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All 24 Oscar categories, predicted

We're predicting Birdman will have a good night at the Oscars.
We're predicting Birdman will have a good night at the Oscars.
Fox Searchlight

The 87th annual Academy Awards will take place at 8:30 pm Eastern time tonight, broadcast live on ABC from Los Angeles's Dolby Theater.

But right now, if you're thinking about the Oscars at all, it's to fill out your own ballot, in hopes of winning your friendly local Oscar pool. And if you need informed choices, we've got 'em.

We'll just warn you that there are a lot of categories up in the air this year, including five of the top eight. It's rare to have this much excitement in this many categories at this late of a date, which should make for a fun ceremony. But it's utter hell when it comes to making predictions.

Here are our best guesses.

Best Picture

American Sniper Warner Bros. Pictures

American Sniper has six Oscar nominations. We're betting it will win at least one of those, and it has shots in other categories. (Warner Bros.)

Right away, we're in the middle of the night's most pitched battle. Boyhood won the vast majority of prizes from critics, riding into the nominations fresh off a huge triumph at the Golden Globes. But then Birdman seized the momentum, winning three of the four major industry prizes, from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, and the Directors Guild. Then, at the last moment, Boyhood won at the British Academy's awards.

Thus, this is a complete toss-up. My guess is that this will come down to the Academy's method of counting ballots and how quickly Birdman can jump out to a commanding lead. If Birdman can garner enough votes in the early going, I suspect it wins. But if it lags and the winner is determined in the middle rounds, then my guess is Boyhood wins. And if this goes all the way to seven rounds, with all but two films eliminated, I wouldn't dare guess what would happen.

Still, I think this will be a surprisingly easy win for...

Will win: Birdman

Runner-up: Boyhood

Dark horse: The Imitation Game

Should win: Rewarding any of Boyhood, Selma, or Grand Budapest Hotel here would reward the best that film has to offer. But I'll pick Selma, which deserved so much better.

Best Directing

Boyhood IFC Films

It took Richard Linklater 12 years to make Boyhood. (IFC)

Again, we have a race between the two films that have dominated the awards season, but I think the results will flip here. Linklater's achievement — filming a single project over 12 years — is so impressive that I imagine even a few Birdman partisans will support him here. Still, this could go to either Linklater or Iñárittu quite easily.

Will win: Linklater

Runner-up: Iñárittu

Dark horse: Anderson

Should win: It's really hard to argue with choosing Linklater here. Both Iñárittu and Anderson were responsible for impressive technical achievements, but Linklater made a movie over the course of 12 years.

Best Actor in a Lead Role

Here's a legitimate three-way race. Redmayne won both the Golden Globe and SAG award, but he's also a bit younger than the sort of man the Academy usually rewards here. Keaton, meanwhile, has the feel-good comeback narrative of the year. And Cooper, finally, has been nominated three years in a row, and a win for him would be a good way to reward a film that made a lot of money but gave more than a few members of the left-leaning Academy political heartburn.

It's a tough call, but I usually bet on the person with the best overall story. And, for me, that's ...

Will win: Keaton

Runner-up: Redmayne

Dark horse: Cooper

Should win: I am the opposite of a Birdman fan, but Keaton's work is the sole thing holding that monstrosity together.

Best Actress in a Lead Role

Wild

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed in the film version of Strayed's memoir Wild. (Fox Searchlight)

There is no question here. This is Julianne Moore's fifth nomination. She has never won. She is tremendous in Still Alice. The award has been hers since the film first showed at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Will win: Moore

Runner-up: Pike

Dark horse: Cotillard

Should win: I could make a case for about anybody here, but if you forced me to choose just one performance, I would probably go with Cotillard's heart-breaking work.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Here's another category with a runaway front-runner. Arquette's performance is arguably the anchor of Boyhood, and without her, the film might have been a bunch of mumbling philosophizing. She's won every major award leading up to the Oscars, and there's no reason to think she won't win this one, too.

Will win: Arquette

Runner-up: Dern

Dark horse: Stone

Should win: Hey, sometimes, the runaway front-runner gets to that place for a reason. Arquette's big speech in the final 20 minutes of Boyhood is perfectly executed and helps that movie land its emotional punch.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Here's our final category in the "big eight" with a clear front-runner. Like Arquette, J.K. Simmons has won pretty much everything. He'll win this, too, thanks to a glowering, horrifying villain for the ages.

Will win: Simmons

Runner-up: Norton

Dark horse: Hawke, maybe? (It's hard to imagine anyone voting for someone other than Simmons or Norton in this category.)

