Curt Holman's Oscar predictions

Our resident film critic offers his picks, from 'Birdman' to 'Boyhood'

Well, it won't be Selma.

Sometimes the Academy Award winners are obvious ahead of time. The Internet has so many obsessive commentators and Oscar handicapping websites that the favorites emerge early on, and the ceremony itself feels like a foregone conclusion.

This year's show may prove more suspenseful than usual for viewers who track the horse-race aspects of the Oscars. No single movie has emerged that seems to be a guaranteed, category-sweeping winner, making the field seem practically wide open.

The aforementioned, locally shot, Selma, however, seems unlikely to break through, despite being an exemplary piece of filmmaking and the kind of powerful period drama that used to be a sure thing. For whatever reason (Too much resonance with contemporary racial tensions? Poor awards-season campaigning?), Selma only earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song ("Glory").

My best guesses follow in the major categories, with predictions for the full slate below.

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Michael Keaton, Birdman; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

This category is so tight, the Academy couldn't even find room for such worthy nominees as David Oyewolo's Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma or Jake Gyllenhaal's obsessed video journalist from Nightcrawler. The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne and The Imitation Game's Benedict Cumberbatch play comparable roles, as famous English geniuses struggling against, respectively, disease and homophobia. Either would fill an awards slot comparable to The King's Speech, with Redmayne's technically impressive performance of a disability serving as the traditional kind of Oscar favorite. Michael Keaton's comeback performance in Birdman makes him the closest competitor. Just as Keaton's Birdman character satirizes his acting career, an Oscar would celebrate it.

Prediction: Redmayne

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night; Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Still Alice's Julianne Moore is the commanding sentimental favorite as a college professor with early-onset Alzheimer's. The movie's small scale could work against her, but the performance would be a way to acknowledge a superb career onscreen. Of the other contenders, Wild's Reese Witherspoon and Two Days, One Night's Marion Cotillard are both excellent as women fighting depression in different ways, but they both won the award in prior years. Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are both highly acclaimed, but their performances seem overshadowed, although the former's twisty turn in Gone Girl could prove an upset.

Prediction: Moore

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge; Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; Edward Norton, Birdman; J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Like Moore, journeyman character actor J.K. Simmons is the perceived favorite, with his tyrannical jazz professor being arguably the most darkly charismatic character of all the nominees. The Academy has a tradition of recognizing aging veterans, which could help previous Best Actor winner Robert Duvall in the otherwise ignored The Judge. If the Academy voters rally around a single film, Birdman's Edward Norton or Boyhood's Ethan Hawke could prevail. (If either of them win, expect their film to win Best Picture.)

Prediction: Simmons, but this category is the most likely to see an upset.

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; Laura Dern, Wild; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; Emma Stone, Birdman; Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

The Academy also has a penchant for recognizing bright young female talents in this category, and a Birdman rally could put America's sweetheart Emma Stone over the top. The Imitation Game's Keira Knightley is fine in a minor role, but could benefit from the Weinstein Company's famously effective Oscar campaigning. It's uncertain whether the Academy is as weary of Meryl Streep's award dominance as everyone else is. Laura Dern's lovely performance in Wild is a little wispy, with Boyhood's Patricia Arquette hitting many of the same beats (including fleeing an abusive husband with children) and more. Filmed over more than a decade, Arquette provides the emotional through-line to a one-of-a-kind film that's more than two and a half hours.

Prediction: Arquette

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman; Richard Linklater, Boyhood; Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

I wish Wes Anderson had more of a chance here for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I suspect the honor will lie in the nomination. As with award for Best Picture, this seems like a pitched race between Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman and Richard Linklater for Boyhood. Previous Oscar nominee Iñárritu won the Director's Guild Award for Birdman and delivers a slick, showy approach that unfolds as if in a single take and includes plenty of clever visual effects. But Boyhood has been earning Linklater overdue recognition as a master of American cinema, and Boyhood's decade-spanning production is possibly as interesting as the film itself. Sometimes close races lead to split decisions, and while Linklater specializes in a laid-back naturalism that can go unappreciated, I can see the Academy recognizing Boyhood's achievement in this category.

Prediction: Linklater

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Best Picture

American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Exactly a decade ago, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby emerged as a dark-horse Oscar contender and won Best Picture seemingly out of nowhere. Something similar is happening with Eastwood's American Sniper, a middling movie that has proven not just a hit, but also possibly the highest-grossing domestic release of 2014. It's probably too controversial to win, and Eastwood not getting nominated for Best Director suggests it's a long shot, but it has a lot of momentum. In the race between Boyhood and Birdman, the former is the critical favorite, but the latter swept the major honors of the Producers, Directors, and Screen Actors Guild awards, which share voters with the Oscars and are considered the best indicator. (The last film to sweep those awards and fail to win the Oscar was Apollo 13 two decades ago.) Frankly, neither Birdman's acerbic satire nor Boyhood's soft-spoken coming-of-age story seem like typical Best Picture fare, so it could go either way, or neither way. But between the Guild wins and the Academy's recent fondness for highly-charged films involving facets of show business (including Argo and Slumdog Millionaire), I'll bet on Birdman.

Prediction: Birdman, I guess.


<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Original Screenplay

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Birdman; Richard Linklater, Boyhood; Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler; Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Foreign Film

Ida (Poland); Leviathan (Russia); Tangerines (Estonia); Timbuktu (Mauritania); Wild Tales (Argentina)

Prediction: Ida

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Documentary Feature

Citizenfour; Last Days in Vietnam; Virunga; Finding Vivian Maier; The Salt of the Earth

Prediction: Citizenfour

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Documentary Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry; Joanna, Aneta Kopacz; Our Curse, Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki; The Reaper (La Parka), Gabriel Serra Arguello; White Earth, J. Christian Jensen

Prediction: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Animated Feature

Big Hero 6; How to Train Your Dragon 2; The Boxtrolls; Song of the Sea; The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Film Editing

American Sniper; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Whiplash

Prediction: Whiplash

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Original Song

Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, and Nick Southwood, “Lost Stars” (Begin Again); John Legend and Common, “Glory” (Selma); Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, and The Lonely Island, “Everything Is Awesome” (The Lego Movie); Diane Warren, “Grateful” (Beyond the Lights); Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell ... I’ll Be Me)

Prediction: “Glory”

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Original Score

Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything; Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game; Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Hans Zimmer, Interstellar; Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner

Prediction: The Imitation Game

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman; Dick Pope, Mr. Turner; Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Ryszard Lenczewski and Łukasz Żal, Ida; Roger Deakins, Unbroken

Prediction: Birdman

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Costume Design

Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods; Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive, Maleficent; Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner; Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, Foxcatcher; Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, Guardians of the Galaxy

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Production Design

Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts, Mr. Turner; Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock, Into the Woods; Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis, and Paul Healy, Interstellar; Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald, The Imitation Game

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Sound Editing

Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, American Sniper; Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock, Birdman; Brent Burge and Jason Canovas, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies; Richard King, Interstellar; Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro, Unbroken

Prediction: American Sniper

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Sound Mixing

American Sniper; Birdman; Unbroken; Interstellar; Whiplash

Prediction: American Sniper

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Visual Effects

Interstellar; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Guardians of the Galaxy; X Men: Days of Future Past; Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Prediction: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Animated Short Film

The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees; The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi; Feast, Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed; Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove; A Single Life, Joris Oprins

Prediction: The Dam Keeper

<font ?style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #fdfbac">Live Action Short Film

Aya Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis; Boogaloo and Graham, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney; Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak), Hu Wei and Julien Féret; Parvaneh, Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger; The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Prediction: The Phone Call

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