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The Playlist’s Final Predictions For The 87th Academy Award Nominations

The Playlist's Final Predictions For The 87th Academy Award Nominations

About eleven months ago, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, several weeks before last year’s Academy Awards. With the film now looking to perform strongly at this year’s Oscars (it was nominated for more BAFTAs than any other film), this arguably means that Oscar season now lasts for thirteen months.

It’s been a long-ass road, but there’s finally an end in sight, as the 87th Academy Award nominations will be revealed bright and early on Thursday morning. It’s been a tumultous season, one that for the first time in a decade has mostly gone without an anointed front-runner, and with some of the hottest prospects —”Interstellar,” “Unbroken“— falling away precipitously over time.

We covered the season extensively over the last six months or so, but with less than 48 hours to go, it’s now time to shit or get off the pot, and so below you’ll find our predictions in every category (bar the shorts: I haven’t seen the films yet and didn’t want to guess). Take a look below, and let us know your own predictions in the comments. 

Best Sound Editing

“American Sniper”
“Fury”
“Godzilla”
“The Hobbit”
“Transformers: Age Of Extinction”

Nominees: War films “Fury” and “American Sniper” are dead certs here, while “Godzilla” would probably be my choice to win, with some gloriously crunchy work even beyond that famous roar. The last “Hobbit” film was nominated and this one’s even more action-heavy, while the last “Transformers” film cropped up in this category, so it has a definite shot.
Most Vulnerable: That said, the first two “Transformers” movies weren’t nominated here, so there’s room for that (or for “The Hobbit” to drop away if the branch finds something they like more.
Don’t Count Out:Interstellar,” which might be ruled out of the Sound Editing after that controversially and deliberately murky mix, but still has some very strong work at play. “Unbroken” ticks that WW2 button too (but probably could have used momentum in other categories), while as a musical, “Into The Woods” will be in with a shot, though it’ll do better in the Mixing category.
Dark Horse: “Noah,” which again has some very creative work going on (including recordings of real-life hurricanes) that the branch will respond to. There aren’t many Best Picture candidates in the running here, but “Whiplash” might be the best bet besides ‘Sniper.’

Best Sound Mixing

“American Sniper”
“Get On Up”
“Into The Woods”
“Whiplash”
“Transformers: Age Of Extinction”

Nominees: Again, “American Sniper” is safe here, particular as the lone Best Picture contender in this category, while all three previous “Transformers” movies made it in recent years. “The Hobbit” is potentially viable, but with the first one missing, and a number of musical contenders (which always do well here), I’m leaning towards the trio of “Into The Woods,” “Get On Up” and “Whiplash” making the cut.
Most Vulnerable: Either or both “Whiplash” and “Get On Up” could fall out: they involve music but aren’t exactly musicals. Then again, the same could be said for “Inside Llewyn Davis” last year, which was nominated.
Don’t Count Out: The aforementioned “Hobbit” could well end up with a nod (the last one did, after all), while “Godzilla” and “Fury” might have enough audio love in general to carry through.
Dark Horse: It’ll be interesting to see how strong the support for “Birdman” is —there’s certainly some impressive work therein. If people love the film enough, it could factor in either here or the other sound category.

Best Visual Effects

“Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”
“Guardians Of The Galaxy”
“The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies”
“Interstellar”
“X-Men: Days Of Future Past”

Nominees: “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the safest bet here and likely heading for the win. “Guardians Of The Galaxy” makes it on Rocket and Groot alone, while the practical effects of “Interstellar” will have their old-school supporters. Word from the bake-off (the special screening of reels from which essentially the nominees are decided) is that “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and in particular that Quicksilver slow-motion scene, killed it, so that’s a strong contender. Past that, every previous Middle-Earth movie was nominated, so we should see “The Hobbit” here too.
Most Vulnerable: That said, “The Hobbit” was apparently badly received by the bake-off crowd, which could mean a shock. Even so, it’s hard to think of it dropping out.
Don’t Count Out:Godzilla,” which had some great creature work, though some find it a little inconsistent. “Transformers” is also 2 nominations for 3 in the franchise so far, but I’d suggest that there’s nothing particularly new being done here.
Dark Horse: Weirdly, “Night At The Museum 3” was apparently well received by the branch’s audience, even if it still feels like a long-shot. For the record, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Maleficent” complete the ten-strong shortlist (I’d have suggested “Noah,” but oddly it didn’t make the cut).

