiguity—the way it keeps you guessing as to whether this man is a brilliant instructor or just a petty tyrant—hinges on the actor’s layered loathsomeness. Even those who hate the movie can’t deny his volcanic power.
Overlooked: The lineup is actually pretty uniformly terrific, save for Robert Duvall’s sleepwalking-veteran performance in The Judge. Replace him with Ben Mendelsohn, hilarious and oddly touching as the jailhouse father of Starred Up, and we’d be looking at a Supporting Actor competition for the ages.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees: Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. & Armando Bo; Boyhood, Richard Linklater; Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson; Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy
Prediction: Will third time be the charm for Wes Anderson? His third nominated script is for a film the Academy evidently loves (check out those nine nominations) and Original Screenplay seems like the group’s best, most sensible opportunity to give The Grand Budapest Hotel a major award. But don’t count out the carefully selected mundanities of Boyhood or the rapid-fire verbosity of Birdman. As possible Best Picture winners, either could finish first in this very close race.
Preference: It may not be one of Anderson’s greatest movies, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely one of his most miraculously constructed, with a nesting-doll narrative as elegant as its title setting. This being an Anderson script, the dialogue is also rich with zingers. But we wouldn’t bemoan any alternative winner, save perhaps Foxcatcher.
Overlooked: Snubbed in the Foreign Language category, Force Majeure hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of scoring a screenplay nomination. Which is a pity, because its portrait of male ego coming apart on the snowy slopes of a Swiss ski resort is scene-for-scene incisive—and as damn funny as anything in Budapest.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees: American Sniper, Jason Hall; The Imitation Game, Graham Moore; Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson; The Theory Of Everything, Anthony McCarten; Whiplash, Damien Chazelle
Prediction: Whiplash has the juiciest dialogue, American Sniper has the mass appeal. But neither have a WGA award under their belts, nor the relentless lobbying of Harvey Weinstein on their side. Prepare for The Imitation Game to take this one home, even as you keep your fingers crossed for a less boring selection.
Preference: Judged as acts of adaptation, Inherent Vice earns this in a walk; it brings Thomas Pynchon to the screen, about as coherently as is probably possible. But the best screenplay here period is probably Whiplash, which has little fat on its slender frame (no scenes are wasted) and a downright musical barrage of cutting insults. (Never mind that, as an expansion of a short, it probably doesn’t belong in this category at all.)
Overlooked: The omission of Gillian Flynn’s razor-sharp adaptation of her own best-selling Gone Girl is an egregious oversight.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Prediction: With The Lego Movie inexplicably excluded from the lineup, this race will probably come down to the battle between two major-studio cartoons featuring adorable pets/sidekicks. And while How To Train Your Dragon 2 won the Golden Globe, Big Hero 6 made more money. It also benefits from not being a sequel.
Preference: The Boxtrolls and The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya are marvels of industrious, old-school animation styles. Either would make acceptable victors here, but in its market-tested, Marvel house-style kind of way, Big Hero 6 may be the most soulful of the nominees—a kind of Pixar-meets-Miyazaki hybrid, set in a gorgeous East/West metropolis and starring the lovable slapstick wonder Baymax.
Overlooked: Voting The Lego Movie out of this competition is an offense worthy of Lord Business himself.
Prediction: After years of playing the perennial bridesmaid of this category, the great lensman Emmanuel Lubezki seems likely to nab his second consecutive Oscar—this one for the faux single take he stages in Birdman, a proper encore to the cosmic camerawork he orchestrated in Gravity.
Preference: Here’s another peerless lineup, dominated by masters of the craft. We give the slight edge to Dick Pope, whose work on Mr. Turner isn’t just gloriously beautiful, but also evocative of the paintings its subject created, as well as the 19th-century world from which he drew inspiration.
Overlooked: Darius Khondji’s golden-hued images from The Immigrant conjure a bygone America—half history, half myth. Of all the film’s snubs, this one hurts the most.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero; Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges; Into The Woods, Colleen Atwood; Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive; Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran
Prediction: Fantasies and period pieces tend to respectively dominate this category. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a little of both—and the sheer volume of nominations it received suggests that it has the support necessary to win for its elaborate couture.
Preference: Wes Anderson dresses his dolls, er, actors impeccably. But that other Anderson is no slouch either when it comes to hiring qualified costume designers. Mark Bridges outfits the entire, sprawling ensemble of Inherent Vice with era-specific duds, helping Paul Thomas bring 1970s California to vivid life.
