The Oscars are Sunday at 8 p.m. Neil Patrick Harris is the host, and based on his work hosting the Tony Awards, he should be a good one. Harris will perform an original song-and-dance number called “Moving Pictures” that was written by Frozen Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Plus, there’ll be plenty more singing with John Legend and Common performing their Oscar-nominated song “Glory” from Selma. Plus, Adam Levine and Rita Ora will also present their own Oscar-nominated songs — “Lost Stars” from Begin Again and “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, respectively. Hopefully we’ll get some natural, unforced moments to savor throughout the evening as well.
And oh yeah, some folks will take home a little golden guy. Here’s a breakdown of the big six categories on Oscar night, including predictions that I’ll brag about if I’m right and will never mention again if I’m wrong. On Oscar night, as we’ve learned many times, anything can happen. But this year? Well, I think they may be one of the most predictable Academy Awards in years.
The best picture race is shaping up much like that of the 2010 campaign, in which The Social Network won most of the early critics’ honors while The King’s Speech ran roughshod over the three guild awards and Oscars. This year Boyhood took many of the early accolades, while Birdman has been coming on strong of late with wins at the Producer’s, Director’s, and Screen Actor’s Guild awards. And given that a handful of guild members are also Oscar voters, you have to lean toward Birdman having the edge for best picture, even if Boyhood did just win best picture at the BAFTA, essentially the British version of the Oscars.
But this is a tight race that could go any number of ways, especially given the strength and quality of the other nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute delight and probably director Wes Anderson’s best film. Selma is a triumph of acting and sentiment with a strong message. The Imitation Game has two acting nominations and is very well made; the same can be said for The Theory of Everything. Whiplash was my pick for the best film of 2014, a high-energy crash course in pedagogy and the peril of blind ambition. And American Sniper is a runaway box office hit that has won the heart of Americans everywhere. It comes down to this, as we’ve learned in the past with Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan and even last year with 12 Years A Slave beating Gravity, Academy members vote with their hearts above anything else. And I think Boyhood has done that, even though Whiplash should win.
Often best picture and best director go hand-in-hand, so one would expect Boyhood director Richard Linklater to take home the Oscar. But not so fast: Based on its guild award victories, one has to expect Birdman to win a major award, and its best shot is for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The gimmick of the film appearing to have been shot in one long take is technically masterful — you can expect the film to win best cinematography as well. Plus, the story is an apt commentary on industry issues, including the cult of celebrity, disdain for critics, the hardships of artistry, and more. Also nominated for best director are Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game, and Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Tyldum should win, as I believe The Imitation Game is the best film amongst the five directing nominees. Tyldum brings the story along gradually but with looming urgency, as the threat of Hitler and the Axis powers is omnipresent in the background. The editing is tight, the musical score reflects emotions and actions as needed, and the directing of the other nominees is either gimmicky (Inarritu and Linklater), cutesy (Anderson), or long-winded (Miller). In contrast, Tyldum takes a straightforward approach and pulls off every aspect masterfully. However, when it’s all said and done, Inarritu will win.
Unlike picture and director, the acting awards are easier to predict, especially in the supporting categories. For supporting actor, J.K. Simmons is rightfully a lock for his turn as the sadistic music teacher who tortures an aspiring drummer played by Miles Teller in Whiplash. Simmons’ fiery demeanor, ice-cold stare, deep voice, and black attire immediately make his character, Fletcher, a fearsome individual. And with Simmons clearly the one to beat, fellow supporting actor nominees Edward Norton for Birdman, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, and Robert Duvall for The Judge should be honored just to be nominated.
Supporting actress also has a clear favorite, and that is Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Her realistic performance as a single mom who makes poor relationship decisions is one of the emotional highlights of the film, and she’s a respected actress who’s paid her dues. Arquette is up against Emma Stone in Birdman, Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, Laura Dern in Wild, and Meryl Streep’s 19th overall acting nomination, this time for Into the Woods. It’s a solid category, but Arquette will win and should win.
For best actress it looks like it’s finally Julianne Moore’s year. Her phenomenal performance as a linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice is the fifth nomination of her career, and it should be her first victory. Moore’s transition from a smart alpha woman into someone who can barely remember her children is heartbreaking, and the highlight of female performances in 2014. Also nominated for best actress are previous winners Reese Witherspoon for Wild and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, as well as Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. Pike was my personal favorite — I was genuinely frightened of her character, Amy, when the film ended, and I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of a character before, so she must have done something right. That being said, Moore will win and should win.
And finally, best actor will come down to Eddie Redmayne as ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton as an actor looking to prove himself in Birdman. Both were fantastic, so it begs the question: Will the Academy go for the more physical performance with Screen Actors Guild-winner Redmayne, or the career-best, great comeback story of Keaton? This is a tough one to call, and it’s not made any easier with the strong work of fellow best actor nominees Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, and Steve Carell as megalomaniac wrestling coach John Du Point in Foxcatcher. This will be very close, but Redmayne will win and should win.