Best Director: Iñárritu vs. LinklaterTwo great directors embarked on the most audacious, wildly inventive experiments of their careers, and the results were marvelous.
Linklater seemed to be the surefire winner for Boyhood until Iñárritu pulled off a surprise win at the Directors Guild of America for Birdman. That prize is usually a good indicator of subsequent Oscar gold.
With the race heating up, could this be the third year straight where the Picture and Directing categories are split? It very well could be.
Best Actor: Keaton vs. RedmayneAfter winning a Screen Actors Guild honor for The Theory of Everything, British actor Eddie Redmayne has eclipsed Michael Keaton as the category’s frontrunner. His portrayal of Stephen Hawking is more physically impressive and staggering than Michael Keaton’s portrayal of, well, a Michael Keaton type.
Still, do not count out Keaton’s widespread industry appeal. Some from the actors branch have been waiting to crown him for a comeback, and a Best Actor Oscar would be quite the prize for the beloved character actor.
Best Original Screenplay: Birdman vs. Boyhood vs. The Grand Budapest HotelTwo Texans that are both darlings of indie American cinema, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, have good chances of triumphing for their most ambitious projects yet. Both have also received screenplay nods before, but have never won.
With Anderson’s win at the Writers Guild, he seems to have the edge. However, don’t count out Birdman’s piercing cultural commentary, which means its screenplay could triumph in this category.
Best Foreign Language Film: Ida vs. LeviathanFinally, a category where any of the nominees can win and people will be pretty satisfied with the choice. (When I refer to ‘people,’ I refer to the art-house devotees.)
This diverse collection of titles really comes down to two films: Pawel Pawlikowski’s magnificent, moving Ida and the zeitgeist-defining Leviathan, from director Andrey Zvyagintsev. (Hopefully, whoever presents the award doesn’t have to say the winning director’s name.)
For the record, Russia (Leviathan) has won four foreign language Oscars, while Poland (Ida) has never won.
Best Animated Feature: CGI Crowd-pleasers vs. Traditionally Animated Critical HitsThis is one of the only categories where it seems like any of the nominees has a decent shot of winning. Since year-long frontrunner The LEGO Movie is not in contention, the best bets are crowd-pleasing blockbusters from Disney (Big Hero 6) and DreamWorks (How To Train Your Dragon 2).
Still, the nuanced and poignant films from revered animators Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea) and Isao Takahata (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) have passionate support bases and could surprise.
Best Original Song: The LEGO Movie vs. SelmaSelma’s rousing end-credits song, “Glory,” performed by Common and John Legend, has the gravitas and grit to win in yet another weak year for movie music. However, The LEGO Movie’s unexpected snub from the Best Animated Feature category could lead to a groundswell of support for that film’s sole nomination, for the ultra-catchy “Everything is Awesome.”
Best Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel vs. The Theory of EverythingIn any other year, Alexandre Desplat’s terrific work in The Grand Budapest Hotel would be the frontrunner. However, Desplat’s double nomination (he is also up for The Imitation Game) means that some voters could split their support, leaving room for Golden Globe winner Jóhann Jóhannsson to potentially upset.
Jóhannsson is a first-time nominee, while Desplat earned his seventh and eight nominations this year. Desplat has also never won and is well overdue.
Best Picture: Birdman vs. BoyhoodLast year, a film from a Mexican director, acclaimed for its long-take cinematography and starring an actor who played Batman lost to the year’s best-reviewed drama, a moving, episodic opus that followed a character around for 12 years. Could the same thing happen this year?
With awards from the Producers, Directors and Actors guilds, Birdman now has the edge over Boyhood. However, Linklater’s film still has a lot of ardent supporters, especially after its BAFTA victory.
Best Visual Effects: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes vs. InterstellarOften, the winner of this technical category is the most critically well-received film to have strong effects work. However, none of the five nominees here are up for any of the major categories.
It should come down to the ambitious conceptual work from Christopher Nolan’s space odyssey and Weta Workshop’s digitally sublime rendering of Caesar and his ape army in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Due to Interstellar’s four extra nominations though, the sci-fi epic has a bit more momentum.
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game vs. The Theory of Everything vs. WhiplashTwo biopics about inspiring British men, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, seem like frontrunners in the category. The former title could have an advantage though, since it has much Academy support yet has little chance of triumphing in other categories. (Often, the screenplay categories are consolation prizes to beloved films with minimal chance of winning the top awards.)
However, due to the similarities of those dramas, the vote could split, leaving Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for Whiplash with the best shot of sneaking off with gold.