Overlooked: Recreating the past through costumes is a challenge, but it’s no more impressive than using fabric to fabricate the future. Catherine George creates a pan-global array of cobbled-together clothes in Snowpiercer, whose end-of-the-world social divisions are reflected in the outfits its characters don.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Prediction: When it comes to Documentary Feature, no amount of acclaim is enough to secure a victory; as the Academy demonstrated last year when they gave the prize to 20 Feet From Stardom instead of The Act Of Killing, uplift usually trumps reputation. Don’t be shocked, in other words, if the universally revered Citizenfour loses to a human interest story—like, say, Finding Vivian Maier, whose investigation of an art-world mystery could win it the kind of AMPAS support afforded another recent winner, Searching For Sugar Man.
Preference: Though it provides only a little in the way of new information, Citizenfour works as a fascinating portrait of history in the making, watching as Edward Snowden stands fearlessly on the precipice of his downfall, privileging the greater good over his own fate. At heart, it’s a human interest story, too.
Overlooked: Consensus seems to be that Life Itself, by the consistently shut out Steve James, is the big snub in this category. But The Overnighters, which made the Oscars’ shortlist, is a more penetrating (albeit much different) glimpse into the life and work of a complicated individual. It has, additionally, all the mystery of Vivian Maier and much of the suspense of Citizenfour.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Nominees: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”; “Joanna”; “Our Curse”; “The Reaper (La Parka)”; “White Earth”
Prediction: Most Oscar pundits seem to agree that “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” about operators offering suicide-line assistance to war veterans, has the urgency and emotional pull necessary to win here.
Preference: Search us—we haven’t seen any of these.
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees: American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; Boyhood, Sandra Adair; The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling; The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg; Whiplash, Tom Cross
Prediction: The editors’ guild, which makes the distinction between dramas and comedies, gave prizes to Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. BAFTA, meanwhile, honored the precise cutting of Whiplash. Editing is crucial to all three of those films, but Boyhood’s assembling of 12 years worth of footage—and those amazing, unaffected leaps forward in time—should help it squeeze past the others. Still, don’t count out American Sniper. Where else can the Academy award Clint Eastwood for drawing droves of moviegoers to an adult drama?
Preference: It’s a tough call, but we’re going with Whiplash, a movie about music propelled forward by its intense, internal sense of rhythm. Fletcher, were he real, would have no complaints about the tempo.
Overlooked: That match cut from Ben Affleck kissing to police swabbing his tongue should have alone earned Gone Girl an editing nomination.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Prediction: Never bet against a drama about the Holocaust—especially one as moving, accessible, and flat-out gorgeous as Ida.
Preference: Recent reforms in the selection process for Foreign Language Film have really cleaned up the category, resulting in a better crop of nominees than in years past. One could make a case for most of these films, three of which premiered in competition at Cannes last summer. But Ida accomplishes the most with the least, wasting not a single shot and drawing audiences into its moral universe across a brisk 80 minutes.
Overlooked: Still, there remains room for improvement, as evidenced by the baffling exclusion of Two Days, One Night, one of the Dardenne brothers’ most direct, ingenious, and emotionally powerful efforts.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Nominees: Foxcatcher, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard; The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier; Guardians Of The Galaxy, Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White
Prediction: Steve Carell’s transformation into a beaked, cadaverous aristocrat will probably be enough to push Foxcatcher to the win—though Tilda Swinton’s old-age makeup in Grand Budapest is more impressive, and Guardians features a larger gallery of prosthetic-enhanced characters.
Preference: It can be a little difficult to distinguish between the makeup effects and the CGI attractions in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Even still, enough of the film’s outer-space creatures—including two of the five Guardians themselves—sport pastel pancake jobs to make this a no-brainer.
Overlooked: The Academy could have expanded the slate to four this year by including the makeup team of Noah, who not only dramatically deglamorized Russell Crowe and company, but also chipped in on the creation of the ark’s slumbering menagerie.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat; The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat; Interstellar, Hans Zimmer; Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon; The Theory Of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Prediction: The two Desplat scores may cancel each other out, to the benefit of either the poignant swell of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score or—more likely still—Jóhann Jóhannsson’s spritely compositions from The Theory Of Everything.
Preference: Alexandre Desplat has been creating stirring music for Wes Anderson for years. His jangly, playful work on The Grand Budapest Hotel, the sonic engine that drives the film’s madcap chase sequences, is a new highlight of the two’s fruitful collaboration.
Overlooked: So much of Under The Skin’s otherworldly power derives from its sinister score, an alien hum and pulse by the English experimental musician Mica Levi.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Prediction: Selma may be a snubbed contender, but there’s almost no way “Glory,” the John Legend and Common anthem that closes the film, isn’t triumphing here.
Preference: “Everything Is Awesome,” by Tegan And Sara and The Lonely Island, is the year’s most infectious piece of smart-dumb ear candy. And while we feel a little guilty choosing it over the rousing uplift of “Glory,” the iTunes play-tracker doesn’t lie.