Should win: Simmons is majestic, and Norton is hilarious, but I'm actually going to go with Ruffalo, whose understated grace keeps Foxcatcher from losing focus.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper, written by Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game, written by Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice, written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything, screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash, written by Damien Chazelle

Another super-close category is a two-film race between Imitation Game and Whiplash. Whiplash has all the momentum, but Imitation Game has studio boss Harvey Weinstein, the best Oscar campaigner in the game. Still, either film could take this.

Will win: The Imitation Game

Runner-up: Whiplash

Dark horse: The Theory of Everything

Should win: Much as I love Anderson's loopy script for Inherent Vice, I can't go against the incredibly tight structure of the propulsive Whiplash.

Best Original Screenplay

Ralph Fiennes GBH

Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes (pictured), could garner Wes Anderson his first Oscar ever. (Fox Searchlight)

  • Birdman, written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • Boyhood, written by Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • Nightcrawler, written by Dan Gilroy

Basically any film that wins here would be a cool winner, which is why it's such a close race. It's also yet another category where Birdman, Boyhood, and Grand Budapest face off. My guess is that the Academy takes this opportunity to reward Wes Anderson, whose film seems to have been running in third or fourth place all season long and who is well known for his quirky scripts. But don't be surprised if Birdman lunges up and takes this one.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Birdman

Dark horse: Boyhood

Should win: Gilroy's script for Nightcrawler is a brilliant, seedy, elegant deconstruction of late-night Los Angeles, the news media, and white male privilege.

Best Foreign Language Film

The Academy has always required voters to have seen all five films to vote in this category, as well as the Documentary and Shorts categories, and it checked if members had seen all five films by having them attend special screenings.

But for the first time ever this year, members were sent DVDs containing all films, meaning anyone can say they've seen all five nominees and vote. That means this category, long ruled by the quirky behavior of the older folks who were able to take the time to see all five nominees, now should be subject to things like buzz and box office, and if that's the case, well, there's a pretty clear "biggest hit" here. It's ...

Will win: Ida

Runner-up: Leviathan

Dark horse: Wild Tales

Should win: I haven't seen all five of these (and thus couldn't even vote at the Oscars), but I do love the austere, beautiful Ida.

Best Animated Feature Film

Without The Lego Movie here, this category became an easy walk for the second Dragon movie. The first lost to the Toy Story 3 steamroller back in 2011.

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Runner-up: Big Hero 6

Dark horse: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Should win: I love all five of these films, but my favorite is the tender Song of the Sea, which I went on about at length here.

Best Documentary Feature

Really, you could make a case for any film that's not The Salt of the Earth winning here. (Salt, a kind of onscreen biography of a philosopher, doesn't really seem like the sort of film that wins.) Citizenfour (about Edward Snowden's NSA leaks) has the history-making hype. Finding Vivian Maier (about a woman discovered to be an amazing photographer after her death) has the human-interest angle. Last Days in Vietnam (about just what it sounds like) has the traditional documentary appeal. And Virunga (about the intersection of African warfare and endangered gorillas) has the most journalistic cred.

But, as with the foreign category, go with the hype.

Will win: Citizenfour

Runner-up: Virunga

Dark horse: Finding Vivian Maier

Should win: It's hard to argue against Citizenfour, but Virunga is a searing film that manages to balance both environmental concerns and foreign affairs reporting in a heady blend.

Best Cinematography

Ida (Poland)

Ida features beautiful black and white cinematography. (Music Box Films)

  • Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
  • Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
  • Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
  • Roger Deakins, Unbroken

This category rewards camerawork. When you consider that Birdman is pretty much all camerawork, since it appears to be filmed in one take, you can see why it will easily win this category.

Will win: Birdman

Runner-up: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dark horse: Unbroken (Deakins, nominated 12 times, has never won.)

Should win: The camerawork in Mr. Turner is lush and alive, filled with beauty and light.

Best Film Editing

  • Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
  • Sandra Adair, Boyhood
  • Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
  • Tom Cross, Whiplash

Another tight race, this time between a traditional winner (American Sniper's war movie cutting), a textbook winner (Whiplash, which should be taught in editing classes), and a completely unusual achievement (Boyhood, which cut 12 years of footage down into a movie). This category often goes to the most impressive stunt, so ...

Will win: Boyhood

Runner-up: Whiplash

Dark horse: American Sniper

Should win: I find it really hard to go against Boyhood here, for the same reasons I'm predicting the Academy to vote for it.

Best Production Design

  • Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration), The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Maria Djurkovic (Production Design); Tatiana Macdonald (Set Decoration), The Imitation Game
  • Nathan Crowley (Production Design); Gary Fettis (Set Decoration), Interstellar
  • Dennis Gassner (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration), Into the Woods
  • Suzie Davies (Production Design); Charlotte Watts (Set Decoration), Mr. Turner

The next three awards are for the visual design elements of a movie, the sets the characters occupy, the clothes they wear, and the makeup and hairstyles that adorn them. Naturally, these categories will probably be won by ...

