The big kahuna, the best picture category holds the key to all the other categories essentially. If you guess wrong here there's a domino effect since contributing to one of the 800 lb gorillas will always give you an advantage -- you can see that effect most clearly each year in the "contemporary" sections of the various guild awards when BP frontrunners always show up, no matter what films had more impressive achievements in that craft that particular year. The past few weeks have been tumultuous beyond the three locked up frontrunners: Boyhood, Birdman and The Imitation Game. You can also count on The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Theory of Everything since neither has faltered with precursors and both were surprising hits with audiences - yes even Theory (see Tina & Amy's great Golden Globes joke 'combines two things audiences love: crippling nerve disorders and super complicated math'). After those five it gets much trickier.
Despite its difficulty in the guild awards I'd still be surprised if they dared ignore Selma, which is a superbly crafted example of the exact type of film they generally go bonkers for, even if it's only half as good as Selma is: true story, message movie, great man bio. And yes, AMPAS got screeners. Given anecdotal evidence gathered at Oscar-schmoozy functions, I'm still betting that Whiplash makes it in despite a surprisingly weak run with audiences given that it's essentially a "crowd-pleaser". (No, I don't know what happened there.) In fact, for a long time I was predicting Damien Chazelle in Best Director and I'm still tempted to.
How many Best Picture nominees will we get? If the past years are any indication, 9, though wouldn't the point of the new rules (however many muster passionate support i.e. a certain percentage of votes) be more pointed if that number varied from year to year. Time to check the math again! The way I see it there are five films in play for these last two spots: Unbroken, Into the Woods, American Sniper, Gone Girl, and Nightcrawler. The box office business and hoopla during voting suggests Unbroken and Into the Woods, the guild awards suggest American Sniper and Nightcrawler and my heart suggests Gone Girl so I'm shedding a single tear for it. (yes, J.K. Simmons, a single tear -- What'cha gonna do about it?) Beyond those hopefuls there are six long shots that would be shocking at this point given various factors but it's worth noting that they all DO have devout fans: Foxcatcher, Ida, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, Mr Turner and um er... Guardians of the Galaxy?
The Imitation Game
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything
if 6 then... Selma
if 7 then... Whiplash
if 8 then... American Sniper
if 9 then... Nightcrawler
if 10 (that's technically possible) then... Gone Girl
See Previous Article I'm going with Redmayne and Keaton as the only locks. Followed by Gyllenhaal, Oyelowo, and Cumberbatch... daringly suggesting he's the surprise snub if Carell, Fiennes, Cooper, or Mr Turner himself (aka Mr Spall) busts in. But I'm nervous for Oyelowo for sure. I could easily see him missing. [see chart]
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
See Previous Article I'm going with the five the whole world's going with since precursors have been in lockstep: JK Simmons leading, with Norton, Hawke, Ruffalo and Duvall following. If someone drops out (with J.K. so far ahead you can make a case for him amassing so many #1 votes that weird things happen with the off consensus ballots I'm guessing in this order for surprises: Pine, Brolin, Wilkinson, Waltz, Ahmed) [see chart]
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I've been debating long and hard on this category and am willing to take a risk. Alas, it's not predicting that Meryl Streep will fall for her singing witch. She's a default nominee (sometimes she deserves it, sometimes she doesn't, but she's always there. This year is the test of how much of a default nominee Jessica Chastain has become. We could call her Meryl Streep Jr (same late start, same focus on Ivy league actor's education, same chameleon explosion) except for that Amy Adams seems to have already claimed that in terms of Oscar love. It's not that Jessica isn't brilliant in A Most Violent Year -- she totally is! it may have become my favorite of her performances -- but that few people seem to be talking about the film and it's hard to be a lone nominee from your film in the supporting categories. With their Best Picture bolstering Keira and Emma and Patricia, the frontrunner, are all safe. That leaves one spot open. SAG went with Naomi, BAFTA went with Imelda & Rene, The Globes went with Jessica. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Rene Russo rises up with Nightcrawler cresting at just the right time to pull her weirdly precursor light knockout performance into the game. If I'm offbase but there is a surprise it's either Tilda Swinton or Laura Dern instead of Russo. Even though I love all the possible surprises, I'm rooting for Jessica to make it and hoping the impossible occurs and we lose either Streep or Stone.