Best Makeup And Hairstyling

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Guardians Of The Galaxy”
“The Theory Of Everything”

Nominees: A bake-off field of seven needs to get narrowed to just three, and the diverse and bonkers look of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” seems like the safest bet (see “Hellboy II” a few years back). “The Theory Of Everything” is much more subtle, perhaps too much so, but I think it’ll be safe, and, uh, by a nose, we’re going to go for “Grand Budapest Hotel” for the last slot: there’s not a lot of showy stuff in there, but Tilda Swinton‘s character has some of the best old-age make-up ever, and that’s usually a winner here.
Most Vulnerable: Either ‘Budapest’ or ‘Theory’ could end up losing out, depending on the strength of…
Don’t Count Out:Foxcatcher.” Given the transformative work on all three leads, it would seem like an obvious nominee, but the film didn’t perform as strongly with the Guild as it could have done, and crucially missed out (in a field of five) with BAFTA. It’s still possible it gets in, but it’s also worth noting that “The Hours” wasn’t a nominee back in the day —sometimes the actor gets the credit, not the performer…
Dark Horse: “Maleficent,” “Noah” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” are all on the longlist as well: any of them turning up would be a surprise.

Best Production Design

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Interstellar”
“Into The Woods”
“Mr Turner”

Nominees: Staggeringly, none of Wes Anderson‘s previous films have been nominated in this category before, but given its strength all over, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will break that duck (and should be a winner in the category in the end, and a worthy one). The period detail of The Imitation Game” will help it make the cut, and the same goes double for “Mr. Turner,” even if the former will be picking up far more nods in general. Beyond that, BAFTA surprised by going for “Big Eyes” and “Interstellar” —we think the Academy will follow their lead on the latter, but go for the film that actually looks more like a Tim Burton film, “Into The Woods,” instead of the more toned-down work in the former.
Most Vulnerable: We wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see “Into The Woods” or “Interstellar” fall out. And if love for “The Imitation Game” has been overstated, a showier nominee could step in.
Don’t Count Out: Again, depending on how popular they are, either “Birdman” or “The Theory Of Everything” could appear, though the former’s the most likely of the two. And “Big Eyes” is certainly plausible too.
Dark Horse: We’d like to say “Snowpiercer,” which would be entirely deserving, but chances are incredibly slim. “Inherent Vice” would also be worthy, but we wonder if the one to look out for is “Guardians Of The Galaxy” —it’s certainly bold work, and the film’s WGA nomination suggests that there’s plenty of love for the film.

Best Costume Design

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Into The Woods”
“The Imitation Game”
“Maleficent”
“Mr. Turner”

Nominees: This has become one of the tougher of the below-the-line categories to call, with the branch throwing in curveballs like “I Am Love” and “The Grandmaster” in previous years, and without an obviously frock-tastic contender like “The Duchess” or “Anna Karenina,” it’s even trickier this time. As with Production Design, Wes Anderson is arguably the front-runner, while the fairy-tale stylings of “Into The Woods” and “Maleficent” should prove popular here (don’t forget, they nominated both ‘Snow White’ movies two years ago). “Mr. Turner” also seems pretty viable here, and while though it’s not as glam as the branch tends to go, “The Imitation Game“‘s Best Picture love should carry it through as well.
Most Vulnerable: That said, the latter’s not hugely memorable and could well slip away. Yet it got a guild nomination, which “Mr. Turner” didn’t, so maybe it’s Jacqueline Durran‘s work that doesn’t make the cut, or it’s also worth noting that “Maleficent” missed out with BAFTA, which can be a key sign. There’s a lot to play for still here.
Don’t Count Out:Inherent Vice” seems to be the most poised to step up after a Guild nod, and a nomination for “American Hustle” last year. But “The Theory Of Everything” and “Selma” are hot on its heels.
Dark Horse: “Belle.” The film didn’t register with the guilds or with BAFTA, but it’s the kind of corset-heavy work that so often figures into the nominees here even when the film has little traction elsewhere.