Overlooked: It wouldn’t be the most conventional choice, but Sun Lux’s “No Fate Awaits Me”—which made the Academy’s shortlist—is totally lovely and provides the final scene of all three versions of The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby with some lump-in-throat catharsis.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock; The Imitation Game, Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald; Interstellar, Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis; Into The Woods, Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock; Mr. Turner, Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts
Prediction: How it’s taken this long for a Wes Anderson film to get nominated for production design is anyone’s guess, but the Academy will probably atone for its sins of omission by handing The Grand Budapest Hotel a well-deserved Oscar.
Preference: In a year without an Anderson confection on the ballot, Mr. Turner’s intricately decorated interiors would make for a worthy winner. But it takes only a few frames, pulled from any scene, to notice that Grand Budapest is the year’s most brilliantly, fussily, elaborately designed movie.
Overlooked: Jim Jarmusch’s droll vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive is a treasure trove of cool-kid bric-a-brac. Just because a lot of it may gave been yanked from Jarmusch’s private stash doesn’t make the arrangement of this priceless clutter any less artful.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Nominees: “The Bigger Picture”; “The Dam Keeper”; “Feast”; “Me And My Moulton”; “A Single Life”
Prediction: Weirder animated fare has done surprisingly well in this category over the years. The 2015 crop, however, is mostly a collection of modest pleasures, leaving Disney’s “Feast”—a charming boy-and-his-dog story affixed to Big Hero 6—the probable winner.
Preference: “The Dam Keeper” is a beautifully animated, surprisingly melancholy tale of childhood alienation. But “Feast” is the true keeper, chronicling the emotional growth spurts of a young man through the perspective of his ravenous dog.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Nominees: “Aya”; “Boogaloo And Graham”; “Butter Lamp”; “Parvaneh”; “The Phone Call”
Prediction: Like the probable Documentary Short winner, “The Phone Call” concerns suicide prevention by phone. Unlike that film, it also features Sally Hawkins acting her ass off. Her star power, combined with the gravity of the material and the presence of Jim Broadbent on the other of the line, gives this the feel of a sure thing.
Preference: “Butter Lamp” is the most formally audacious film to grace this category in ages. Naturally, it’s a distant long shot.
BEST SOUND EDITING
Nominees: American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman; Birdman, Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock; The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas; Interstellar, Richard King; Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro
Prediction: Academy voters can rarely resist the bang-pow-boom cacophony of war. That American Sniper is the biggest hit in this (or any other) category doesn’t hurt its chances.
Preference: Sound editing, as defined by the Academy, concerns the creation of individual sound effects. Whatever you think of the film’s deafening, murky mix, there’s no denying that Interstellar contains a lot of invented sonic components—sounds that had to be made up, because the technology they’re emanating from hasn’t been invented yet.
Overlooked: The French-Belgian giallo riff The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears features a vast library of evocatively unsettling sounds, from the tear of human flesh to the crinkle of tight leather. It’s a funhouse for the ears.
BEST SOUND MIXING
Nominees: American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin; Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga; Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten; Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and David Lee; Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley
Prediction: Considering how difficult it was to even make out all of the dialogue, Interstellar’s inclusion here seems very suspect. Not that it has much of a chance of winning: Like the other sound category, this one seems like American Sniper’s to win.
Preference: Truthfully, Sniper is a very well-mixed movie; more impressive than the frantic battle scenes are the ones on the homefront, when the audio team allows, say, the hum of a motor to subtly intrude on a conversation, putting audiences in Chris Kyle’s paranoid headspace without overdoing it. Whiplash, though, is the true feat of mixing: The levels are so precisely tended to that one can almost hear the minute musical imperfections J.K. Simmons’ hard-ass instructor obsesses over.
Overlooked: Just about every sound in Under The Skin seems vaguely… off, as though it were being filtered through the inhuman ears of an extraterrestrial interloper. That’s the work of the sound mixer, chiefly.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, and Dan Sudick; Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, and Erik Winquist; Guardians Of The Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner, and Paul Corbould; Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, and Scott Fisher; X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, and Cameron Waldbauer
Prediction: Without a head-and-shoulders-above-everything-else breakthrough in contention this year, the visual effects field is wide open. Will voters go for quantity (the sheer abundance of spectacular stuff happening in Guardians Of The Galaxy) or quality (Andy Serkis simply becoming Caesar in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes)? Maybe they’ll gravitate to the most Gravity-like of the nominees and give it up to the awe-inspiring cosmic imagery of Interstellar.
Preference: All of the nominees have their nifty highlights, but the latest Apes movie is the one that proves that a special effect can possess a soul—provided that soul belongs to Andy Serkis.
Overlooked: Hollywood blockbusters have such a stranglehold on this category that they might as well rename it Best Use Of An Enormous Budget. It’d be nice, in other words, to see something smaller in competition. For example, why couldn’t they have tossed a nomination to Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo, which boasts some of the most inventive special effects—digital and practical—of anything released in years?