Shortly after the Oscar nominations were announced last month, I made my preliminary picks for who would win, smirking all the while that these early front-runners would surely cruise to their coronation. Perhaps I got too far ahead of myself. Some of those top picks have since faltered, while dark horses and surging contenders have emerged even in the most surprising categories. I've got a humble pie cooling on the windowsill, then, as I make this list of my final Oscar predictions: While I'm fairly certain of my picks, I must admit that there are some races that will remain unsettled all the way up until Sunday night. Keep my predictions in mind while filling out your Oscar pool, but know that this year there are likely to be some big surprises.
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A mere month ago, Boyhood looked to have this category all sewn up, and then Birdman stormed the stage at the PGA, SAG, and DGA awards, taking each top prize. It's hard to deny that kind of across-the-board guild support, and so I cast my vote for Birdman, even though there are plenty of factors here that give me pause, including the surge of American Sniper, the likelihood that Boyhood will be boosted by the preferential voting in this category, and the feeling that Birdman's recent ascendancy has instigated a minor backlash. Still, it's kind of fun to go into Oscar night with some major races still in doubt!
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Since the Academy has lately been so partial to Picture/Director splits, there's a chance that Boyhood helmer Richard Linklater could still pull out a win here, even if Birdman takes Best Picture. But when those splits do occur, they tend to favor the director with the more showy technical achievement, and I think that gives Alejandro González Iñárritu the edge for his audacious "single take" approach to Birdman (though Linklater's 12-year Boyhood shoot is no small potatoes, either).
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
For some pundits, the uncertainty over this year's Oscar field extends even to the Best Actor category, where Bradley Cooper feels like a late-breaking threat and Michael Keaton could benefit if Birdman runs the table. Still, the voters I've talked to are all still gaga for Eddie Redmayne.
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
If any race could have used some excitement, it's this one, which has been locked for Julianne Moore since September.
Best Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Robert Duvall, The Judge
The Birdman ascendancy hasn't seemed to spur more talk for Edward Norton, so I don't think J.K. Simmons has anything to worry about here.
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Laura Dern, Wild
Duh, it's Patricia Arquette. Sorry, not all of these can be close calls!
Best Adapted Screenplay
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Jason Hall, American Sniper
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
This race likely comes down to The Imitation Game and Whiplash, and while younger voters love the latter (the under-40 set includes the only people I've talked to who are voting for Whiplash to take Best Picture), they're far outnumbered by the older conservatives who will seize this moment to reward The Imitation Game.
Best Original Screenplay
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher
Though I'd love an upset victory for Nightcrawler, the tea leaves are arranged just so to indicate a Wes Anderson win for The Grand Budapest Hotel. His movie is also poised to clean up in the craft categories, but this is the best chance to honor Anderson himself, who has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay three times and never won.
Best Foreign Film
Wild Tales (Argentina)
Don't count out the riotous Wild Tales, but the finely composed Ida is this category's front-runner. It helps, too, that the movie appears elsewhere on the ballot, thanks to its immaculate black-and-white cinematography.
Best Documentary Feature
Last Days in Vietnam
Finding Vivian Maier
The Salt of the Earth
While the Academy often favors the crowd-pleasing pick in this category, it's the chilly but galvanizing Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour that has all the momentum.
Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
How to Train Your Dragon 2 became this category's de facto front-runner after The Lego Movie was snubbed. (It still hurts!)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
For neither rushing or dragging, the precise rhythms of Whiplash will ensure a victory here.
Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, and Nick Southwood, "Lost Stars" (Begin Again)
John Legend and Common, "Glory" (Selma)
Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, and the Lonely Island, "Everything Is Awesome" (The Lego Movie)
Diane Warren, "Grateful" (Beyond the Lights)
Glen Campbell, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" (Glen Campbell ... I'll Be Me)
Can the Academy really survive snubbing Selma twice? Voters will likely consider a trophy for "Glory" their make-good, although there's strong competition in this category, including The Lego Movie's delicious theme song and Glen Campbell's moving tune.
Best Original Score
Jóhann Jóhannsson, The Theory of Everything
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
I'm going with Globes winner Jóhann Jóhannsson for The Theory of Everything, but that Grand Budapest Hotel score could be a spoiler if voters keep checking the movie's ballot boxes.
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ryszard Lenczewski and Łukasz Żal, Ida
Roger Deakins, Unbroken
This looks to be a twofer for Birdman director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, who won just last year for Gravity. Again, though, I feel like Grand Budapest's below-the-line dominance could extend into this category, especially now that the Academy has finally cottoned to Wes Anderson's never-before-nominated cinematographer Robert Yeoman.
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive, Maleficent
Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
The Grand Budapest Hotel has the most pop, zip, and verve in this category, and it's also the only contender from a film nominated for Best Picture. It'll win.
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
I go back and forth on this one, kids. Grand Budapest, again, is a safe consensus pick in all of these craft categories. Still, it's hard to deny the breadth and invention of the alien races showcased in Guardians of the Galaxy. Today, I'm picking the latter, but ask me again on Sunday and I may have changed my mind.
Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts, Mr. Turner
Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock, Into the Woods
Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis, and Paul Healy, Interstellar
Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald, The Imitation Game
When the thing you production-designed is right there in the title, how can you not vote for The Grand Budapest Hotel?
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, American Sniper
Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock, Birdman
Brent Burge and Jason Canovas, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Richard King, Interstellar
Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro, Unbroken
War movies do well in the sound categories, favoring Best Picture nominee American Sniper.
For the last scene alone, I think Whiplash takes it. But again, a double win for American Sniper would not surprise me.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Can Andy Serkis's groundbreaking, motion-captured Apes performance finally win the Oscar it's warranted? I feel like the strongly reviewed sequel faded from memory a bit too quickly, ceding this race to Guardians of the Galaxy and likely winner Interstellar.
Short Film, Live Action
Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, Aya (Chasis Films)
Michael Lennox, director, and Ronan Blaney, Boogaloo and Graham (Out of Orbit)
Hu Wei and Julien Féret, Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak) (AMA Productions)
Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger, Parvaneh (Zurich University of Arts)
Mat Kirkby, director and James Lucas, The Phone Call (RSA Films)
It infuriates me that the Oscarcast still wastes time on three (THREE!) short-film categories in the age of YouTube, when these tiny, often-unremarkable shorts launch themselves into the Oscar race just by renting out a block of time at, say, the Nuart in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I don't want you to lose your Oscar pool, so pick The Phone Call.
Short Film, Animated
Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees, The Bigger Picture (National Film and Television School)
Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, The Dam Keeper (Tonko House)
Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed, Feast (Walt Disney Animation Studios)
Torill Kove, Me and My Moulton (Mikrofilm in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada)
Joris Oprins, A Single Life (Job, Joris & Marieke)
Unless the voters are suddenly gripped by anti-Disney hysteria, they'll vote her to reward Feast, the only goddamn short they might have actually seen in a theater (since it was attached to Big Hero 6). Memo to the Academy: We no longer live in an era where most feature films are preceded by shorts! Cut these categories, I'm begging you!
Documentary Short Subject
Perry Films, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Wajda Studio, Joanna
Warsaw Film School, Our Curse
Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, The Reaper (La Parka)
Weary Traveler, White Earth
Pick Crisis Hotline. You're welcome.