Best Original Song

“Lost Stars” performed by Keira Knightley – “Begin Again”
“Ryan’s Song” performed by Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood”
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” performed by Glen Campbell – “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”
“Everything Is Awesome” performed by Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island – “The LEGO Movie” 
“Glory” performed by Common & John Legend – “Selma”

Nominees: Resisting our annual temptation to just scrawl ‘Who Cares’ on this particular category, the major home-run here is “Begin Again,” given that the film’s so much a performance piece (and director John Carney‘s success with “Once” in previous years). Lego’s “Everything Is Awesome” is likely in too, and its success with the Globes suggest we’ll be seeing the song from “Selma” too. Beyond that, “Boyhood” could well pick up a nomination (the branch traditionally favors in-movie performances over closing-credit numbers), while the chance to honor the Alzheimers-afflicted Glen Campbell seems too good to pass up.
Most Vulnerable: The Glen Campbell doc is a small film without much of a campaign, so it could get overlooked, but almost anything could end up missing in this unpredictable category: “Everything Is Awesome” could be deemed a novelty, the “Boyhood” song too slight, and the “Selma” one not prominently-used enough.
Don’t Count Out: Songs by Lana Del Ray, Lorde and Patti Smith from “Big Eyes,” “The Hunger Games” and “Noah” respectively were also among the Globes nominees, and might repeat here. Sia‘s song from “Annie” is also possibly viable.
Dark Horse: Given that this is the category that nominated a movie that no one had ever heard of last year (only to take it away after some campaign “irregularities”), almost anything from the 79-strong shortlist could come into play here. But if we were going to suggest something to keep an eye on, it’d either be “Grateful” from critical fave “Beyond The Lights,” or one of the songs from “Muppets Most Wanted” (which won the trophy when the last movie was released).

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Alexandre Desplat – “The Imitation Game”
Johann Johannsson – “The Theory Of Everything”
Mica Levi – “Under The Skin”
Hans Zimmer – “Interstellar”

Nominees: We’ve backtracked from our earlier insane prediction that Desplat could get three nominations here, but mainly because his “Unbroken” work was so unmemorable. Nevertheless, “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game” should both be safe-ish, particularly the former (“Godzilla” was his best work this year, but never mind). Johan Johannsson‘s Globes-winning “Theory Of Everything” score is a very strong contender to beat Desplat for the win (rightly so: it’s one of the best elements of the film), while Hans Zimmer looks likely to figure in again for his work with Christopher Nolan. The fifth slot is trickier after the ridiculous disqualification of the “Birdman” score, but we’re going to follow BAFTA’s lead and go for the unlikely but undeniably brilliant “Under The Skin” score (it’s not the strongest line-up in this category’s history, so there’s room for something strange like this to slip in.
Most Vulnerable: It’s possible that “Under The Skin” had the home advantage with BAFTA and it’s just too experimental for this branch’s tastes. Then again, BAFTA ignored “Imitation Game,” which you’d imagine would be right up its street —maybe that’s an indication that that score isn’t as well loved as ‘Grand Budapest’?
Don’t Count Out: Regular category bridesmaid Thomas Newman is always worth keeping an eye on: “The Judge” won’t give him the win, but he’s well liked and could well end up figuring in. Marco Beltrami‘s “The Homesman” score is reportedly well liked, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were nominated for their previous David Fincher collaborations (and got a BAFTA nod), so shouldn’t be discounted either.
Dark Horse: James Newton Howard‘s “Nightcrawler” score —the film’s continued to surprise throughout the season, and we wouldn’t be entirely surprised in a weak field if Howard’s perfectly appropriate work snuck in.