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Mr. Turner

Dark horse: Into the Woods

Should win: It's remarkable to me that Wes Anderson's meticulously designed films haven't had better luck in this category in the past. I am all for the whimsical storybook sets of Grand Budapest winning here.

Best Costume Design

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

See above.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Maleficent

Dark horse: Into the Woods

Should win: Maleficent has its share of problems, but the grand, swooping costumes that Angelina Jolie wears are not among them.

Best 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

And, for one last time, see above.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Foxcatcher

Dark horse: Guardians of the Galaxy

Should win: In terms of prosthetic makeup pieces, I found Steve Carell's fake nose in Foxcatcher more impressive than Tilda Swinton's fake neck wattle in Grand Budapest.

Best Original Score

The Theory of Everything features a sweeping score. (Focus Features)

  • Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
  • Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
  • Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson, The Theory of Everything

I would love to also predict Grand Budapest here. A win would be heartening for Desplat, our most consistent film composer, and one who has yet to win an Oscar after eight nominations. But The Theory of Everything's tear-jerking climax is so dependent on its score that I think Jóhannsson will just eke this one out.

Will win: The Theory of Everything

Runner-up: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dark horse: Interstellar

Should win: One of the things I liked best about Interstellar was the way that it occasionally felt like being trapped in a pipe organ being played by a mad scientist. It gets my vote.

Best Original Song

An unexpected victory by "Everything Is Awesome" would be, well, pretty awesome, but this will give the Academy a chance to reward Selma, and I'm guessing it will take that opportunity. (It's a really good song, too.)

Will win: "Glory"

Runner-up: "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"

Dark horse: "Everything Is Awesome"

Should win: Wouldn't it be great to have "Everything Is Awesome" in the list of Oscar winners? C'mon. You know it would be.

Best Sound Mixing

  • John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin, American Sniper
  • Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga, Birdman
  • Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten, Interstellar
  • Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee, Unbroken
  • Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley, Whiplash

Here's yet another tight race, all the way down here. You can write off Interstellar, whose sound mix buried much of the dialogue and made it hard to understand, and Unbroken. But the other three all have legitimate shots. American Sniper is a safe bet, since war movies often win here, and Birdman is, since Best Picture front-runners often do well here. But Whiplash has the momentum and a story built entirely around sound, so I think it will narrowly prevail.

Will win: Whiplash

Runner-up: Birdman

Dark horse: American Sniper

Should win: Remember what I said about Whiplash's story revolving around sound? It should win.

Best Sound Editing

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

The Hobbit replaces Whiplash in a category that rewards sounds created in post-production, rather than on set. (This award could easily be called "Best Sound Effects.") This seems like a safe way to reward American Sniper, and war movies often win here.

Will win: American Sniper

Runner-up: Interstellar

Dark horse: Birdman

Should win: I don't actually think The Hobbit should win here, but I think it would be sort of hilarious if it did.

Best Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes features impressive motion-capture visual effects work. (20th Century Fox)

The Marvel movies generally haven't done well at the Oscars, so I think they can be safely removed from contention. That leaves Apes, with its groundbreaking motion-capture work, and Interstellar, with its astonishing outer space vistas. I'm guessing the Academy will go for the latter, which combines its visual effects with an overwrought heart.

Will win: Interstellar

Runner-up: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dark horse: Guardians of the Galaxy

Should win: Half of the cast of Apes (in fact, the most compelling half) was created by motion-capture performers and computer graphics artists. That, to me, is worth the win.

Best Documentary Short Subject

The three shorts categories are where Oscar pool hopes go to die. Fortunately, the fact that the Academy is sending out DVDs of these films this year means more people may vote in them, which suggests Crisis Hotline is the best bet here. From those who've seen these films, it's apparently the one that leaves you least wanting life to be scoured from the face of the planet.

Will win: Crisis Hotline

Runner-up: Our Curse

Dark horse: Joanna

Should win: I haven't seen any of the shorts this year, though I've read many reviews of them. As such, I'm not going to pick "should win" from here on out.

Best Live Action Short Film

The Phone Call has actors Academy voters will recognize (in former Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins and winner Jim Broadbent), but Boogaloo and Graham has adorable children in heartbreaking situations. Go for the kids!

Will win: Boogaloo and Graham

Runner-up: The Phone Call

Dark horse: Aya

Animated Short Film

Feast

Feast is about an adorable puppy. (Disney)

Most voters will have seen the adorable Feast, but I can't quite shake The Dam Keeper, which is apparently about a tiny pig that runs a dam and has the added benefit of being depressing. That sounds like a shorts winner if ever I've heard of one.

Will win: The Dam Keeper

Runner-up: Feast

Dark horse: The Bigger Picture