I'm sticking with my long held assumption that these are the five: Tangerine (Estonia), Ida (Poland), Wild Tales (Argentina), Force Majeure (Sweden), and Timbuktu (Mauritania) which I realize leaves Leviathan out which makes no sense but... I don't want to drop Tangerine which has served me well (I predicted it long ago and people were surprised to see it in the finals) or Wild Tales because it stands out so much from the pack. [see chart]
Sticking with my previous predictions. Song of the Sea has not been given any media attention but then neither had Secret of Kells, the previous wonder from the same filmmaker. In the end I find it hard to imagine that a branch seeing both would prefer The Book of Life to this unique and uniquely beautiful tale. The question mark is of course the The Tale of The Princess Kaguya but I'm guessing the response wasn't rapturous enough to win the film the Studio Ghibli spot. So I think it's stop motion via Laika The Boxtrolls and the American CG trinity this year with Big Hero 6, Dragon 2, and The Lego Movie . If anything gets bumped unexpectedly I'm guessing it's The Boxtrolls.
The ACS chose Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Mr Turner and Unbroken. They regularly go four/five with Oscar so the odd film out (if there is one) will surely be Imitation Game, yes? I'm opting for a foreign surprise via Ida's fascinating compositions and black and white minimalism. I could see Interstellar or either of Bradford Young's pictures (A Most Violent Year / Selma) surprising, too. Young did get a lot of press this year.
The Art Directors Guild has many different categories so they don't give us a clear picture. But I'm guessing Imitation Game, Grand Budapest Hotel, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While I could see a snub happening for the brilliant post-talking apes world in the Apes film, I'm choosing not to predict it in order to stay sane. For the other two let's say Interstellar and, going out on a true limb (since it didn't figure into the guild awards), Mr Turner. If there's a spoiler let's chalk up the umpteenth nod for Birdman.
My favorite! While I'd love to see them being super discerning and go out on limbs like they do very occassionally, I'm guessing this is more of a 'stick to the major players' year. So with that said I'm guessing Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, Into the Woods, and Mr Turner with the one off BP discussion pick being Maleficent. If there's a spoiler it's probably a BP nominee like Theory of Everything or Imitation Game. Or even Birdman for the legendary Albert Wolsky. But I tell you what: poor Louise Frogley (Unbroken) can't catch a break. She's done so much period work for major stars and never lucks out.
I'm guessing American Sniper, Boyhood, Whiplash, Imitation Game as my definites and for the fifth slot possible Nightcrawler. But it could be anything really. Let's say Grand Budapest Hotel as spoiler.
The Oscar's vfx branch eventually gives up on all franchises so let's say they are FINALLY tired of Middle Earth (though it's a huge risk) and skip The Hobbit. So my guess is Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Interstellar, Godzilla, and X-Men Days of Future Past
Makeup and Hair
I'm sticking with my long held predictions: Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy and Grand Budapest Hotel with Maleficent as spoiler
American Sniper, Birdman, Fury, Interstellar, Unbroken. I wanted to include Godzilla in the sound categories but it seems to have been forgotten.
American Sniper, Birdman, Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods
I'm guessing Theory of Everything, Interstellar, and a double for Alexandre Desplate with Imitation Game and Grand Budapest Hotel. The fifth slot is trickier. I dare not hope for Mica Levi's Under the Skin (the best score of the year) because it's just so out there. So i want to predict something off the beaten path like Dario Marianelli's Boxtrolls or Marco Beltrami's The Homesman (both amazing). But I'll go with Giacchino's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
sticking with my original predictions because who knows with that branch: Lost Stars, Glory, Everything is Awesome, Not Gonna Miss You, Mercy Is
I'm going with Citizenfour, Life Itself, Finding Vivian Maijer, The Overnighters, and Virunga
Short Live Action
I'm going with Baghdad Messi, Butterlamp, The Phone Call, Carry On, Boogaloo and Graham
I'm going with White Earth, Joanna, Kehinda Wiley, The Lion's Mouth Opens, Crisis Hotline
I'm going with Bigger Picture, Duet, Feast, Me and My Moulton, The Damkeeper
I saved the toughest category for last. Before completing this entry I've looked around at some other sites to see what people were calling and I'm noticing a lot of people being smart and just listing the DGA nominees again. This is, technically, the smartest thing to do since they usually go 4/5... but I'm always aiming for 5/5 which is why i take risks. But god, it's tough this year. Linklater, Inarritu, and Anderson appear to to be the safest while the Globes suggested Fincher and Duvernay and the DGA suggested Eastwood and Tyldum. BAFTA suggested Chazelle and James Marsh. For a long time I thought Duvernay and Chazelle would round it out. And lately I'd begun to suspect that Dan Gilroy might surprise via Nightcrawler. Tyldum is obviously a threat but it's unwise to bet against Eastwood with Oscar if the DGA approves since Oscar likes him even more. So I'm going to say Eastwood but that still leaves me with one open spot. I'm throwing caution to the wind and saying Chazelle but I'm rooting for Duvernay and boy will Oscar catch hell in the media if they pass up this chance to make history with her.