Best Film Editing

Sandra Adair – “Boyhood”
Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione – “Birdman”
Tom Cross – “Whiplash”
William Goldenberg – “The Imitation Game”
Barney Pilling – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Nominees: Boy, this is a tough one (enough so that both BAFTA and the American Cinema Editors’ organization went with six nominees, though a similar outcome is unlikely here). This could be made up of almost any combination of about ten films, though the safest are probably “The Imitation Game,” thanks to popular veteran editor William Goldenberg and the film’s flashback structure, and the bravura cutting of “Whiplash.” Past that, a BAFTA nod for “Birdman” suggests that the film’s ‘one-take’ conceit is a help rather than a hindrance in the editing category, and we suspect “Boyhood” is certainly in the mix too. We’re just edging “The Grand Budapest Hotel” into the final slot, but it could be one of several others.
Most Vulnerable: “Boyhood” didn’t get a BAFTA nod, which could be telling. “Whiplash” is potentially too small to register, while comedy doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, so “Grand Budapest Hotel” and even “Birdman” might have a problem. Any way around, no film has won Best Picture without an editing nomination since “Ordinary People” 35 years ago, so it’ll be bad news for whoever does miss out.
Don’t Count Out: With an ACE nomination and a BAFTA nod, “Nightcrawler” is in a very strong place, and is certainly the one we’d most expect to displace one of the others above. Then again, “American Sniper” is potentially very strong here too, as is “Gone Girl.” “The Theory Of Everything” missed out with the guild, but did get a BAFTA nomination: we’ll clock that down to home advantage for now, but if it’s got real, wide-reaching love for the film, that could make the cut too.
Dark Horse: We’re not sure if the ACE voters had the same difficulty in seeing “Selma” in time as other organizations seemed to, but if that was the case, and the film performs better with the Academy than expected, it could still figure in here.

Best Cinematography

Robert Elswit – “Nightcrawler”
Oscar Faura – “The Imitation Game”
Emmanuel Lubezki – “Birdman”
Dick Pope – “Mr. Turner”
Robert D. Yeoman – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Nominees: Another tough one to call. Emmanuel Lubezki is certainly a lock for “Birdman,” and after years of missing out looks likely to win his second in a row. “Mr. Turner” is painterly enough that it’ll almost certainly make the cut, while an ASC nomination indicates that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is in too. The guild also nominated Oscar Faura‘s work for “The Imitation Game” for some reason, which is likely to repeat here. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking for the fifth slot, but we’re putting our money on Robert Elswit and “Nightcrawler” over the wealth of other contenders.
Most Vulnerable: Curiously, Yeoman’s never been nominated, but it’s possible that voters give credit to the film’s look more to the production design than to the DoP. Then again, Elswit’s right on the edge with “Nightcrawler” (and splitting the vote with “Inherent Vice,” which he also shot, might not help), and if “The Imitation Game” is anything less than the “King’s Speech“-style sweeper some suggest it is, it could fall away.
Don’t Count Out: Obviously, Roger Deakins will always be a threat, and though “Unbroken” won’t provide him his long-awaited win, and the film’s been treated with apathy by most awards bodies, he did number among the ASC nominees. “Interstellar” is right alongside too, as Hoyte van Hoytema picked up a BAFTA nomination. Depending on their Best Picture strength, we could also see “Selma,” “The Theory Of Everything,” “American Sniper,” “Gone Girl” or “Foxcatcher” here.
Dark Horse: BAFTA surprised by nominating “Ida,” and there’s no denying that the film was one of the most beautiful of last year. After going for “The Grandmaster” last year, could they pick another foreign-language curveball this time?

Best Documentary Feature

“CITIZENFOUR”
“Finding Vivian Maier”
“Last Days In Vietnam”
“The Overnighters”
“Virunga”

Nominees: The winner of this category couldn’t be more locked down if it was J.K .Simmons as a shouty drum teacher: “CITIZENFOUR” has won almost everything on the precursor circuit and is likely to continue to do so here. Beyond that, things get more nebuous. “The Overnighters” is, we’d argue, too good to overlook, and has a healthy run of awards already, while we think that “Virunga” has a good bet as well, particularly after landing a BAFTA nod. Similarly, we think “Finding Vivian Maier” makes the cut, while our guess, based mainly on its quality, is that “Last Days In Vietnam” grabs the final place.
Most Vulnerable: It’s an unpredictable category, and almost anything except “CITIZENFOUR” could fall away. That said, ‘Vietnam’ and “Maier’ are the ones we’d be less surprised to see miss out.
Don’t Count Out: Many prognosticators have “Life Itself” down, which would make a nice tribute to Roger Ebert and a corrective to previous snubs for Steve James. Our gut says that it could miss out, but it’s certainly a contender. “Keep On Keepin’ On” (a sort of anti-“Whiplash“) is also firmly in the hunt, while “The Case Against 8,” “The Kill Team,” “The Internet’s Own Boy” and  Wim Wenders‘ “The Salt Of The Earth” are all firmly in the hunt too.
Dark Horse: Self-styled bad-boy of the documentary world Nick Broomfield has never been nominated, but he’s mellowed in old age, and his latest “Tales Of The Grim Sleeper” could tap into a true-crime niche not catered to by other nominees.

Best Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6”
“The Boxtrolls”
“How To Train Your Dragon 2”
“The Lego Movie”
“The Tale Of Princess Kaguya”

Nominees: We’re without a Pixar film for the first time in nearly a decade, but several other big studios have movies in play. Initially disappointing box office could have caused problems for “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” but it’s beautiful in a way that some of its studio competition isn’t, and a Golden Globe win bodes well: it could be competitive for the win in the end. “The LEGO Movie“‘ is a sure nominee too, and with Laika 2/2 so far, “The Boxtrolls” will follow as well. Disney should be represented by “Big Hero 6,” while Studio Ghibli’s final film the acclaimed “The Tale Of Princess Kaguya” will surely get some love here.
Most Vulnerable: Sometimes the artsier fare like “Kaguya’ just doesn’t land, and non-Miyazaki Ghibli films have never been nominated before. Still, we think “Big Hero 6” might be the dicier prospect: it’s widely liked but not necessarily widely loved and it’s not so long since Disney’s “Tangled” was overlooked. (then again, it did get a BAFTA nod last week)
Don’t Count Out: Kaguya’s distributor GKIDS have a second serious prospect in the shape of “Song Of The Sea” —director Tomm Moore‘s previous film “The Secret Of Kells” was nominated a few years back. But keep an eye out for “The Book Of Life“— Guillermo Del Toro‘s film was disappointingly underseen, but it picked up Golden Globe and PGA nominations and performed decently with the Annies and it was a gorgeous thing to look at.
Dark Horse: It’s a very dark horse, but a win for Bill Plympton‘s “Cheatin’” would be fun to see, and it did do nicely with the Annies.

Best Foreign Language Film

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

Nominees: As ever, there were some notable exclusions from the short-list (“Two Days, One Night” being the most prominent), and there’s always room for surprises here, but this feels more locked in than some years at this stage. “Ida” and “Leviathan” both feel like locks and should end up duking it out for the win, while “Wild Tales” is a huge crowd-pleaser, as is Estonia’s “Tangerines” (a Golden Globe nominee). It’s more difficult than some of the others, but “Timbuktu” feels like it should make up the final five.
Most Vulnerable: Potentially “Tangerines,” though we wonder if “Wild Tales” will end up feeling insubstantial to some.
Don’t Count Out:Force Majeure.” Our gut is that the film is too dark and sour (we mean these as good things) to figure in here, but if “Dogtooth” can get a nomination as it did a few years back, anything can happen.
Dark Horse: “Accused,” “The Liberator” or “Corn Island” are each not on the radars of many, so any of them making the final five would be a surprise. But then, this is a category fond of surprises.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Damien Chazelle – “Whiplash”
Gillian Flynn – “Gone Girl”
Nick Hornby – “Wild”
Anthony McCarten – “The Theory Of Everything”
Graham Moore – “The Imitation Game”

Nominees: Even in the couple of weeks since we last talked about this category, things have been thrown for a bit of a loop by the Academy’s baffling decision in opposition to the WGA to count “Whiplash” as adapted (the film was preceded by Chazelle’s short of the same name, but it was essentially a single scene from his pre-existing screenplay, made for fundraising purposes). All being well, the film should still make the cut here, joining front-runners “The Imitation Game” and “Gone Girl.Anthony McCarten‘s script for “The Theory Of Everything” wasn’t WGA-eligible, but should make the cut here, while despite a spurt of attention from others, we think WGA nominee “Wild,” penned by Nick Hornby, makes it in over some of its rivals.
Most Vulnerable: Assuming the category uncertainty doesn’t cost “Whiplash” its nod, “Wild” is probably the least certain of the nominees here, given that the film’s only likely to figure into the Best Actress race otherwise, and that it was passed over by BAFTA, despite Hornby being a Brit.
Don’t Count Out:American Sniper,” also a WGA nominee, is Hornby’s biggest competition for a nod: the film’s had a real surge in recent weeks after its killer box-office, though its script isn’t the most attractive option in terms of things to nominate it for. “Unbroken” could still make the cut too (though films with single writers fare better than the murderer’s row of previous nominees who are credited for that film), while “Into The Woods” or “Still Alice” are vaguely hovering around the fringes too, but if anyone recognizes “Inherent Vice” for something, it could be the writers, so there’s a potential surprise lurking there as well.
Dark Horse: Well, the WGA did also nominate “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” That’s partly because “Whiplash” and “Theory Of Everything” weren’t options, but the film is widely liked and the guild did show the way with a nomination for “Bridesmaids” before it picked up an Oscar nod. However, it doesn’t help that James Gunn was publicly bad-mouthing his credited co-writer (though that didn’t seem to be a problem for the guild either).

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman – “Foxcatcher”
Dan Gilroy – “Nightcrawler”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – “Birdman”
Richard Linklater – “Boyhood”

Nominees:Whiplash” moving to Adapted was good news for a category that was already competitive, but this is one where there’ll still be blood on the floor once the nominees are announced. Possible Best Picture front-runner “Boyhood” isn’t a big below-the-line player, but should start picking up its nods here, while “Birdman” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” are also rock solid, and will be challenging for the win. Given its strong run with the WGA and BAFTA, we should see “Nightcrawler” here as well. For the last slot, we reckon that “Foxcatcher,” also a WGA pick, makes the cut, but it’s far from a dead cert.
Most Vulnerable: “Foxcatcher” —the film’s proven to be love-or-hate-it, and though it’s done decently in precursor awards, it’s easy enough to see it missing out. Then again, “Birdman” was a surprise WGA snub, but with BAFTA and a Globes win on its side, it should be relatively safe.
Don’t Count Out: The big threat here is Mike Leigh and “Mr. Turner.” The film wasn’t WGA-eligible, so we don’t know how it would have fared there, but he’s always popular with this branch (five nods, last for “Another Year” a few years back), and could well end up pushing out “Foxcatcher.” “Selma” was also ineligible: there’s been some controversy, both over authorship (Ava DuVernay wasn’t credited for her work on the script), and over the film’s so-called factual inaccuracies (charges that are mostly trumped up), but again, if the film’s more popular with the Academy than some suggest, it could pop up.
Dark Horse:  This category often likes recognizing films that they like, but not quite enough to give awards elsewhere, so we could see a consolation prize for J.C. Chandor and “A Most Violent Year” here, as he got for “Margin Call.”

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall – “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood”
Edward Norton – “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo – “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash”

Nominees: One of the thinnest years for this category in memory, this has looked pretty much the same for a few months now. J.K. Simmons is the clear front-runner, Edward Norton gets a nod for playing Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo has emerged as the unlikely only sure-thing for “Foxcatcher,” Ethan Hawke has emerged gradually as a strong bet for “Boyhood.” There’s been a little more uncertainty over the last slot, but the fifth contender, almost by default, appears to be Robert Duvall in “The Judge,” making this a likely mirror of the SAG nods.
Most Vulnerable: Duvall, because no-one really liked “The Judge” very much. That said, there aren’t a lot of other options here, and Duvall’s enough of a legend (and the temptation of making him the oldest actor to ever been nominated —he’s now 84) that he’s the best bet here.
Don’t Count Out: Almost the only other feasible option is Tom Wilkinson in “Selma,” but if the film’s buzz has faded, and Wilkinson’s role as LBJ is at the center of the controversy surrounding the film, that makes things slightly trickier for a performance that people weren’t necessarily raving about to begin with. There’s more love out there for Josh Brolin in “Inherent Vice,” but it’s not a hugely Academy-friendly performance in not a hugely Academy-friendly film, so it’ll be tricky to beat out Duvall.
Dark Horse: All this said, if any category has the potential to pull a true out-of-the-blue surprise, it might be this one, if only because the field’s become so narrowed. If the swings for “Nightcrawler” or “Grand Budapest Hotel” continue, we could see Riz Ahmed or Tony Revolori in here, while Chris Pine might be one to keep an eye on for “Into The Woods,” or Christoph Waltz for “Big Eyes.” There’s also a chance that, as with BAFTA, voters ignore the FYCs and put Steve Carell in Supporting. But if that turns out to be the case, it’s more likely that he loses out in both categories than he ends up here.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood”
Keira Knightley – “The Imitation Game”
Rene Russo – “Nightcrawler”
Emma Stone – “Birdman”
Meryl Streep – “Into The Woods”

Nominees: Like its male counterpart, this one’s been settling in to a narrative for a while, though there’s a bit more uncertainty as to the exact line-up of the final five. Patricia Arquette is a cert for a nod and to win too. Beyond her, Keira Knightley and Emma Stone are both following their acclaimed Best Picture contenders to nods (both deservedly so, we should say), while Meryl Streep takes the Meryl Streep slot for Meryl Streeps. There’s more debate as to the fifth of the group, but with the surge behind the film, and the potential comeback narrative, we’re going for Rene Russo‘s excellent turn in “Nightcrawler.
Most Vulnerable: Russo, who only started figuring in precursor awards more recently: she didn’t get a SAG nod or a Globe (but was in the BAFTA line-up). Plus it’s possible that the Academy ultimately end up rejecting “Nightcrawler” as a whole, despite the gathering momentum.
Don’t Count Out: Russo’s biggest rival is Jessica Chastain in “A Most VIolent Year” —though the film failed to get much traction in general, Chastain’s been its best bet for a while, and it has the added bonus of recognizing another strong year for the star. Naomi Watts was a shock SAG nominee for “St. Vincent,” which most marked off as an anomaly, but someone had to be voting for her, right? Laura Dern and “Wild” are in play, but her performance has been mostly ignored by precursors.
Dark Horse: Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer.” Once seen as an extreme long-shot, Swinton’s brilliant grotesque in Bong Joon-Ho‘s film picked up an unexpected Supporting Actress award from the BFCA, as well as various scattered critics’ awards. It feels unlikely that most Academy voters will have even seen the film, but if enough of them have?…

Best Actor

Michael Keaton – “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory Of Everything”
Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Imitation Game”
Jake Gyllenhaal – “Nightcrawler”
David Oyelowo – “Selma”

Nominees: Hoo, boy. You could expand this category to ten and still leave out deserving candidates, but there are only five, so even more than last year (where Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were among those that missed), there’s going to be heartbreak here. First, the safe ones: Michael Keaton missing out would be an enormous shock, and Eddie Redmayne‘s Golden Globe suggests he’s going to be fine as well. In our opinion, it’s the weakest (or least strong) of the group, but Benedict Cumberbatch will be in there as well. Beyond that, it’s much more open, but we think despite the uncertainty around the film’s performance, David Oyelowo makes the cut, and we’re expecting the “Nightcrawler” surge to pull Jake Gyllenhaal into the final five. If this is the case, it’ll be the first time in years that no previous Best Actor nominees will be in the field.
Most Vulnerable: Gyllenhaal’s playing a psychopath, which tends to play better in support than in lead (though his physical transformation is an undoubted boon), while Oyelowo’s the least familiar name of the group and his film’s taken some brickbats, including being left off by BAFTA and SAG. Then again, Cumberbatch’s performance isn’t as showy as some of the others: maybe he turns out to be the shock omission, a la Hanks last year?
Don’t Count Out: Bradley Cooper‘s been gathering serious steam in previous weeks, although it was mostly ignored by the precursors, while the “Grand Budapest” surge suggests Ralph Fiennes shouldn’t be ignored and Timothy Spall‘s still in the contest for sure. And then there’s Steve Carell. Touted since Cannes as a sure-thing, his film has had a tougher ride than most and BAFTA placing him in Supporting (a category he could have won if he’d campaigned there) suggests that the Academy could be split on the category. Then again, he did win an SAG nod, and it’s a performance of greatness from a film that voting bodies seem to like more than some pundits had predicted. Honestly, anything could happen here.
Dark Horse: Bill Murray: the SAG nod for Naomi Watts suggested that actors like “St. Vincent,” and Murray’s due for a nod. It’s a long shot, especially given who he’d have to fight through, but it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out.

Best Actress

Jennifer Aniston – “Cake”
Felicity Jones – “The Theory Of Everything”
Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike – “Gone Girl”
Reese WItherspoon – “Wild”

Nominees: Much more locked down than its male counterpart, Best Actress is the victim this year of a field declared by many as thin without checking out the diversity of options available to them. As such, there are four nominees who, were any of them to miss, would be massive shocks: Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Jones and presumptive winner Julianne Moore. The fifth slot is harder to predict, but dedicated campaigning and a surprise SAG nod look likely to put Jennifer Aniston and “Cake” in the spotlight.
Most Vulnerable:Cake” —the film comes from a small distributor and only just opened, so has relatively little buzz. If it hadn’t been for that SAG nomination, it really would have struggled.
Don’t Count Out: Amy Adams is Aniston’s strongest competition for that slot, ending up with a BAFTA nod (“Cake” isn’t eligible for BAFTA this year), and winning the Golden Globes last year. She surprised some by making the cut for “American Hustle” last year: let’s see if she can pull off the trick again. Beyond her, the critics groups helped Marion Cotillard, but if she couldn’t get a nod for “Rust & Bone,” this seems like a trickier option, while Hilary Swank campaigned to little avail.
Dark Horse: Emily Blunt in “Into The Woods” is unlikely (had they swapped her and Streep around in cateogries, it might have been a different story), but it’s a delightful performance, and voters looking for something, anything, else to vote for could find themselves uniting around her.

Best Director

Wes Anderson – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Damien Chazelle – “Whiplash”
Dan Gilroy – “Nightcrawler”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – “Birdman”
Richard Linklater – “Boyhood”

Nominees: Perhaps the hardest category to call except Best Actor, this has two locked-in contenders in the shape of Richard Linklater and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Beyond that, it’s almost anyone’s game, but with the Academy having proven themselves artsier and more interesting in their directing picks in recent years, we’re plumping for Wes Anderson, Dan Gilroy and Damien Chazelle over some of the more red-meat competition.
Most Vulnerable; All except Linklater and Inarritu. This is a nebulous category even after the DGAs. Gilroy is probably our riskiest bet, but there seems to be a real swell behind “Nightcrawler,” even if he didn’t make the DGA cut Anderson’s never been nominated before for directing, but this could be his time, while Chazelle’s “Whiplash” maybe isn’t as showy a debut as “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” was for Benh Zietlin, but he’s got plenty of buzz too (the DGA missed Zeitlin too).
Don’t Count Out: Lots of strong contenders, most notably Ava DuVernay —Selma“‘s had a rough few weeks, which the DGA haven’t helped, but could still rally. “American Sniper“‘s also got increasing buzz behind it and a chance to nominate Clint Eastwood is always something the Academy get enthusiastic about. “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory Of Everything” are also big players, but are their directors Tom Hoopers or Ben Affleck? Morten Tyldum missing out with BAFTA could be an indication that he’s more the latter, but the film’s in a stronger position than James Marsh’s in this category, especially after his guild nod.
Dark Horse: We’d love it to be Bennett Miller, but it feels unlikely, while David Fincher hasn’t campaigned. Keep half an eye on Mike Leigh, in case there’s more love for the film from the Academy than expected, but his BAFTA miss seems to indicate not.

Best Picture

“American Sniper”
“Birdman”
“Boyhood”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Nightcrawler”
“Selma”
“The Theory Of Everything”
“Whiplash”

Nominees: First up: we’re assuming it’ll be nine nominees, as it’s been every year since the Academy set their strange somewhere-between-five-and-ten rule. Secondly, we reckon that “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “The Imitation Game” are the only hard locks here. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Theory Of Everything” are pretty solid, unless the precursors have been lying, while we’re confident that ultimately, “Selma” comes through to the final nine, and “Whiplash” is widely loved too. “Nightcrawler“‘s proven consistently popular with the guilds, and its impressive box office, and performance with the guilds, suggests “American Sniper” makes it too.
Most Vulnerable: We still wouldn’t be surprised to see “American Sniper” miss, as it seems to be right on the bubble, while “Nightcrawler” may ultimately prove to be not enough of an Academy film. And it’s still possible that “Selma”‘s absence elsewhere isn’t because of screener issues, but because the voters just didn’t respond (the film’s BAFTA snub suggests that might be the case).
Don’t Count Out: We had “Foxcatcher” here until the DGA nominations arrived, and realized we couldn’t fight the “American Sniper” train in general, but don’t rule out the film having enough passion to break through, especially given that it got a PGA nod. “Gone Girl” was also nominated by the PGA: it’s not as strong as it looked back in October, but it does have the benefit of being by far the biggest hit in contention. There could yet be a surge for “Mr. Turner” in theory as well.
Dark Horse: Most have discounted “Unbroken,” but it’s been a big hit. Could it end up pulling an “Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close?”

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